Communication between Winn Minter and her family used to be a challenge. The 14-year-old, who is nonverbal but not deaf, heard what people were saying, but speaking devices were not working well for her side of the conversation, her mother Jennifer Minter said.
Winn is able to fully express herself now that the whole family uses American Sign Language, and her family knows her better than ever.
Jennifer Minter, parent mentor for the the Bibb school district's Program for Exceptional Children, started a free sign language class four years ago to help her family, other families, community members and educators learn to better communicate with loved ones. The district will start another six-class series Thursday.
Many deaf children in Middle Georgia travel daily to the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, where they talk easily with their peers and staff using signs. However, it can be a much different situation back at home, Minter said.
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"They have a life up (at school) because everybody there knows sign language. They can talk. They would come home, but none of their family knew sign language. You can imagine what kind of life that’s like. That would be so lonely," Minter said.
With sign language classes and lots of practice, families can start to close the communication gap. One mother was motivated to take the course after seeing how much her son was using sign language with his friends at school, Minter said. She realized she was missing out on conversations with him, and learning sign language helped them connect.
“Most of the time, people don’t really understand the deaf community and the deaf culture and how they would need to communicate," said Whitney McDonald, a sign language interpreter for the Bibb district and instructor for the classes. "I encourage everyone to come out and try to learn a little something even if you can only come for one class."
Participants will start off learning the alphabet and essential signs for family communication and go deeper into American Sign Language with every session, with lots of review, McDonald said. After six classes, they'll be able to have basic conversations in sign language. Minter encouraged attendees to continue to practice often to hone their skills.
She hopes the free classes will help Macon become a more sign-language-friendly community. Twenty to 30 people have participated in the courses in years past, and attendees don't have to be from Bibb County.
The classes are 6-8 p.m. Jan. 11, 18 and Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, 8 and 15 at the Bibb district's Career Training Annex at 2007 Riverside Drive in Macon. Register in advance at http://tinyurl.com/j9t6olr or by calling 478-765-8716.