Joshua Findley (left) shows the sign for peace, while Foster Beech expresses love.
Joshua Findley is not hearing impaired, nor is anyone in his immediate family. The same is true for fellow Thomas Nelson freshman Foster Beech. However, both understand the challenges facing the deaf community and have experience with sign language, which is why they co-founded the American Sign Language Club at the College’s Historic Triangle campus.
“The main point (of the club) is to spread awareness about the culture, and for the people who are curious about helping out to learn at least some background of sign,” Findley said.
Added Beech: “And making communication easier.”
Findley, who went to Lafayette High School, learned sign language from his mother when he was a child.
“I had a lisp problem so that was to help my speaking and also so she could understand me a little bit better,” he said.
He noted his mother didn’t have a background in sign language, either, but always was curious about it. She taught herself, and then taught him and his siblings. That led to him taking sign language classes in high school.
Beech, who also went to Lafayette, has known Findley for a number of years so that’s how she was exposed to it.
“I learned from him just off-hand,” she said.
Findley knew he wanted to continue his sign language education and involvement in college, and had mentioned it to his friend. Beech also was interested in having a club, so she handled most of the paperwork and logistics involved in starting a new club, and Findley concentrated on recruitment. One of the first things Beech had to do was find an adviser. She approached her ethics teacher, James Bryant, who whole-heartedly agreed despite also having no personal connections to the deaf community, either.
“I’ve always had an interest because I worked in retail for a long time and there were several circumstances I found myself in where I couldn’t help somebody. That’s bothered me,” he said. “And as an educator, there’s a whole demographic of people I currently can’t reach. That also bothers me. So it’s something I have a vested interest in.”
Findley used his high school connections (there are a lot of Lafayette alums at the HT campus who took ASL classes in high school) to drum up interest in the club, and generated more with a club advertising event at the fall festival in early September. Their signup sheet went from about 10 names to 30 in the course of a day. At their most recent meeting, they had about a dozen students in attendance.
“Right now, we have a good consistent group of 13 or 14 kids who show up at every meeting,” Beech said.
They usually meet every Tuesday from 2 p.m.-3 p.m. in the Student Commons, but had a recent meeting on a Thursday to accommodate a guest speaker. The meetings normally start by reviewing what they learned the previous week, then discuss a theme for the day.
“We try to do the teaching for the first 30 minutes and activities and talking for the second 30,” Beech said.
According to Richard Hurst, the Counselor and Coordinator of Disability Support Services at Thomas Nelson, there are no hearing-impaired students at the College’s Williamsburg campus, and less than half-a-dozen enrolled overall. All of whom also are welcome to join the new club.
“I’d love to have them come and join us,” Beech said.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act benefits the hearing-impaired, Findley and Beech realize it still is difficult for them to communicate in a hearing world.
“There aren’t necessarily a lot of deaf people, but it’s still very hard for them,” said Findley, noting an ADA bill that was passed recently didn’t help the deaf community as much as it helped others. “For the deaf, they have a whole different category of barriers where they can’t communicate.”
He mentioned just going out for dinner can be tough since restaurants don’t always have staff who can assist the hearing-impaired.
“If you want to make your order … you have to basically draw big letters to try to tell them what you want,” he said. “It makes for difficult situations a lot of the time for the deaf where it’s just continuously a challenge for them. That’s where I have some interest in it.”
Since taking on the role of adviser, Bryant said he has become aware of other problems, as well.
“I’ve been doing a lot of research, and the deaf community has major issues in the medical field because most doctors and hospitals are underequipped to help them,” he said.
Findley, who is studying engineering, and Beech, who is studying psychology, hope their association with ASL and the deaf community continues throughout the lives.
“I’d be very happy if it did,” she said.
Added Findley: “It’s something I’m willing to pursue.”
Student clubs and organizations at Thomas Nelson are facilitated by the Student Life and Leadership Office. For more information, contact Student Life and Leadership/Title IX Investigator Kadisia Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org.