A program at ISU teaches students how to use sign language.

A program launched nearly four years ago at Iowa State University is designed to teach students how to communicate without talking, while learning the culture of the deaf community.

Sheridan Mottet, a junior at ISU from Parkville, Missouri, is among the students in the American Sign Language (ASL) program who recently spent several days in Council Bluffs working with students at the Iowa School for the Deaf.

“It’s definitely interesting to see where the students live, where they go to school, and how their daily lives are so much different than ours. In other ways, it’s weird to see how similar they are as well,” Mottet said.

Students in the ASL program at Iowa State are required to interact with members of the deaf community around Ames and other Iowa cities.

Cylina Engelhardt, a senior at ISU from Coggon, says the experience helps build her signing skills while learning more about the deaf culture. “It’s what college is for, I guess, to immerse yourself in so many different cultures,” Engelhardt said. “I think this is a great experience. I have never been here before or anywhere outside of Ames for the deaf community. So, getting out somewhere else is incredible…for anybody to have this opportunity to come here.”

During the trip to Council Bluffs, the ASL students were not allowed to talk out loud while they were at the Iowa School for the Deaf. Mottet said it was a significant challenge. “In class, we’re not allowed to speak at all. So, it’s kind of the same as the classes, but this is for a much longer period of time and with a bunch of signers who are much better than me,” Mottet said.

Cynthia Angeroth is the outreach coordinator at the Iowa School for the Deaf. She says the supply of qualified interpreters in Iowa is far below the demand. “Iowa strongly needs teachers for the deaf and hard-of-hearing and they need interpreters across the state,” Angeroth said. One explanation for why there are so few interpreters is the commitment — it can take seven or eight years for someone to become fluent in ASL.