Deaf Coffee: Breaking the sound barrier

 
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BY ALYSSA TILLEY — 

English, Spanish, French and Chinese are just some of the many language courses offered at Northern Arizona University (NAU) that allow students to broaden their linguistic capabilities. A unique form of communication known as sign language, however, has been excluded from NAU classes since the 1980s.

Deaf coffee

Danya Robinson, senior, Elyssa Hartsock, sophomore, Garret Motes, sophomore, attend the Deaf Coffee event at Campus Coffee Bean on Thursday, January 24. Deaf Coffee is a time for students to get together to learn sign language. (Photo by Andrea Sanchez)

Elyssa Hartsock, a sophomore forensic science and criminal justice major with severely impaired hearing, has worked hard to change this by introducing Deaf Coffee to NAU and Flagstaff.Deaf Coffee is an event that allows the deaf community to interact with the hearing community in a social and relaxed environment while sipping on beverages and perfecting their sign language skills in the meantime.

Hartstock’s goal for Deaf Coffee is to “create a relaxing environment for everyone.”

“The deaf community, especially in Flagstaff, is rather small, so any chance we can get together with people of our own language, we take it,” Hartsock said. “We love teaching others sign language and about the deaf culture as it can be misperceived by hearing people.”

In addition to attending Deaf Coffee socials in various Arizona locations, Hartstock has gone to San Diego, Colorado and even Berlin, Germany to experience other sign-language communities.

“It is a great way to meet other deaf people and see how their life styles are,” Hartsock said. “Germany was super fun but challenging, since the sign languages were different yet similar enough where we could basically understand each other.”

Ten years ago, Hartsock’s mother organized a Deaf Coffee event at the Desert Ridge Mall in Phoenix. When Hartsock moved to Flagstaff to attend NAU in August 2011, she found only one deaf-oriented event a month (Deaf Night Social) occurred. Hartsock then decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and kickstart a Deaf Coffee in Flagstaff.

Scott Gillepsie, a junior communication studies major, is not hearing impaired but has been attending Deaf Coffee since the beginning of the past semester. Gillepsie studied American Sign Language at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif. before coming to NAU. At home, Gillepsie had several deaf friends and often spent time with them, but his signing skills slowly deteriorated at NAU due to lack of practice. After seeing fliers for Deaf Coffee posted around campus, Gillepsie decided to give the event a try and has been going ever since.

“It was like finding someone who speaks the same foreign language as you,” Gillepsie said. He believes that not only do the events help the communities interact and practice their sign language skills but they also “increase interest in the language.”

Deaf coffee also attracts many Coconino Community College students, as it fulfills a requirement for many of the American Sign Language (ASL) classes offered there. Nicole Moots, senior public health major, is a part time instructor currently teaching ASL courses at CCC. Moots, and other ASL instructors at CCC, encourage and require their students to meet and make friends with people in the deaf community and Deaf Coffee is a great opportunity for the students to do so.

Moots, who is deaf, has been attending the events occasionally over the past two years and believes they are a “great way for students in college who learned ASL in high school to refresh their signing skills,” and a “great way to meet new people.”

Hartsock and Moots both emphasize that people who have no prior knowledge of sign language can also partake in Deaf Coffee.

“Anyone can come in . . . it’s an enjoyable event,” Moots said.

Deaf Coffee is a social event that creates its own community by closing the gap between the deaf and hearing. Attendees are guaranteed to learn something, make friends and have an enjoyable night. Fliers are soon to be posted around campus and downtown Flagstaff with information on the upcoming Deaf Coffee, which is set to happen at Campus Coffee Bean once a date is determined.

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