SignWriting List Archive 1
October 1997 - May 1998

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November 26, 1997

SUBJECT: Las Vegas Seminar Report 2

From the desk of
Valerie Sutton

I remember when I first met James Womack through the internet last Spring, I was struck by his dynamic and insightful writing about Deaf issues. When I learned that he is Deaf himself and a former professor at Gallaudet, I became very interested in his opinions on SignWriting. James told me directly that once, years ago, when he first heard about SignWriting, he was against the idea of writing ASL, but over time his opinion changed. can imagine how pleased I felt when James invited me to come to teach the seminar in Las Vegas! In fact...I was tickled pink - ha!

So before I continue, I would like to thank James Womack and his wife Priscilla Womack, and the Community College of Southern Nevada (CCSN), and Jennifer Paris-Brookreson, who drove me through Las Vegas and introduced me to one of the most unusual cities on this earth! Thank you for making my stay in Las Vegas a very pleasant and interesting one!

There is one last personal note... This was the first time I got on a plane and taught publicly in another city in 8 years. The last workshop I taught was in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1990. Of course lots of other people teach SignWriting all over the world, but I have been isolated because of severe illness. So it took some courage to teach in Las Vegas...especially since I stood before 27 people, for 8 solid hours, totally bald!

Smile :-)

So now...on to the technical information covered...

The Deaf Community
James Womack began by discussing the issues of the Deaf Community in relationship to SignWriting. James gave excellent insights into human nature, explaining that it is normal for people to fear change, but that change is inevitable. James told the story of how he began to realize writing ASL might be useful. And he asked members of the Deaf Community to keep an open mind.

History of SignWriting
I began by explaining the history behind SignWriting. I explained that I never had planned to develop a way to write signs, that it "happened" through a series of events, and when it did, it became my life's work. I explained that I never expected to see SignWriting used in my lifetime, partly because doctors thought my lifespan would be short (which clearly is not true) and partly because new ideas are rarely accepted in the lifetime of the inventor.

We discussed the history of Sequoyah, the Cherokee Indian Chief who invented the writing system for the Cherokee Indian Language in the early 1800's. I explained that the Cherokees themselves were against reading and writing their own language, and actually tried Sequoyah and his daughter for witch craft, but later accepted his writing system and preserved their stories and heritage for generations to come. I brought books describing the history of Sequoyah and passed them around the room.

I then showed a new TV program which can also be used as an educational video, which I had just finished editing in the TV studio five days before the seminar. The video is entitled:

"The Deaf Perspectives on SignWriting Video Series"
Video Two: History of SignWriting's Development, 1974-1997.

It features several members of the Deaf Community discussing SignWriting and how it developed from their perspective. The video has various scenes - for example - each Deaf person gives his or her perspective - then the video cuts to a series of pictures showing the history of the writing system in sequence with English captions. The only problem is that the interpreter's voices have not been placed on the video yet. So I had to voice the video on the spot for the hearing students present. Obviously the Deaf participants had an advantage over the hearing participants!

The above video will soon be available to the general public. I need to gather funds to be able to pay interpreters to voice on the video, and at this moment I am writing a grant for that very purpose. Just as soon as it is available I will announce it.

The SignWriter Computer Program
The Community College of Southern Nevada is very "technically" equipped. I haven't taught in a school room in 8 years, and I really had no idea how many machines there are in front of the blackboard (which was white :-)

For the demonstration of the SignWriter Computer Program, the equipment was wonderful. Students had a little "computer screen" near their seats, so everyone could see what I was typing. That was very nice!! We typed a few signs and then someone asked me to type the American Manual Alphabet so I did that - I then typed a paragraph in fingerspelling. It was just a short demo - perhaps next time we can really start typing in class.

The SignWriting Web Site
I then took the students "up on the web" and visited our SignWritingSite. The student's received an introduction to the features and some of the literature available on our web site. Afterwards several students told me how valuable that introduction was, because now they know they have a source to refer to.

Learning to Read and Write SignWriting
The whole afternoon was dedicated to learning to read and write. I had handouts for the students and we went through all of the symbols. The material covered was equivalent to the "Lessons In SignWriting Video Series", so if you already own those videos, then you know the symbols that were presented. I then asked the participants to write signs on the board - that was a lot of fun!

In Summary
This seminar was only the beginning. Next time we will do less "discussing" and more "hands-on" experience. Learning to read and write is a little like learning to drive a car - after you do it for awhile it becomes second nature. Children learn SignWriting the fastest. Adults are slower because they make it harder than it really is. So I am looking forward to the next seminar!

Free Materials Available
1. The handouts given to the participants - I can send these to you free of charge
2. The SignWriting Information Packet - also free of charge

1. "Lessons In SignWriting Video Series" (teaches the symbols covered in
the seminar)
2. "Deaf Perspectives on SignWriting, Video Two: History"...(not yet available)
3. The entire seminar was videotaped by the College. Information on this
video is pending.

If you are interested in any of the materials above, please write to me.

I truly enjoyed my trip to Las Vegas, and I look forward to visiting again!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Valerie Sutton