ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Illinois -- A session to provide U.S. Army Sustainment Command personnel with a basic understanding of American Sign Language and Deaf Culture was conducted in the Wheeler Conference Room of Building 350 here, Jan. 25

The "Lunch and Learn" featured the basics of ASL, such as how to sign the alphabet, key words and important phrases.

The session was conducted by Lauren Aggen, an equal employment specialist with the ASC Equal Employment Office who is hard-of-hearing, and Karen Stephenson, an administrative support assistant with U.S. Joint Munitions Command G2/3 Intelligence and Operations, who is deaf.

Aggen and Stephenson volunteered to conduct the class after arsenal personnel expressed interest in becoming more familiar with ASL. In addition to demonstrating useful, everyday signs, the class was introduced to facets of Deaf Culture such as the difference between the terms "hard-of-hearing," "Deaf," and "hearing impaired."

"Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals find the term 'hearing impaired' to be offensive and oppressive," Stephenson signed. "The word 'impaired' makes some individuals feel like they are being labeled as if there is something is wrong with them. Instead, they prefer to be labeled as a person who can do anything except hear."

The session also highlighted differences within the Deaf Community that might not be apparent to others.

"Often people who are born deaf and are immersed in Deaf Culture, use ASL as their primary communication mode and are described as 'Deaf" with a capital 'D,'" Aggen said. "Generally Deaf people are very involved with others in the Deaf Community. Some people may refer to themselves as 'deaf' which could indicate less association with the Deaf Community and Deaf Culture. Those who identify themselves as hard-of-hearing may feel they are on a bridge between hearing and Deaf populations. They are 'in between.'"

Participants said they enjoyed the experience.

"I liked the class very much. I enjoyed the high level of energy, enthusiasm and passion for sharing with others," said Linda Ottman, ASC. "Sharing personal feelings and experiences helped remove the invisible barrier between the hearing and deaf communities."

Another ASL Lunch & Learn is scheduled for Feb. 22 from 11 a.m. to noon, in the ASC Headquarters G3 Conference Room, Building 390.

For more information on ASL or the Deaf Community, call Aggen at 309-429-6303 (videophone).