AMSTERDAM - Different people have different reasons for wanting to learn American Sign Language.
Many who are deaf use it as their primary means of communication. Others, who hear perfectly well, use it in their work.
Whatever the reason, dozens of people gathered Friday for an event called a "Deaf Chat" at the Coffee Beanery on Route 30. The crowd included many deaf people as well as students in Fulton-Montgomery Community College's American Sign Language I and II classes, taught by Cheryl Murphy Schiemer. It was the first session of what will be a regular event on the first Friday of each month.
Amanda Bouck of Perth, and John Stallman of Dolgeville chat using American Sign Language at Friday’s “Deaf Chat” at the Coffee Beanery in Amsterdam. (The Leader-Herald/John R. Becker )
"American Sign Language is its own language, and it's different from French or Spanish," Schiemer said. "It has its own rules for grammar and its own sentence structure."
Tyler McCown is a CODA - the letters stand for "child of a deaf adult." He is not deaf, but his mother is. Since she did not speak, he didn't learn to talk until he went to school.
"I grew up that way," he said. "I didn't have exposure to English. I learned to talk in school, with the help of speech therapists."
He enjoys interacting with the deaf community, and he's glad to see the Deaf Chat come to Amsterdam.
"I don't want to see this be lost," he said. "It's a unique and rich culture. It's close-knit, and everybody knows everybody."
Will Aubrey of Northville is gradually losing his hearing. His father, grandmother and aunt all lost their hearing as well.
"It's progressive," he said. "I wasn't born that way."
Aubrey was a teacher for 35 years and used sign language with his students.
"It's an unseen handicap," he said of deafness. "You can't see it like you could see a broken leg."
John Stallman of Dolgeville and Amanda Bouck of Perth had a conversation in sign language at the event Friday, although both also can speak.
"I came here to meet some old friends and some new people," Stallman said. "We're trying to get more people to come and join us. It will be easier to communicate."
He likes the idea of having a Deaf Chat in Amsterdam; it's closer than Utica or New Hartford, where similar events take place.
Bouck, who can read lips, said she enjoys the opportunity to see her friends.
Diedre Wiedemann and Venessa Ciotti are studying sign language interpretation at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica. As interpreters, they will be able to help deaf children who are "mainstreamed" - included in regular classes. Ciotti says she wants to interpret music.
"We get to know the deaf culture, how it works, what to expect," Wiedemann said.
"Nobody here considers themselves disabled," Scheimer said. "Deafness is who they are. It's a culture, and they're proud of their culture and their community."
John R. Becker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.