HomeNews & Views Ask Away: 5 Questions for a UT Junior Using ASL Both On and Off the Field

Ask Away: 5 Questions for a UT Junior Using ASL Both On and Off the Field


We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Olivia—a junior Health Promotions major at the University of Texas — Austin who is specializing in Disability Studies.

1. When did you start learning American Sign Language (ASL), and why were you motivated to do so?

I started learning SEE (Signed Exact English), which is a little bit different than ASL, at around the age of 18 months. My twin brother and I were both born with hearing loss. I was born hard-of-hearing and he was born deaf. I wear hearing aids. He does not.

Once my parents found out we could not hear, they knew communication was going to be very important. So, a sign language interpreter from the school district in Humble, TX, would come to our house twice a week to teach my parents how to sign and then they would relay the information back to us!! My brother and I also went to speech therapy to learn how to speak more clearly since it was harder for us.

Today, we mostly sign and talk at the same time in our family. We also lip read very well!!

2. Why do you think it’s important for young adults to learn American Sign Language?

I think it is important for young adults to learn ASL because it can be used anywhere!

Maybe in the work field, or at school, and especially in Austin, TX, where there are so many deaf people around. The Texas School for the Deaf resides here. I have also heard of new parents teaching their babies signs, like “more,” “milk,” or “love.” It is a way to get their brains thinking at a very young age before they are able to speak verbally.

3. We first connected with you after reading a Daily Texan article about your track team using ASL at UT. How have ASL skills helped you communicate on the field? What about off the field, in everyday life?

My ASL skills have helped me on the track or cross country course in the situations when it has been raining! I wear hearing aids and they cannot get wet. So when I’m out for a run and it’s raining, I have to take them out.

At practice, some of my teammates who know ASL, like Destiny, Meghan, Jordan, or Abby, just to name a few, will sign to me what the workout is or how far we need to run. They have been so awesome and helpful the whole time I’ve been at UT!!

In my everyday life, I obviously use ASL to talk to my brother, Reagan. I also have some friends taking the ASL class here at UT, so I’ll help them learn! And if my friends and I want to talk about something in secret when we don’t want anyone around us to hear, we will just sign to each other—haha. Destiny and I have done that a lot.

Olivia leading a track race in a grassy field

4. How has knowing ASL affected your relationships on the team?

My relationships have grown with the ones who do know how to sign because it is something we share together. For example, Meghan is studying speech pathology and had to do a project on someone who is hearing impaired and knows ASL, and she interviewed me and my mom. It was a fun and cool thing to share.

Everyone on the team has always been so nice and helpful. My coach PattiSue Plumer has also been so awesome!! If I can’t wear my hearing aids that day because of rain, she’ll sometimes hold them for me in her jacket and also talk reallyyyy loud so I can hear her a little!!

5. What do you enjoy most about American Sign Language?

I love how the language is through the hand motions. I have always thought it is so cool.

I also think it’s awesome that anyone can learn ASL at any age.

It is a fun way to connect with the deaf culture as well.

BONUS QUESTION: What advice do you have for students who are learning American Sign Language—any tips?

My tip is to buy a sign language book and practice practice practice.

I would also practice using your voice while you sign that way the word you’re signing gets locked into your memory and you’ll remember the sign. Do not be afraid to ask any hearing impaired people for help.  There’s also YouTube videos that help!


What’s next for Olivia?

Olivia aspires to be a mom and ultrasound technician in the future, but she’s also considering other ways to put her ASL skills to use helping others:

“Since I am specializing in disability studies, I was thinking about working with children in school who have disabilities, maybe like hearing loss. I could sign to them to communicate. I also think it would be cool to help people learn the language.”

Interested in ASL?  Check out our Lead with American Sign Language page for resources on college programs, scholarship opportunities, student testimonials, and more.  And, as always, don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!