Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Senior Citizen's Wish to Learn ASL

84-year-old Jean Cummings is proving that it's never too late to learn a second language. A resident of Devonshire of Mt. Lebanon, an independent and assisted living community, Jean has been taking ASL classes from the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services in Pittsburgh. The classes were made possible by a partnership between Brookdale Senior Living and Wish of a Lifetime. Jean is the mother of four children, one of which had hearing loss. She regretted not learning ASL before her deaf child passed away at a young age. 

Now Jean (pictured below in navy blue) is inspiring fellow residents and staff while she pursues her goal. “Jean is an inspiration to our other residents as well as our associates,” said Sara Terry, Vice President of Customer Experience for Brookdale. “She has an impressive history of volunteering throughout her life and serves on the resident council at Devonshire of Mt. Lebanon, so it’s exciting to give back to her. We are very happy that we have been a part of making this important personal goal an accomplishment for Jean.”

Jean Cummings is learning sign language and inspiring others to do the  same, thanks to Brookdale and Wish of a Lifetime.

Jean's daughter and great-grandson have also learned basic sign language, so the family will be able to practice together. She hopes to use ASL to communicate with the Deaf community and that it will help friends in her own community that have difficulty speaking by providing them an alternate means of communication.

More information about Brookdale and Wish of a Lifetime™...

Brookdale Senior Living Inc. is a leading owner and operator of senior living communities throughout the United States. The company is committed to providing an exceptional living experience through properties that are designed, purpose-built and operated to provide the highest-quality service, care and living accommodations for residents. Currently the company operates independent living, assisted living, and dementia-care communities and continuing care retirement centers, with more than 650 communities in 36 states and the ability to serve over 67,000 residents. Brookdale is committed to providing exceptional living experiences within properties that are purpose-built, designed and operated to help residents live well while achieving an Optimum Life®. Brookdale Senior Living communities provide a daily experience of programs, services and care that are unique as a result of the collective talents and inspiration of the residents, their families, and its associates – demonstrating Brookdale’s promise of “Our People Make the Difference.” For more information, visit

Wish of a Lifetime™ fosters respect and appreciation for deserving seniors by fulfilling their life-enriching Wishes. Founded by two-time Olympic skier, World Cup gold medalist, entrepreneur, and former NFL football player Jeremy Bloom in 2008 in living honor of his grandmother, Wish of a Lifetime encourages the public to take an active role in granting Wishes through its Wish Connect program. Wish of a Lifetime has made 840 Wishes come true for seniors in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. 93 percent of Wish recipients stated they felt their quality of life improved after having their wish granted and 76 percent said they felt their overall health improved after experiencing a Wish. Learn more about #WishConnect, our volunteer program to help fulfill a senior’s wish or visit

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Slowly Learning ASL

Our family still hasn't made much progress with ASL. There was a mom-initiated push after the conclusion of my ASL 1 (or was it 2?) Community College course. I had about 200 signs down pretty well at that moment and wanted to teach them to the rest of the family.

It didn't take.

It's a shame really. I wish we had a better way to communicate when hearing aids aren't an option. At this point we have a few gestures that everyone understands to mean certain things. Julia can hear loud voices at close range well enough to get by. So we do that, letting the sign language and cued speech fade from our memory. The signs for "yes" and "no" are surprisingly useful. We get a lot of mileage out of just those two.

Still, we're trying to learn more in spite of abounding excuses.
The home screen of the ASL Story App, eMotion Stories
Home Screen of the eMotion Stories App
Our main instructor at this point is the iPhone/Pad. There are several great apps: iASL, (unfortunately, iASL is no longer in the app store) MarleeSigns, and ASL Coach. We use these as occasional time killers and to try to spur our learning.

There are also web sites, YouTube channels, and a new iPad app with ASL storybooks. These are an excellent option to build vocabulary for early ASL learners (like us) or to progress toward fluency for families that have chosen ASL as their child's first language. The eMotion Stories App is free from the iTunes store and includes the Ugly Duckling story. Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood are available for $3.99 each.

Each sentence of the story is highlighted while a video of a woman signing that portion of the story plays. There is a setting to display the book with or without the ASL video. You can also change from English word order to ASL word order (there's a big difference) so you can get a better idea of forming sentences that are correctly structured in ASL. Another section called "Word Play" includes a variety of signs to build single word ASL vocabulary.

The eMotion Stories app is worth checking out even just to expose yourself and your child to the artfully expressive world of ASL. The signs for a "very different, very big egg rolling down a hill" are much more entertaining than the printed sentence alone.