BHSM Stories: Housing Authority of the City of Austin

Austin, Texas

To Celebrate Better Speech and Hearing Month, The Housing Authority of the City of Austin, Texas' public housing resident, Ailana Larson, teaches sign language classes to other residents. She has her hearing but has been practicing sign language for over 40 years. For the last ten weeks, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday the housing complex's cafeteria seats have been filled during Ailana's instruction. Larson began teaching fellow residents at Lakeside sign language because she saw the need for interactivity between the hearing and hearing impaired residents. She says there are at least four deaf residents at Lakeside, who can communicate, just in a different way. Larson's sign language classes serve to bridge the gap of communication. She says, "I don't want to be the only one who knows how to talk to residents that are deaf. If an emergency occurs, everyone should know what the deaf person is trying to say.

Over a ten week time period, Ms. Larson taught basic sign language words for emergencies and words for day-to-day conversation. During May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, Ms. Larson plans on placing the food words in the cafeteria and giving the emergency words to the maintenance staff. Additionally, in May a book of all the words will be placed in the city library for a continued reference. "It's already catching on," Larson says, "Ray in maintenance says he was able to decipher what Doris (a hearing impaired resident) said about her room."

States Ms. Larson, "This beautiful moving language is not only for the hearing impaired, anyone can learn and at any age." Ms. Larson says she has taught sign language to her son and her four-year-old grandson before they could speak words. She says, "Children can learn sign language at a very young age."

You may not think of musicals and deaf persons in the same sentence, but Larson has created two musicals in sign language: "The Communication Connection: What Deaf People Want Hearing People to Know About Deafness," and "Bear Essentials: An Introduction to Sign Language Through Story, Dance and Music." She has performed these musicals for both those who can hear and to deaf persons to celebrate May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.

Submitted by:
Monique Duvall

ASHA Corporate Partners