Sitting in a circle in the back room at On the Rox in Seymour, nearly 20 people gathered for a class.
The first order of business was for each person to introduce themselves.
Some people were able to talk and hear each other, but others were either deaf, hard of hearing or deaf mute.
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Several were learning sign language for the first time, while others were taking the class for the second time to learn and practice more.
Instructor Misty Wilson was there to guide them along, and a few of the students who are deaf or hard of hearing helped, too.
Wilson said it gives her “pure satisfaction” to be able to teach sign language at the place she works as a bartender and manager.
“I feel isolated when I’m the only person with deaf people,” she said. “Say I have five hearing people and five deaf people and I’m trying to communicate with everybody because I’m a people person, it’s really difficult to interpret everything that they are saying. We all should be able to communicate period — speaking and sign language at the same time.”
The class is free, but donations are accepted for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which offers services to the deaf and hard of hearing.
Wilson has a sister who is two years older than her and is deaf, so she had to learn sign language at an early age.
She offered the class at On the Rox for the first time in the fall. She has several customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, and those who can hear asked her to teach them sign language.
The class consists of eight units to learn the alphabet and words to sign, but Wilson said the class in the fall took about 12 weeks since some people missed a session and had to catch up.
“I want them to be able to communicate. That’s my goal,” she said. “I think sign language is very beneficial to everybody. I think that everybody should know sign language.”
Wilson was glad to see a few people from the first class come back to learn more during the opening night of the second session Thursday.
That included Cerri Hames and Sam Kimsey, both of Seymour.
“I’m friends with Misty. She has a lot of the deaf community where she’s working because she does communicate really well, and I just wanted to be able to communicate,” Hames said of why she initially took the class.
Both women said to learn sign language, it’s important to practice it a lot.
Along with Wilson, they have learned a lot from Amber Larrison, who works at On the Rox and has been deaf since she was 2.
“Amber is real good about helping you, like if you get it wrong, she’ll finger spell it to show you the right word,” Hames said.
“It’s hard to read people’s fingers, especially when they go really fast, so I got really good at saying, ‘Sign slow,’” Kimsey said.
The end goal of the class is to become fluent so you can communicate with the deaf community, Hames said.
“To be able to communicate with people that can’t normally communicate, I think it’s very important because I can’t imagine being deaf and not being able to talk to anybody,” she said.
Kimsey said it’s all about being able to communicate with a different culture.
“If you go to a foreign country and you don’t speak their language, it’s lonely,” she said. “It seems like (deaf or hard of hearing people) are all around us and we’re not trying to communicate with them and they are left out, daily struggles that you wouldn’t even know about.”
Wilson said it’s an issue locally for the deaf community to communicate in certain situations. For example, she only knows of one police officer in the county who knows sign language, and she has had to go to the hospital with Larrison to be able to interpret for her.
Larrison said there are around 50 deaf people in Jackson County.
“Communication is the key to everything — writing, gesturing, signing, any way,” she said.
Larrison was glad to see a good turnout at Thursday’s class because they all will be able to communicate with the deaf community.
Austin Clark of Seymour said he grew up with four deaf grandparents, and he has a cousin who is two years younger than him who is deaf. He learned how to sign the alphabet and some basic words, but he decided to take the class at On the Rox to learn how to sign even more words.
“There’s a lot of hearing-impaired people all over,” he said. “When they are at jobs, not a whole lot of people can speak to them. If you’ve got one person working somewhere and they have nobody to talk to, imagine being able not to talk or not to hear and not know what people are saying. You can’t communicate with them.”
Clark said sign language is a good skill to have because people can put that on job applications and they can teach others.
“It even opens up the other job of being a translator,” he said. “When my cousin was in his car accident, I was the closest person to there, and I had to go there to the car accident. I was able to communicate with him and the police officer.”
That’s an example of how knowing a different language comes in handy.
“A lot of people want French or Spanish. There’s a lot of those people, too, but hearing-impaired people are just as important,” Clark said. “It’s just something good to know.”
Todd Beck of Seymour, who was born deaf, said he has been teaching sign language over the years.
He was glad to see a class offered to the community at On the Rox.
“I think it’s good for people to learn a lot because I can have more communication with the deaf and the hearing,” he said. “If it’s here and it’s an opportunity for classes, there’s more learning, and you can learn faster in these classes.”
Cody Larrison of Columbus, who has been hard of hearing since he was 5, said he appreciates the opportunity to interact with others in the deaf community and those who can hear. He also likes teaching sign language to others, whether at work or in a social setting.
Gary Tucker Jr. of Bedford said it’s important for everyone to understand the deaf culture so they are fair and nonjudgmental.
He said the class at On the Rox is good because everyone can communicate. Plus, he likes meeting new people.
“Hopefully, they will come back here again, and hopefully, I will, too, and be involved in helping everybody — the deaf and the hearing community,” he said.
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What: Sign language class
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays
Where: On the Rox, 214 S. Broadway St., Seymour
Who: Ages 21 and over; Misty Wilson is the instructor
Cost: Free, but donations are accepted for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which offers services to the deaf and hard of hearing