Church program teaches residents sign language

WARREN — A program underway at Blessed Sacrament Parish is helping local residents learn sign language.

Nancy Higham, administrative assistant at Blessed Sacrament, said she was approached by people interested in having a sign language class.

”We thought offering the class would be a wonderful opportunity and we could learn something,” she said, noting that one employee at Blessed Sacrament is deaf.

Higham said 17 people are taking the American sign language class offered for six weeks through November. The course is being led by Laurie Pesarchick, a sign language instructor in Twinsburg.

”Many people who signed up want to be able to carry on a basic conversation with a deaf person,” she said.

The class is for beginners  and has included vocabulary, basic grammar, aspects of deaf culture and visual gestures.

The church is looking at offering the class again in 2017.

Pesarchick said ASL is the fourth most used language in the United States with its own grammatical structure and visual and gestural language.

She said she wanted to offer the program to the community because ASL classes typically are not available to individuals who might not have the time or money to take classes in college.

Higham said it was decided to offer a class to the local residents in their teens and older.

Pesarchick said many area schools, including Champion and Girard, offer sign language as a foreign language choice.

She said after six weeks the participants should be able to have basic communication with someone who is deaf.

”We want them to be able to say everyday greetings and describe and tell who they are and tell of activities and information on family,” Pesarchick said.

Paula Pierce, communications director at Blessed Sacrament, said this is the first time sign language has been offered at the church.

Higham said people in the class told her they took it because they have family members who are deaf and want to better communicate with them.

Pierce said the class is helping to expel myths about those who are deaf and negative images in general.

”We will see if there is any future interest in a class,” Higham said.

ASL is the predominant sign language of deaf communities in the United States and most of Canada. Besides North America, dialects of ASL and ASL-based creoles are used in many countries around the world, including much of West Africa and parts of southeast Asia. ASL is also widely learned as a second language.