University of Rochester

Rochester's 'ASL World' Turns the Tables on the Hearing World

November 6, 2001

What is it like to be deaf? Students in American Sign Language (ASL) 101 at the University of Rochester will have the experience of communicating in an unfamiliar environment when they participate in the eighth annual "ASL World."

The purpose of the program is "to illustrate what it might be like to live in a world where the primary mode of communication is not their own," says Lisa Johnston, senior lecturer in the ASL program and coordinator of this event.

"ASL World," which will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, functions like a "Disney World." A variety of different booths will be set up in the May Room of Wilson Commons on the River Campus to represent such places as a restaurant, a shoe store, a theatre, and other establishments. About 150 ASL students will act as customers and go around the stations to purchase products and services by only using sign to communicate with the salespersons. More than 20 volunteers from Rochester's Deaf community assist in making this simulation as real as possible.

"In the 'ASL World,' the tables are turned on hearing people," explains Johnston. "This event forces hearing students to function in an environment and culture in which they are the minority and must fit in."

In ASL, as in other languages, word orders and sentence structures differ from English. Student participants are forced to think automatically in sign rather than trying to translate to and from English.

"They must not use speech to communicate, but rather must use the visual mode of communication that the volunteers are using," notes Johnston. "In this event they will learn that deafness itself is not the impediment. The communication system just has a different approach and usage."

"ASL World" is sponsored by the American Sign Language Program.