Spc. Diana Sanchez with the Fort Jackson Medical Activity, demonstrates sign language during a class March 21 at the Army Community Service building on Fort Jackson. (Photo Credit: Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Jackson))

By Ms. Elyssa Vondra (Jackson)March 29, 2019

A full house at the beginner American Sign Language workshop left the door open for future lessons.

The Exceptional Family Member Program held the first ASL class of its kind on-post at the Army Community Service building March 21. 

Since the class was packed, they hope to host more, said Brandi Palmer, EFMP coordinator.
Classmates learned the alphabet, several simple words and phrases, and the song, "You are my Sunshine."

Shay Morton, a 2015 graduate of the University of Louisville with a Bachelor of Science in American Sign Language Interpreting Studies, led the class.

Morton was an obvious choice of instructor, Palmer said, as she has worked as a translator during Basic Combat Training Family Day and other Fort Jackson events.

EFMP originally decided to run the workshop after receiving numerous requests for ASL interpreters on-post.

"There's really no official interpreter," but hopefully the workshop will be a catalyst to change that, Palmer said.

Day-to-day, Morton is a medical sign interpreter at Lexington Medical Center who translates everything from heart surgeries to births, or in her words, "anything that you can possibly think of that happens in a hospital.

"I've seen it all, and I've pretty much done it all," and not just in the medical field, she said.
Morton also translates part-time at Texas Roadhouse. In the past, she has signed in settings ranging from educational to entertainment, to legal and religious.

"A lot of people think, you're either on the news, or you do a school, but there are so many avenues of interpreting that you can do," Morton said. "I've been blessed to do all those things."

People interested in any career field can benefit from learning ASL; sign language helps adults become better listeners, communicators and multitaskers, Morton said.

Rochele Grierson, a recent nursing school graduate and Fort Jackson resident, said she took the class to propel her career.

"I think that to be a nurse, you have to be inclusive," Grierson said, commenting that knowing ASL would help her give the best patient care possible.

It's good for kids to learn the language too, Morton said. Gross motor skills develop before verbal ones, so sign language is one way parents can communicate with their youngsters early on.

It also helps with youths' mental development, she added.

Elvira Ortegon, a Fort Jackson resident and military spouse, was inspired to take the class by her baby-to-be, expected in two months.

"I want to communicate with him and have that relationship with him before he can speak," Ortegon said. "I want to be able to … have that bond with him."

Staff Sgt. Kemelia Campbell, a drill sergeant on-post, has already been teaching ASL to her 6-month-old son for the past two months.

"It's something that I want him to learn," Campbell said.

It's a better way to communicate with him since he can't talk yet, she said, but it hasn't quite sunk in so far.

"He just looks at me crazy," Campbell said. "He thinks they're like hand puppets."

Morton said ASL keeps all learners on their toes, as technological advancements and new slang words and phrases forge modifications to the language.

"It's always changing. It's always evolving," she added. "With every new development of something, the sign will change."