“I Can’t Sign” Workshop educates the community on American Sign Language

Diana Emerson of Tulsa Speech and Hearing Association conducts a workshop on American Sign Language (ASL) for beginners. Photo by Mariia Shevchenko.

On June 17, Tulsa Speech and Hearing Association (TSHA), in partnership with the Thomas K. McKeon Center for Creativity (C4C), presented the “I Can’t Sign” workshop. 

Diana Emerson, community relations manager at TSHA, represents an organization that provides resources for deaf, hard of hearing, and all ranges of hearing loss for Oklahomans. Since 2016, TSHA has served more than 6,000 clients through its three departments – Deaf Services, Interpreter Services, and Community Resources – since 2019.  

For the TCC program, she began the workshop by showing basic signs. “If you are right-handed, you will sign with your right hand, and if you are left-handed, you will sign with your left hand.” She asked participants around the room what their experiences with the deaf community were and why they wanted to learn ASL. 

Amanda Salako, one of the participants, said, “I haven’t had [an] experience with deaf people, but I am curious about the language.” 

Emerson said to the participants, “ASL is the third or fourth most spoken language in the U.S., so no matter where you go in the United States, you would have the ability to use your language, and it opens up more opportunities.” She joked, “For people with children, you can chew them out in church and be quiet about it.” 

Emerson has a master’s degree in human relations from the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa and a bachelor’s degree in deaf education from the University of Tulsa. She is a nationally certified sign language interpreter. Emerson presented on sign language and deafness for all those years, including doing training for new law enforcement officers around the state. She has also interpreted in a wide variety of settings, from church, concerts, funerals, doctor’s appointments and courts.  

She said, “Falling in love with sign language is what led me into my career… I hope to share that passion with others in the community!” 

Emerson explained that sign language is not universal, and the sign in Russian Sign Language, for example, in ASL, means menstruation. She explained that ASL originated from a French educator who led a deaf school in Hartford, Conn., which led to a blending of French and ASL. 

She also illustrated how the same English words can have multiple signs. An example Emerson used was the word “run,” such as “running together,” “water running,” and “running for a political office.” 

Emerson signed the letter “H” to instruct the participants on the ASL alphabet. Photo by Mariia Shevchenko.

The participants learned the ASL alphabet. Participants signed along with Emerson. Emerson encouraged the participants to introduce their names to their table partners.  

The next part of the workshop was learning sign words, such as “thank you,” “sorry,” “mother,” “father,” and “help.” 

Lastly, Emerson opened the floor to word requests, which included “swimming,” “see you later,” and various animal signs. 

Emerson reflected, “I felt that there was good participation from everyone, and there were a wide range of individuals in the audience.” 

When asked about what she learned in the workshop, Salako said, “I came here to continue practicing ASL, learn new signs, and meet other people who were interested in learning ASL…I used to be more into the language acquisition, but now I understand there is more to learn about this minority group.” 

For more information about more TSHA programs, go to the TSHA website

To learn more about the Center for Creativity (C4C) programs, visit the C4C website

Back To Top