Kansas University sign-language student Amy Liddy had the tables turned on her when she took a trip to "Deafville." She entered a world where the use of her voice was forbidden so that she could discover what it's like for the deaf to live in a hearing world.
High school and college students, as well as the general public, were invited Saturday to Olathe's Kansas School for the Deaf to experience a mock city, called Deafville, where sign language is the only language allowed.
Lawrence High School, Free State High School and KU participated.
The three-hour journey through the city, created by 15 American Sign Language teachers, allowed hearing people to uncover some of the frustrations that deaf people encounter every day.
Participants were greeted at 9 a.m. with a brief explanation of the city rules. Each person was given a scorecard, with various stations indicated. Stationmasters were asked to carry on a conversation with the hearing person in sign language, then rank the hearing person's ability to communicate, from one to five, five being the best. If anyone was caught using voice to communicate, a Deafville police officer would send the talker to "jail." Some of the various stops in the city included the "Holideaf Inn," a hospital, a store, a bank and more. At the Holideaf Inn, for example, the hearing person was expected to communicate a need for a room, then pay with Deafville money. Each participant was given $200 in fake money.
Liddy said she found the ranking system helpful because it allowed her to assess sign-language skills that she needed to improve.
"When I just tried to have a natural conversation, without concentrating on every little thing, I found it easier to understand, just as I would having a conversation with a hearing person," Liddy said.
KU sign-language instructor Kester Marsh said he encouraged his students to attend Deafville so they could practice using sign language and see another point of view.
"I want them to see it from a deaf person's perspective: Hey, look, this isn't easy for you, imagine what it's like for us all the time," Marsh said.
Marsh's father, Charles Marsh, a deaf studies instructor at Kansas School for the Deaf, ran a city station. He said Deafville was a good chance for people to gain understanding.
"Deaf people are willing to help hearing people because they will help us out become interpreters, provide better services and make deaf life easier for us," Charles Marsh said.
David Westerman, a part-time Olathe Medical Center sign-language teacher, said he was patient with the hearing participants who stopped off at the Deafville hospital.
"There were a lot of people signing slowly, and occasionally it was hard to follow," he said. "Sometimes it was tough. I would have to ask them to repeat, but it was good."
Kester Marsh said he was pleased with the event's turnout. He expects a larger facility will be needed next year. This is the second year for the event.
Liddy said the experience helped her understand how hard it can be for deaf people to communicate with the hearing community.
"As the day went on, I became more and more comfortable there," she said. "I would love to have my sign-language class at KU make a Deafville."