The chilly weather did not stop the flurry of hand-shapes and gestures at a local Starbucks, where a group of Fresno State students put its American Sign Language (ASL) skills to work Tuesday night.
The event, otherwise known as a Starbucks Social, is organized by Fresno Deaf Events. The local organization is dedicated to bringing together members of the Deaf community in the Valley. Through this, they raise awareness and help students practice their skills and build relationships.
These socials are held every first Tuesday of the month from 6 to 9 p.m. at Starbucks in the Fig Garden Shopping Village, at the corners of Shaw and Palm avenues. Each month, those in attendance include Fresno State and Fresno City College students. They range in ability from ASL beginners to interpreting interns who will graduate in May and take the exam to become a certified interpreter.
Deaf events such as these are not just social opportunities, but also requirements for all ASL and Deaf Culture classes at Fresno State.
“Deaf events are required because the students learn important communication skills that they can’t get just from learning in the classroom,” said Annette Klein, a faculty member in Fresno State’s Department of Communicative Disorders and Deaf Studies. She, herself, is also Deaf.
Klein explained that “Deaf” and “deaf” are two different things. “Deaf” refers to the community and its culture, just as “Spanish” and “Armenian” refer to specific cultures. The physical state of being unable to hear is referred to as “deaf,” with the first letter of the word not capitalized. A person can be deaf, but choose not to identify with the culture, use the language or be a part of the community.
At a cultural event like the Starbucks Social, students not only build their relationships with the members of the community, they earn respect and trust that is key, Klein said. Using student interpreters as an example, she added that if a Deaf individual feels comfortable with and trusts a particular interpreter, that interpreter will be requested on a regular basis. The same would not be true of an interpreter that has not built any kind of rapport or connection with the community.
“How can you attempt to communicate and be successful if you cannot relate or connect with that group?” said Jenny Quaintance, a senior communicative disorders major at Fresno State. Without a rapport or a relationship with the community, it is going to be extremely hard to be comfortable with the language and the culture that one hopes to work within, she said.
Constant exposure to ASL and Deaf culture is a necessity, Quaintance said. She started attending Deaf social events such as these when she was a high school student in San Luis Obispo. She began attending local socials four years ago as a Fresno State freshman.
While Quaintance’s first social was nerve-wracking, she soon became comfortable and credits such events as the reason for where she is today, both as a person and as a signer. She believes the close-knit community’s open mindedness is something that everyone should experience.
“People are constantly interacting and involving everyone, so you never see anyone left out,” she said.
Quaintance fell in love with the language and interpreting when a Deaf girl became her classmate in grade school. She was hooked on the interpreter from day one and knew that she wanted to follow that same path, she said. Now, Quaintance is in her second semester as an interpreting intern and ready to graduate in May.
“It’s not only the language that directed me to interpreting, but the people, the relationships, the community and the culture,” she said.
Fresno Deaf Events often partners with the Fresno office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center (DHHSC), another organization committed to the Deaf community and culture.
Through DHHSC, community members have access to a Video-Relay System (VRS), which acts as a visual telephone, as well as interpreters and assistance with job searches. Events include socials, workshops, rummage sales and holiday gatherings, all of which celebrate the culture and its language.