Signing going strong

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Promoting learning sign language are (from left) New Zealand Sign Language Interpreter Vanessa Underwood, of iSign Deaf Aotearoa and Roger and Philippa Strong from the Southland Deaf Community Inc who are hosting sign language lessons.

SIGN language classes have proved so popular last year, Roger and Philippa Strong, of the Southland Deaf Community (SDC), are looking at increasing the number of classes this year.

Mr Strong is so committed to his vision of helping people learn sign language, he is also aiming to become a professional sign language teacher. Through ‘distance learning’ he is hoping to begin a two-year course based out of Wellington, in 2020, he signed.

In the meantime, he is keen to continue teaching sign language in Invercargill. The vision of Mr Strong, a painter and paperhanger by trade, was to increase the Glengarry clubroom for those who were hearing-impaired or deaf which was established last year.

Through a signing interpreter Vanessa Underwood, of iSign Deaf Aotearoa, Mr Strong spoke of how frustrated and hurt he was growing up as a person who was deaf, and of being sent to Christchurch when he was 5 until the age of 13 for his education.

Before learning how to sign, communication had been frustrating and limiting, he said, having to point to things to try to get his parents to understand him.

“There was a lot of frustration and sadness. I was upset going to Christchurch. Mother and father had no idea what it was like in Christchurch… they were shocked when they found out.”

Adding to the frustration, was that his parents never learned sign language, Mrs Strong said.

“Christchurch was so far away. It was wrong to be moved away from family,” Mr Strong said.

Because of his feelings of isolation when he was young, he wanted to establish a clubroom for people who were deaf or hearing impaired, so they could build a strong community where they could meet, communicate, and build relationships.

Currently there were 10 members. More were welcome, he said.

His future vision was to have “a hub” for the deaf and hearing impaired, and eventually “have a school for the deaf in Invercargill”, he signed.

“I would love Invercargill to have a really strong deaf/sign language culture here,” adding that some people who were deaf didn’t necessarily sign, preferring to lip read. “It’s about getting people involved… We are trying to grow the deaf club first”… before the next step.

Mrs Strong said there had been a “demand” for sign language classes and the ones held recently had been a “huge success”.

Expressions of interest were already being taken for the next intake of classes, which would begin early next month with two classes each week for 10 weeks. “We already have at least 18 people who are interested.”

The Strongs were keen for small groups of people, about eight at a time, for each class, so each person could be given more attention.

They were also looking at using Powerpoint presentations to help teach, as well as interaction between each other, they said.

“If we have a lot of interest, we may expand to Thursday.”

Mrs Strong said they were also keen for members of emergency services, such as police, fire and ambulance, to learn signing, and they were also hoping to incorporate Te Reo Maori signing eventually.

As a sign language interpreter Ms Underwood was also called on to help people in various everyday situations including at the hospital, during job interviews, public engagements and meetings, she said.

An introduction to learning sign language will be held on Tuesdays and Wednesday, from 6pm to 8pm, at the Southland Deaf Community clubrooms, 66 Glengarry Cres, from next month. For more information about the Southland Deaf Community Inc, text Roger Strong on 021 545 191 or email roger.strong@xtra.co.nz.

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