University of Rochester

Documentary Screening by Producer Highlights 'ASL Renaissance' Celebration

September 28, 2006

The American Sign Language program at the University of Rochester will mark its 10th anniversary as an undergraduate major with a theme of "ASL Renaissance" and a weekend of programming that includes the screening of a powerful documentary on the prejudicial attitudes and stereotypes faced by deaf people.

The film, Audism Unveiled, will be presented by co-producer Benjamin Bahan, professor and director of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Bahan, who was born deaf to deaf parents, is known internationally as a distinguished researcher and author. His documentary will be shown at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, in 203 Meliora Hall on the River Campus and is free and open to the public.

Audism Unveiled examines the concept of audism and includes interviews with deaf and hard-of-hearing people who recount their experiences from attempts to cure deafness and miscommunication with family members to job discrimination. The documentary was filmed totally in sign language with no voice-over; however, Bahan's presentation will be voice-interpreted. He also will answer questions after the screening of his film.

At the University of Rochester, sign language classes were first offered as a foreign language option in 1988. In the decade since it was formalized as a bachelor degree granting program, the American Sign Language Program has graduated an average of 12 majors and the same number of minors every year. Approximately 400 students enroll in ASL courses every year, making it the second-most popular language on campus.

Besides standard language classes, ASL majors take advanced literature and culture courses that explore the language's history and treasure trove of stories, poetry, and theater. The program also includes courses in linguistics, psychology, pedagogy, and a course exploring courses related to ASL. All language and advanced ASL classes are taught solely in ASL by an all-Deaf faculty.

The American Sign Language program at the University, which was the first in New York state to offer a degree with advanced literature and culture classes, has been directed since its inception by Ted Supalla, who is deaf and an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences and of linguistics. Since the addition of two senior lecturers who joined the ASL Program in 1992 and 1996, the program has offered new electives as a result of rapidly growing interest in ASL.

"The theme of 'ASL Renaissance' speaks to the revival and ever-increasing interest in ASL and will be a celebration of the intellectual and artistic achievements in ASL in recent years," said Supalla. "Our program is also looking to the future to stimulate dialogue between alumni, faculty, and professionals and to promote ways of incorporating ASL into the mainstream of life here at the University and in the larger Rochester community."

"ASL Renaissance" programs are being held during Meliora Weekend, the University's annual tradition of celebrating homecoming, alumni reunions, and parents' weekend together. The schedule also includes an open house and reception on Friday, Oct. 6, from 3 to 5 p.m. in 210 Lattimore Hall and a "Renaissance" banquet Saturday night, Oct. 7, at which Bahan will also make a presentation. Based on availability, banquet tickets will be made available to the public. More information is available online at or by contacting ASL Meliora Weekend coordinator Deirdre Schlehofer at