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Victoria Frisch teaches ASL, connecting Otterbein students with deaf community to build job skills

Victoria Frisch teaches ASL, connecting Otterbein students with deaf community to build job skills

If you’ve ever watched a football game, you’ve witnessed the profound effect that deaf culture has played in our society. It began at Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts university in the United States dedicated to be barrier free for deaf and hard of hearing students. It was there that the football team invented the huddle, thought up by a quarterback in the 1890s as way to keep other players from seeing what they signed.

Senior lecturer Victoria Frisch teaches American Sign Language (ASL) as part of the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures and says she’s convinced it’s the “best kept secret on campus.” She earned a degree in education from The Ohio State University, and is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Education program at Otterbein. She took coursework in ASL at Columbus State Community College.  Otterbein students can learn ASL to fulfill their foreign language requirement.

Frisch is not deaf, but she became interested in the deaf community while teaching Russian at a school in Buffalo, New York. She realized her deaf students couldn’t hear the announcements for bus routes, and she wanted to help them get on the right bus at the end of the day. While substitute teaching at Northland High School, a Columbus Hearing Impaired Program (CHIP) school, she witnessed an interpreter signing for the first time.

“I was determined to learn at least the alphabet and how to count to ten in ASL,” she said. “I’ve been learning it ever since.”

Frisch explains that students cannot currently receive a major or minor in ASL at Otterbein, but the courses are just as enriching and robust as other languages.

“It is a separate language with its own grammar and syntax. Hands represent syntax, grammar is demonstrated with the face and body,” she said. “There is no written form. There is an artificial means of writing called glossing. This allows students to use English words in word order called non-manual grammatical signals.”

An unusual silence surrounds students as they enter her class. The first half of the session is entirely silent.

“Students are shocked and nervous, but eventually they understand the value. Seats are arranged in a horseshoe, with no one’s back facing anyone. Everyone has to see one another,” she said.

Class begins by warming up with finger spelling and dialoguing with a partner or small groups. Students are assigned videos to practice signing. Some practice through Skype and Frisch facilitates student-led sessions in the library twice a week. Some students even practice by signing to their dogs. 

During the first semester, Frisch and the students visit Columbus Colony Housing, an independent senior living facility which caters to the deaf and deaf-blind community. Students interact with the residents as a way to sharpen their interpersonal skills. As they improve during the second semester, they visit various places around Columbus, such as the Ohio School for the Deaf. Her goal for students and Otterbein is to gain understanding and knowledge of the deaf community. With that in mind, Frisch says she looks forward to reading their papers detailing the various community outreach exercises.

“At first, they say they feel nervous and scared,” Frisch said, “but after interacting through ASL, they were happy and thankful for meeting new friends.”

Otterbein established a Deaf Culture Club 10 years ago that promotes and celebrates deaf culture and history. They raise awareness on campus by sponsoring movies and participating in campus activities such as Homecoming, summer orientation and First Friday.

The future holds technology that promises to bring deaf people out of isolation and into the mainstream. For example, a doctor with a deaf patient can access an interpreter at another site with the flip of a switch and a computer with a webcam. 

Frisch said that capable interpreters are always in demand and the expectations will be ramping up as technology increases the capacity for interaction. Some websites now offer connection to an ASL interpreter via webcam. She said some of her students decide to change majors as a result of learning ASL. National certification for interpreters exists, but she sees bachelor’s and master’s degree requirements on the horizon.


For more information about the Otterbein Deaf Culture Club, visit their Facebook page.