Growing need results in ASL lab expansion at WWU

William Woods University’s American Sign Language (ASL)
Interpreting program has experienced several changes this semester, beginning
with the expansion of the current ASL lab. The lab is now located in two rooms, directly
across the hall from each other.

According to Dr. Barbara Garrett, ASL interpreting program
director, the number of students in the program had outgrown the existing lab
location in the lower level of Burton Business Building.

“Approximately 150 different students are in and out weekly
to work on tutoring sessions and lab assignments.  The traffic in the room
was very distracting for those working on the computers,” said Garrett.

“So the university invested by building a wall to create the
tutoring room that we are naming ‘The Bottega.’” [Bottega is an Italian word meaning “a place where master artists
work and invite new younger artists to come work with them and learn their
artistic skill.”]

The wall was built in the middle of the old commuter lounge,
creating two separate rooms for each use.

“It was a good decision to separate the computers from the
lab for lessons,” said Sharon Mehl, a junior ASL major from Higginsville, Mo.
“However, it would be nice if the room itself were a little more spacious; we
often have to commandeer the commuter lounge for labs because there is no

Not only was the “Bottega” added to the ASL lab, but so were
four lab stations with Mac computers installed with Final Cut Pro, and a Teacher’s
Control Station.

“The new computers make it easier for the students to video
their signing/interpreting skills and watch other Deaf people sign too,” says
Pat Adams, faculty/lab liaison. “Then their professors can watch their signing
skills or listen to their voice interpreting from those computers.”

Adams’ new position as faculty/lab liaison has also added a
new feature to the ASL lab.

“Since Pat has a background as faculty for over 20 years and
he has worked with the lab, he is able to coordinate the lab curriculum with
the faculty courses in ASL,” said Garrett. “He meets regularly with the other
ASL professors to work on curriculum updates, program outcomes and lab
curriculum.  This is to provide the best educational experience for all
the students.”

In addition to the new lab equipment providing a helpful
resource, Adams and the eight other lab tutors provide a supportive environment
for learning ASL.

“I love having Deaf lab tutors because it forces me to sign
more and I see a variety of signing styles on a daily basis,” said Darian
Lightfoot, a sophomore ASL major from Fort Madison, Iowa. “They also act as
liaisons between me and the Deaf community.”

During lab sessions, Deaf tutors interact with the students,
reinforcing what they have been learning in class by reviewing signs,
exhibiting facial expressions and playing word games with ASL signs.

“The lab tutors are very dedicated to helping the students
with their signing,” says Adams. “They are very patient and excellent in
finding ways to help the students understand their signs.”

The ASL lab officially opened at William Woods in the fall
of 1997. From using VHS camcorders originally to state-of-the-art Mac computers
today, the technology has improved tremendously.  WWU is also one of the few
schools in the country whose lab is staffed solely by Deaf people.

“That is something only the top interpreting programs do,” said
While there are many reasons for the changes made in the ASL
lab, the main one always goes back to the number of students in the program.

“I have noticed one thing in the last few years,” said Adams.
“The number of ASL students enrolled has increased drastically and it means
more work for us lab tutors as well as ASL professors.  Gone are the days
that we only had students choosing to major in ASL Interpreting.  Now we
have all kinds of students choosing ASL for their common studies foreign
language requirements or for their minor. The work is cut out for us, but the
future looks bright in the ASL department.”