When she’s teaching American Sign Language, retired Blue Springs School District interpreter Sharon Brady emphasizes a key theme: Everyone has a different connection to the language and a unique motivation to learn it.
For Brady, this push came in 1965, when she started working as a physical education teacher at the Oregon School for the Deaf. There, her students taught her a special way to sign her name – spelling “SB” in a manner that drew attention to her “big, gym teacher muscles” – and lessons about the deaf community she still carries with her today.
“Culture is really important when you’re learning the language,” Brady said. “I want to break down walls so that no one is afraid to approach a deaf person.”
Some of these cultural differences, Brady detailed, include that it’s not rude to point when communicating in ASL. Instead, this stands out as an important part of the language, along with eye contact, nodding in understanding, shaking one’s head to express confusion and distinct facial expressions.
After a 20-year career interpreting for the Blue Springs School District, Brady found an unexpected site where she could use these insights and her talent: the Blue Springs campus of Woods Chapel Church, which she started attending in May.
Pastor Michael Scott recalled when a church attendee and one of Brady’s former students came to a service with uncharged cochlear implants. He saw a need within the congregation and overall community.
According to Brady, Blue Springs has a large deaf population due to the school district’s large support staff. Last year, she said, one elementary school had 14 deaf students.
Scott remembers asking Brady, “What if we did something at the church where we used your gifts?”
This conversation inspired Brady to lend her skills to Sunday services.
However, she wanted to take the idea a step further, resulting in a free, eight-week ASL class. Brady began teaching the class Monday, and attracted more than 50 participants.
“Deaf people don’t just need to have sermons interpreted,” Brady said. “They need fellowship with other people.”
Jeanette and Tim Lambirth, who sat in the class’s front row, know this firsthand. Their 14-year-old son is deaf.
“You’d think we’d know everything by now,” Jeanette said with a laugh as her husband quizzed her over the ASL alphabet and numbers, the course’s beginning lesson. “We’re brushing up on our skills.”
According to Jeanette and Tim, others’ discomfort admitting that they don’t know everything – and that they are still learning – can act as a barrier in forming relationships between the deaf and hearing populations. They described how people often stare at their son, unsure of how to communicate with him. Sometimes, these people tease him.
“He just can’t hear,” Jeanette stated simply. “He plays sports just like other kids do. He goes to the same school with everybody else. He just communicates differently.”
“Here, even people who are uncomfortable can come and learn.”
IF YOU GO
ASL classes continue Mondays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., ending on Oct. 29, at the Blue Springs campus of Woods Chapel Church, 3609 S.W. Missouri 7. Contact Sharon Brady at 816-500-6578 to sign up.