Spotlight on Glenna Cooper

Glenna Cooper, TCC’s first full-time Deaf faculty member, signs “ASL,” which represents American Sign Language. She shares with Spotlight about the benefits that exist for hearing people to learn ASL basics. She is Assistant Professor in the Interpreter Education Program, which is a program that offers classes in Deaf Culture and American Sign Language as well as interpreting.

 As part of its mission to serve the community, Tulsa Community College is raising awareness that people have the opportunity to learn American Sign Language (ASL) at TCC. Spotlight recently met with Glenna Cooper to discuss the benefits of learning ASL. As TCC’s first full-time Deaf faculty member, Cooper has a master’s degree in Sign Language Education-Teaching from Gallaudet University, qualifying her as a professor in ASL/Deaf Studies and as an ASL Development Specialist. She emphasized that anyone, especially those who work in public service, such as health care workers, police officers, firefighters, etc., can benefit from learning to communicate with people who are Deaf.

Spotlight: Why is it important for people in public service to know some ASL basics?

Cooper: The community can benefit from these classes at TCC in two ways: First, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 mandates that a comprehensive variety of public and private services as well as employers must be accessible to all people regardless of disability. When dealing with people who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind or hard of hearing, this means that communication must be accessible. In many cases, the best way to ensure this is to have a qualified interpreter.

Second, it would help reduce anxiety between the Deaf person and the public service worker, enabling them to become comfortable with each other by using basic ASL until the interpreter arrives.  This would reduce misunderstandings and anxiety.

Spotlight: Is sign language difficult to learn?

Cooper: Many people assume that it is difficult to learn sign language, but their opinions change once they take ASL I. Many of the students fall in love with sign language and then decide to enroll in ASL II and then just keep going.

Spotlight: How did ASL originate?

Cooper: Since the Cratrylas days, sign language has been used so it has been around more than 1,000 years. Prior to the birth of ASL, signed language was used in the United States as early as 1541. During the early 19th century, sign language was heavily used in Martha’s Vineyard because there was a recessive nature of genetic Deafness on that island. Chilmark had a 5 percent rate of genetic Deafness, so both hearing and Deaf residents used sign language. 

Once American School for the Deaf was founded in Hartford, Conn., in 1817, many Chilmark residents relocated there to work or enter their Deaf children into the first American School for the Deaf. Over the years, those children who graduated went to other states to establish Deaf schools for the Deaf. Many Deaf graduates became productive citizens with successful jobs.

Then oral communication took over and created some shift in the Deaf community’s communication. Many hearing people believed that oral communication would work better so more schools started switching to oral communication.  In actuality, it was causing some issues with Deaf-identity and other areas. 

During the ‘60s at Gallaudet University, Dr. Bill Stokoe, a linguist, studied ASL and discovered that ASL is a full-fledged true language that presents strong evidence of its grammar rules including phonology, morphology and syntax. That is when sign language became stronger in the Deaf education program, proving that Deaf babies needed to be exposed to their natural language, American Sign Language. 

Spotlight: What do you hope that students can learn from you, as a Deaf adult, that they can’t learn from a hearing person?
Cooper: This is my opportunity to teach hearing students to become more aware of the Deaf world with its rich visual language and cultural aspects. At the same time, I want Deaf students to become empowered with their own Deaf-identify and their Deaf heritage and build self-esteem as a Deaf individual.  

Spotlight: How are Deaf Culture and Deaf Community defined?

Cooper: The Deaf community constitutes a vibrant, living culture in every way. They have their own cultural and Deaf identify to cherish just like every other cultural community. The Deaf Community welcomes others to learn sign language and the Deaf Culture as long as people are respectful to the culture and community. 

National Deaf Awareness Week is Sept. 22-29.