ASL Talent Show encourages audience connection with deaf community

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It was the hearing people who were the handicapped ones at the third annual American Sign Language Talent Show at Dixie State University Wednesday. 

“Deaf people are only handicapped when there are hearing people around,” said Allyson Hamilton, assistant professor of ASL. “We did not provide voice interpretation for the performances for this reason…I wanted the audience to feel the connection to deaf people and to ASL and to realize there wasn’t much difference.”

The ASL Talent Show brought a crowd of about 170 people to the Dunford Auditorium of the Browning Learning Resource Center. Students and community members who were either deaf or knew ASL silently told stories, cracked jokes and signed the words of songs. 

“The language of ASL is not limiting,” said Tony Park, an adjunct instructor of ASL who is deaf. “You use the whole body. That’s the point when you have such an expressive language.”

Park helped facilitate the talent show, announced the performers in ASL, and performed his own ASL storytelling act. Patrick Lein, of St. George, jokingly knelt on his hands and knees after the talent show and bowed to Park to show his appreciation for the talent show.

“I was honoring [Park] because I was like ‘wow,’” Lein said. “Deaf culture is very dramatic, so I wanted to show him how proud I was as a deaf man.”

Hamilton said the ASL program at DSU has grown from zero adjuncts, two classes and 58 students in 2014 to three adjuncts, nine classes and 158 students this fall. This is the second year an ASL interpretation emphasis has been available as part of an integrated studies major, and Hamilton said by January 2017, an ASL minor will be available.  

Jenn Marsh, a sophomore English major from Salt Lake City who signed the words of Josh Groban’s “The Prayer” at the talent show, said she plans on graduating with the ASL minor. Although Marsh is not deaf, she said it was fantastic to see so much support for the deaf community.

John Lampe, of St. George, said he is like “the ASL grandfather of St. George.” He said he has seen progress for people who are deaf in St. George throughout the past two decades, and the talent show exhibited how far the ASL community has come. 

“When I moved to St. George in the 1990s, it was a dark time for the deaf community here,” Lampe said. “I was really sad. Since then, it has shot off and it has really expanded.”

Lampe said since he moved to St. George, more people who were deaf started moving here, and then church groups, high school classes and a deaf center were established to give resources to the deaf community. Lampe said it was special to see the talent show and to meet so many students interested in learning ASL.

“The more students we have that know how to communicate with people of the deaf community, the wider the [students’] world gets,” Hamilton said.