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Interest in American Sign Language growing in Edmonton

Click to play video 'Interest in American Sign Language growing in Edmonton community' Interest in American Sign Language growing in Edmonton community
An Edmonton ice cream shop is part of a growing trend that's all about learning a new skill: signing. It stems from something we're seeing much more often since the pandemic began. Morgan Black explains – Jan 21, 2021

An American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter is a common sight during COVID-19 provincial updates.

Now, an Edmonton business wants to bring ASL to the neighbourhood.

Staff at Kind Ice Cream (on 76 Avenue near 96 Street) are taking workshops to learn basic customer service greetings and ice-cream related phrases to better serve deaf and hard of hearing customers.

“It’s a casual regular conversation,” Kind’s Izzy Bergquist said. “It’s easier to greet, say goodbye and wish well when we can communicate.”

Bergquist said she has noticed the important role of ASL in the arts and theatre community — and at COVID-19 related news conferences.

Read more: Deaf artists from across Canada gather in Edmonton for SOUND OFF

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She reached out to ASL workshop facilitator Amorena Bartlett to help guide staff through a workshop. Bartlett also shared different communication styles, the role of facial expressions and more information about deaf culture.

“When Kind reached out, I was surprised and excited,” Bartlett said via email. “I absolutely love sharing the language of ASL and the culture of the deaf community with others.”

Click to play video 'COVID-19 pandemic creates unique challenges for people who are deaf and hard of hearing' COVID-19 pandemic creates unique challenges for people who are deaf and hard of hearing
COVID-19 pandemic creates unique challenges for people who are deaf and hard of hearing – May 27, 2020

Bartlett said to have Kind reach out to her was a “refreshing experience”.

Bergquist told Global News she noticed that deaf or hard of hearing customers had more trouble communicating with staff, especially after Edmonton made masks mandatory in August.

Read more: COVID-19: Face masks spark ‘fear and anxiety’ among deaf, hard of hearing

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“I felt as though we were not affording those people their autonomy. It was frustrating not being able to give them all the information,” she said. “That didn’t feel good. We realized we were not offering all the things we should be offering.”

“We need more businesses that have the same mentality, drive and motivation,” Bartlett said.

The workshop facilitator also noted the work of Randy Dziwenka, the ASL interpreter often present at Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s updates.

“I truly believe the Alberta Health press conferences featuring Randy made a huge impact on the community of Edmonton and the rest of the province,” Bartlett said.

“I couldn’t imagine a better person to be the one providing the much-needed service to the deaf community during these troubling times.”

The Edmonton Association of the Deaf‘s interim president Kamil Burnat said it’s been exciting to see interpreters be present on the screen during official updates.

Read more: Accessibility essential for Alberta’s COVID-19 updates: ‘We have no choice but to wait’

“We don’t see that often. We didn’t see interpreters on screen for any type of media releases or any announcements being made until COVID-19 hit,” Burnat said. “All of a sudden, it was overnight that things changed. It has made a big impact on our community.”

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EAD has received many calls and requests from people who are interested in learning more about ASL.

“People are asking where they can learn ASL, where they can get resources. We have been encouraging people to go to the Alberta Cultural Society of the Deaf,” Burnat said.

Burnat said the non-profit organization is responsible for preserving deaf language and culture and has a great deal of resources available to the community. It also offers a summer ASL immersion workshop and a resource library.

Read more: SDHHS offering solutions to deaf and hard of hearing community during pandemic

Bergquist said many businesses have reached out to her, expressing interest in also teaching ASL to staff.

“We’ve been trying to get Bartlett in touch with those folks,” Bergquist said. “This is just the beginning for (Kind). We are constantly in conversation about being inclusive and hoping to learn more about it every day.”

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