When you walk through the halls of Johnson County Developmental Supports, you may notice several staff members using American Sign Language. And now, thanks to a new program created by community employment specialists Vicki Besco and Tasha Markovich, the number of employees learning ASL is increasing.
The program kicked off last fall after JCDS leadership held a Shark Tank competition to cultivate innovative ideas from staff. Besco and Markovich pitched an internal ASL program and it was selected as one of the winning ideas. Sound of Silence is a 15-minute, weekly session where any staff member can learn ASL in a focused and supportive environment.
"It's fun – no pressure. Just show up and start learning and have fun with it," said Besco.
The program is open to any Johnson County employee interested in learning, practicing or sharing ASL.
"Staff can take the time weekly to come and participate in learning sign language vocabulary and continue every week to build on that vocabulary," said Besco. "It's important because when people get excited to learn sign language, they take a six- or eight-week class and then it ends. This just continues, you get to keep getting excited about it every week."
JCDS serves many individuals who are deaf, non-verbal or partially deaf, so this program helps staff better communicate with the people they serve. Additionally, many people who use ASL need support strengthening their ASL skills. Community employment specialist Jeff Walker has attended Sound of Silence almost every week since it started in November.
"I just wanted to learn sign language as well – to be able to speak to other people and possibly teach other people I know," he said. "Just to be able to communicate with some of the individuals we serve – that's why I come." Walker's consistent attendance is an important part of learning the language.
"If you don't use sign language, you lose it," said Markovich. So far, staff who have decided to participate in this program return week after week and are excited to learn. Attendance hasn't waned after more than two months.
"I love language, and there's a few people who I pass and say hi to, but don't know how to speak to," said direct support professional Sarah Dean. "I wanted to engage with them more."
JCDS has many residential direct support professionals and because they work offsite, they are unable to attend Sound of Silence. To help them access this training, Besco and Markovich plan to start recording the sessions to put online.