Recommended DVD Series: Sign with Robert

I have been writing reviews of ASL materials for School Library Journal for several years now.  Whenever I get a new one, I tense a little with worry – there are some frankly awful sign language DVDs out there.

That’s why it’s such a thrill when I get to review a series that I can review as enthusiastically as this one.  Sign with Robert is well-planned-out, well-executed, and always mindful of the needs of its audience.


Here’s some of what I had to say in my review:

“This excellent series goes far beyond the usual introductions to American Sign Language (ASL) to create value for multiple audiences. Deaf actor and educator Robert DeMayo brings his native ASL fluency to the demonstrations of signs and discussion of culture, and the series features a clean visual style that keeps the focus on the language. The vocabulary segments go into far greater depth than most ASL materials, making the series valuable to advanced signers and interpreters as well as beginners.”

Sign with Robert is available as a 10-volume series, or by individual discs or streaming episodes.  Voiceovers and open captions are used where necessary to make sure everyone has access.


Update on Maryland’s Deaf Culture Digital Library

The following is shared with permission.


February 2016

The Maryland State Department of Education/Division of Library Development and Services and Montgomery County Public Libraries would like to share information on the progress of the Deaf Culture Digital Library.

The Deaf Culture Digital Library, the result of a bill that was passed into law, is the “first stop” information center that will provide Maryland residents, local public library staff, college and university librarians and other libraries in the state of Maryland with access to online resources on deaf culture, a comprehensive electronic collection of deaf resources, deaf cultural programs, and training programs for library staff.

Current Status

* The groundwork to formalize the foundation of the Deaf Cultural Digital Library is in progress. A letter of agreement between the Maryland State Department of Education/Division of Library Development and Services and Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) is in progress.
* The job descriptions are currently being written and refined.

* The Division of Library Development and Services (DLDS) is working with MCPL to establish procedures to formalize the DCDL Advisory Board. DLDS will begin taking applications for membership late February 2016. The majority of board members are required to be deaf or hard of hearing and will be selected from the following entities:

  1. County library systems
  2. The Division of Library Development and Services
  3. The Governor’s Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  4. Statewide deaf and hard of hearing organizations; and,
  5. Other organizations as agreed upon by the Governor’s Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Division of Library Development and Services

* Board members will then recruit members for the Deaf Culture Digital Library “Friends of the Library.” These individuals are expected to be strongly committed, well-positioned and able to promote community involvement, advocacy, and funding for the DCDL.

* Additional details will be announced as they become available during the months ahead.

* For more information about the Deaf Culture Digital Library, contact Susan Cohen at 301-637-2964 (videophone) or Irene Padilla, 410-767-0434.


* In the 2012 Regular Session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill establishing a Task Force to Study the Establishment of a Deaf Culture Digital Library.

* In September 2013 the eleven member task force, established to study the feasibility of the DCDL proposal, submitted a report with recommendations to the Governor. The final report to the Governor on the Deaf Culture Digital Library may be seen at:

*On May 15, 2014, the Maryland General Assembly passed the bill to create the Deaf Culture Digital Library

The credit for the concept of the library goes to numerous advocates including Alice Hagemeyer, Silver Spring Library resident and longtime advocate for the deaf community to have equal access to library services. Ms. Hagemeyer is the president and founder of the Friends of the Library for Deaf Action.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. Who selected MCPL as the site of the Deaf Cultural Digital Library?

The Division of Library Development and Services of the Maryland State Department of Education selected Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) to manage the Deaf Cultural Digital Library (DCDL) for the state of Maryland.
2. Why was MCPL selected as the site of the DCDL?

MCPL was selected as the site of the DCDL due to its long history of providing library services to people who are deaf and hard of hearing including communication access, deaf resources, collections of materials for, by, and about people who are deaf and hard of hearing, and programs featuring deaf authors and speakers on topics related to deaf culture, and coping with hearing level changes due to aging. These services are renowned throughout the State of Maryland and across the nation.
3. Who will take the lead on this project?

Susan Cohen, Librarian II, at Montgomery County Public Libraries, will serve as the DCDL Project Coordinator. Ms. Cohen, who is deaf, has expertise in delivering library services to the deaf and hard of hearing community, deaf resources, and a long history of connections with the deaf and hard of hearing community.
4. How will this library be funded and how many staff will be hired?

State funding for the DCDL includes personnel and other resources. Two full-time library staff members will be hired to help coordinate, organize and monitor the program. The librarian is required to be a deaf or hard of hearing individual, eligible for Professional Public Librarian Certification issued by the State Superintendent of Schools, and knowledgeable about library, literacy and accessibility related issues of deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
5. How will the two staff positions support the DCDL?

Staff members in these positions will help plan and develop deaf cultural programs, give presentations about DCDL to Maryland residents and library staff, showcase library services at deaf conferences, develop and maintain the DCDL website, coordinate training sessions for library staff statewide, and support and facilitate vital statewide partnerships.

6. Where will the DCDL be located?

The DCDL, an online resource, will be available virtually to Maryland residents and library staff throughout the state of Maryland. DCDL staff will be based at the Germantown Library.

References to Legislation and Statute

Task Force Bill (SB 571):

DCDL Established (HB 653):


Chapter 606:

Statute 23-108:

New Developments for Maryland’s Deaf Culture Digital Library

Things are moving ahead for Maryland’s Deaf Culture Digital Library, the first of its kind in the country!  Congratulations to Montgomery County Public Library for being selected to host this amazing resource.

Here’s the latest press release:

For Immediate Release: 6/22/2015

Montgomery County Public Libraries Selected to Manage Maryland’s Deaf Culture Digital Library

County Executive Ike Leggett has announced that Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL)has been selected by the Maryland State Division of Library Development and Services (MS-DLDS) as the site of the State’s Deaf Culture Digital Library (DCDL).“This is a true honor for Montgomery County Public Libraries,” Leggett said. “It is a well-deserved recognition of our library system’s long tradition of helping to identify and address the needs of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community for resources, collections, programs and technologies.”

Irene Padilla, assistant state superintendent of Libraries (Division of Library Development and Services) said, “Montgomery County Public Libraries’ services are renowned throughout the state of Maryland and across the nation. We are excited that MCPL has agreed to work with the MS-DLDS to ensure that the Deaf Culture Digital Library is the ‘first stop’ information center that will furnish statewide access to deaf resources. DCDL will provide highly competent assistance to Maryland residents and library staff in local public library systems, academic librarians in colleges and universities, and other libraries in the State of Maryland.”

“It’s a privilege and honor to be selected as a site for the DCDL,” said MCPL Director Parker Hamilton. “The Deaf Culture Digital Library is important to MCPL and the community, because it will improve availability and access to a comprehensive collection on deaf culture and programs that will help lead to better appreciation and awareness of deaf culture and the deaf community. We look forward to making resources more readily available to customers in the State of Maryland.”

The groundwork to formalize the foundation of the Deaf Culture Digital Library will take place in 2016, beginning with formation of the DCDL Advisory Board. The Division of Library Development and Services will begin taking applications for membership on the Board in the fall. The Deaf Culture Digital Library will be staffed with a full-time coordinator and an assistant. Additional details will be announced as they become available during the months ahead.

The final report to the Governor on the Deaf Culture Digital Library may be seen at:

For more information about the Deaf Culture Digital Library, contact Susan Cohen at 301-637-2964 or Irene Padilla, 410-767-0444.

Release ID: 15-250
Media Contact: Bonnie Ayers 240-777-6507

Searching for Laurent Clerc

A few weeks ago I was presenting at a conference in Mystic, Connecticut, so I took the opportunity to drive up to Hartford for the day and follow the Hartford Deaf History trail.  I am an enthusiastic student of Deaf history, so I was excited to see the places I had read about for myself.

(For those who may not know: Hartford, Connecticut is where the first permanent school for the deaf was founded in 1817 and where American Sign Language was born.  Read more at the American School for the Deaf’s website.)

First stop on my tour: Laurent Clerc’s grave.  Laurent Clerc, the brilliant Frenchman who gave up the worldly joys of Paris to come to America with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and establish a school for deaf children.  Laurent Clerc, the first Deaf teacher in the United States.  Laurent Clerc, without whom ASL and Deaf Culture as we know it surely would not have been possible.

I arrived at Hartford’s Spring Grove cemetery on an unseasonably cold and blustery April day, to find the office closed and no clues to point to where the great man’s grave was in the huge cemetery.  No worries, I thought, the internet will help.

Except that every description of Clerc’s burial place lists the cemetery and nothing else.  Fortunately, there was one picture of the gravesite that happened to show the fence beyond – a useful clue!  Armed with that photo and feeling rather like Dan and Amy Cahill in The 39 Clues, I set off to hunt down the spot. Half an hour later, I found it.


Now, being a librarian by training, I have to leave some breadcrumbs for other folks.  So here it is:

How to Find Laurent Clerc’s Grave

1) Enter Spring Grove Cemetery at 8035 Main Street, Hartford, CT.  (It is next to a church and the entrance is set back from the street a bit, so easy to miss!)

2) Go down the center road once you get inside the cemetery.

3) Veer to the right.

4) When you see the “Section 1” sign, pull over and park:


5) Look to your right. You will see a tree and a monument.  The fenced-in area behind the tall monument is the Clerc family plot:


Unfortunately you cannot approach the grave very closely because the Clerc plot is entirely fenced-in.  The graves of Clerc and his wife Eliza have been given new headstones in recent years, but there are other old stones in the plot that are impossible to read from the other side of the fence.

When I finally found it, I stood outside the fence and signed a message of thanks to Laurent Clerc for all he had done and all the lives he had impacted.  I know that ASL has changed a lot since his time, but I like to think that, wherever he is, he understood.


A Conversation About Deaf Culture

One of the assignments in my online course, Basic ASL for Library Staff, is to create a description of Deaf Culture that students can use when sharing what they have learned with co-workers, family members, and friends.  Kathleen Westbrook of the Appleton Public Library (Wisconsin) came up with the following imaginary conversation, which I am posting here with her permission:

Friend: Whatcha been up to lately?

Me: Well, I’m taking a Basic American Sign Language for Library Staff. It’s been great.

Friend: Are you learning a lot of signs?

Me: Oh, yeah, quite a few, but I’m also learning about Deaf Culture.

Friend: Deaf Culture? What’s that?

Me: Well, it’s a lot like any culture, you know? A group, a community, of people with a shared language…shared customs…experiences… history…beliefs. Like Japanese Culture, or Italian Culture.For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the shared language is-

Friend: Sign language?

Me: Yep. And here in America, it’s ASL.

Friend: Wait, Isn’t sign language universal?

Me: Nope. We’ve been learning a bit about the history of ASL. It’s based largely on French Sign Language; as a matter of fact, the first main teacher was a Frenchman, Laurent Clerc, a Deaf guy.

Friend: I did not know that.

Me: That’s a whole story in itself. But getting back to Deaf Culture–and Deaf is with a capital “D”–at the heart of it is the idea that the Deaf and Hard of Hearing –

Friend: Hey, don’t you mean “hearing impaired?”Isn’t that more “P.C.?”

Me: Actually it’s not! Because at the heart of the culture is the idea, or belief, that being Deaf or Hard of Hearing is a difference, rather than a disability or an impairment; that they are able to do so many things, with the exception of hearing, and they can and do contribute to society just as they are, without needing to be “fixed.”They believe that their differences are assets.They call it Deaf Gain.

Friend: Gosh, I never really considered it that way.Because I love to hear so much -music, birds, the lakeshore and stuff–I can’t imagine that losing my hearing could be anything but tragic.

Me: Oh, I hear you–no pun intended. There are so many varied experiences of people who fall into that continuum of deafness–for some it is definitely a loss. Not everyone who has the condition of deafness necessarily embraces the Deaf Culture. But, just think, for instance, if you were born deaf, or became deaf at a very young age, you wouldn’t necessarily think of yourself as missing something or losing something; being deaf would be part of your identity, like height, or eye color, or gender, you know? Many people like that consider themselves Deaf with a capital “D.” There are Hard of Hearing folks that embrace the culture; people who become deaf later in life, or people that grew up deaf but with hearing people in hearing environments who discover and embrace it; and there are hearing people – friends, family members, teachers, interpreters, and others–immersed in it as well, immersed in the language and community, sharing the belief of Deaf Gain. But for sure, not all hearing people are.Hey, have you ever heard of audism?

Friend: No, can’t say that I have.

Me: You know, the idea that you’re superior because you can hear, or that deafness is a tragedy for all who are deaf? It’s a kind of prejudice, whether intentional or not. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it at times, without realizing it. Hey, instead of saying that the Deaf are “hearing impaired,” I could say that I’m “signing impaired!”

Friend: Ha. Wow, it sounds as if you’ve gotten a lot of food for thought. Me too, now, actually.

Me: Yeah, it sure has been eye-opening–in more ways than one–because ASL is such a visual language, you really have to watch carefully for all the nuances of the gestures, the body movements, facial expressions…

Friend:Show me some of the signs you’ve learned so far.

Me: I’d be happy to!


Want to learn more about Deaf Culture?  Check out these links for more resources!

Click here to read Kathleen Westbrook’s reviews of some of her favorite ASL resources for kids and families.


Deaf Maryland Culture

Reposted with permission from FOLDA [Friends of Libraries for Deaf Action] E-NEWS October 23, 2014

Citizens for Maryland Libraries (CML) and Maryland Library Trustees (MLT) will have its annual meeting on Saturday, November 8, 2014, 9:30 am – 2:45 pm at the Fletcher Branch of the Washington County Free library in Hagerstown, MD.

FOLDA, MD deaf community and libraries are grateful to Citizens for Maryland Libraries (CML) for its successful 2014 legislative session. It includes the requiring of the Division of Library Development Services (DLDS) of the MD State Dept of Education (MSDE) to establish a Deaf Culture Digital Library (DCDL). Maryland’s Governor signed it into the law on May 15, 2014.

We also applaud the MD legislation for authorizing MSDE to include operating funds for the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) in its budget and for LBPH to receive a specified amount of funding each year.

LBPH of MD, founded in 1968, has one sub-regional library, called the Disability Resource Center (DRC), formerly the Special Needs Library (SNL) opened January 6, 1986 in Montgomery County. In November 2006, SNL merged with the new Rockville Library and became the DRC.

Under the direction of the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress (NLS) and the DLDS, LBPH and DRC provide library services to all eligible blind and physically handicapped citizens, including deaf blind citizens and deaf citizens with disabilities and who are not able to use regular books, audio tapes and the related at the public library.

Please make sure that DEAF BLIND CULTURE and also other Deaf Cultures in MD are aware of LBPH services in MD.

Maryland Trivia for Fun and Facts

Mary Titcomb, Librarian at the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, MD, first introduced the bookmobile or mobile library in the United States, in Maryland in 1905.

Thirty-fifty years ago on December 6, 1977, the late Mervin D. Garretson made the first presentation about George W. Veditz at the Gaithersburg Public Library in MD. A copy of his presentation, The Veditz Genius, may be available from your local library. It has five illustrations of Veditz by the famed artist Ruth Peterson.

Alice L. Hagemeyer, President , Friends of Libraries for Deaf Action FOLDA E-Editor.

Hooray for Maryland’s Deaf Culture Digital Library!

On May 15, 2014, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a historic bill establishing the Deaf Culture Digital Library (DCDL).  The mission of the DCDL, which will be run by Maryland’s Department of Library Development Services, is to provide “leadership and guidance in offering resources about deaf culture, acquiring and preserving an excellent collection of deaf resources in digital formats, and furnishing access to information regardless of location and, providing highly competent assistance to Maryland residents and library staff in local public library systems, academic librarians in colleges and universities, and other libraries in the state of Maryland.”  Strategic initiatives of the Deaf Culture Digital Library include:

  • Establishing the DCDL as an online central resource for Maryland library customers and staff, including information for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, parents of deaf children, and businesses and organizations providing access
  • Conducting needs assessments and providing training to library staff to improve Maryland library service to deaf customers
  • Developing deaf related programs and materials for libraries
  • Developing and supporting alliances between libraries and key deaf-related organizations

Click here for the full text of the bill.

Congratulations to the state of Maryland for taking the lead in improving library service to the deaf community!  Here’s hoping other states will follow Maryland’s lead.

A Place Where Everyone Signed

For over 300 years, the tiny island of Martha’s Vineyard, located off the coast of Massachusetts, was something of a Deaf utopia – not because it was the bastion of a strong Deaf culture, but because it was the home of a bilingual community of hearing and deaf people, where deaf islanders participated fully in all aspects of life.  That’s because the small, self-contained society had a high incidence of deafness – in the town of Chilmark, 1 in 25 residents were born deaf.  This led to all members of the society using Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (one of the seeds of modern ASL) alongside English.

Find out more in this great post from REDEAFINED: Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (Sign without Stigma).

Or check out Nora Groce’s remarkable book, Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: 516cnGOIy1LHereditary Deafness on Martha’s Vineyard (Harvard University Press, 1988).


It just goes to show: when communication is present, our differences no longer divide us.


Setting the Record Straight About American Sign Language and Deaf Culture

I love the movie Jerry Maguire – except for one scene that always makes me want to throw something.  It’s the one where Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) and Jerry (Tom Cruise) see two deaf people signing, and Dorothy says, “My favorite aunt is hearing impaired. He just said ‘You complete me’.”

What a sweet scene, right?  The line even appears later in Jerry’s big winning-Dorothy-back speech at the end.

But here’s the problem: anyone who actually knows about Deaf culture or American Sign Language doesn’t buy it.  If Dorothy’s aunt really taught her that much sign language, then she surely also taught her that many deaf people (and certainly the vast majority of ASL users) find the term “hearing impaired” offensive.  Also, what the deaf actor, Anthony Natale, signs would be rendered word-for-word as “You make me feel complete” – and it’s highly unlikely that even a skilled, experienced interpreter would come up with such a graceful interpretation as “You complete me” on the spot, let alone a character who had only learned a few signs from her aunt.  Though the moment is no doubt lovely to those who don’t know any better, to those who do it’s another example of the pervasive sentimentalization of sign language.

Read the rest of the article at

Support the Deaf Culture Digital Library

This Friday, February 21 at 1 PM, the Maryland State Legislature will hold a hearing about the establishment of a Deaf Culture Digital Library (DCDL) Bill HB653.  This groundbreaking resource will connect citizens with resources about ASL and Deaf Culture, allow librarians and service providers of all kinds to connect with grant funding, make the larger community aware of the diversity within the deaf community, and provide resources for all members of the deaf community.  Read more about the aims of the DCDL in this excellent post on Holly the Librarian’s blog.

According to Alice Hagemeyer, president of Friends of Libraries for Deaf Action (FOLDA), “This first kind of library for the deaf will also support the public library’s new trend of transforming communities. Thus, citizens will have free access to resources that are related to ASL, literature, arts and history in local communities anywhere in Maryland. America! Globally!…When it becomes a law, it will become a model for other 49 states, DC, 2 commonwealths and 3 territories.”

Whether you are a Marylander or not, YOU can support the Deaf Culture Digital Library!  Anyone can email a testimony or letter of support of this bill to Delegate Eric Luedtke via

Read the complete bill here.