The York Federation of Students (YFS) is no stranger to taking on initiatives for the benefit of accessibility for all students. The Federation’s Access Centre welcomed the 2022 winter semester by hosting remote American Sign Language (ASL) classes on a bi-weekly basis since January 17.
These classes are open to all that are interested in participating, regardless of skill level or experience. The Access Centre has been organizing these sessions for the better part of six to seven years, according to one of their coordinators, Nakyta Folkes.
“We have been able to collaborate with a variety of folks within the d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing community here at York. We believe that ASL classes are a great way to bridge the gap between d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing accessibility issues and ASL in a way that allows folks from all over to engage actively and learn new skills.”
Folkes writes that the Access Centre’s goals are to make learning ASL more accessible and enjoyable by facilitating a space that is inclusive of all learning levels and backgrounds. The centre also has expressed interest in expanding into other types of sign language and exploring the nuances within the language.
Likewise, Professor and Academic Advisor of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program (DHH) Connie Mayer, believes these classes are a great way to introduce ASL to the student community and also heighten awareness of the access issues facing Deaf students who sign, such as the availability of interpreters both in and outside the classroom.
Mayer also stresses the importance of accessibility not solely being about interpreters and ASL. “Heightened awareness means recognizing that access varies from one DHH individual to the next and from one situation to another. If we want to provide the best access we can for our DHH classmates, the first step is to ask and let them tell us what they need.”
Similarly, Folkes believes that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done at York when it comes to improving accessibility on campus and beyond the classroom. The first being addressing issues pertaining to functioning accessibility buttons around campuses, along with further accommodations for those with other disabilities.
Folkes mentions “providing adequate financial support for students with disabilities is another way in which issues of inaccessibility can be addressed on campus.”
With regards to the ongoing ASL classes, Folkes and the rest of the Access Centre are proud of their progress and have noticed an increase in interest and overall participation every year.
“A lot of folks enjoy the way in which our facilitator provides accessible ways of learning ASL that is fun and informative. Reception has always been very good and we constantly strive to hear from our attendees on ways in which we can improve our classes, especially with them being online this year,” says Folkes.
Those who are interested in signing up can do so here. The YFS Access Centre will continue to host ASL classes every other Monday until the semesters end on April 11 with their next class scheduled for February 14.