PALM HARBOR — When deaf people came to the Palm Harbor Library, it used to be a frustrating experience, remembers Rosa Rodriguez. For the deaf, because they could communicate only through sign language. And for the librarians, because they didn’t know signing. Rodriguez decided to change that.
“We wanted to make sure they had access to some information and people knew how to respond to them,” she recalls. So she took action and began a class to teach American Sign Language to the hearing public.
That was 15 years ago. Seven years ago, David Mbiad came on as a second instructor. Some 20 to 25 people now attend adult classes at the library every week.
The first ASL classes in Pinellas County began 21 years at the Safety Harbor library. ASL classes began at the Palm Harbor library after Rodriguez and Mbiad wrote a grant that enabled them to expand the classes because an increasing number of interested persons from around the county were overwhelming the ability of the Safety Harbor Library. ASL classes are now available at many of the libraries throughout Pinellas County.
Rodriguez, who learned sign language by “accident” when she saw a deaf ministry at her church, also teaches ASL at St. Petersburg College at the Clearwater and Tarpon campuses of St. Petersburg College.
Mbiad took up sign language more than 10 year ago after his daughter was born deaf. He also has the skill to talk to some of his customer at his barber shop.
“I have a lot of clients who are deaf and I’m able to communicate the way they want their hair,” Mbiad said.
ASL classes range from beginner and advanced levels to even babies. The beginner classes teach basic vocabulary, names for family members, food and color. Advanced classes teach stories, sign fables. Each night students tackle signing a particular topic.
The classes are free and all ages are welcome. Mbiad notes that one evening both a 5-year-old and a 75-year-old were in class.
Classes are available at the Palm Harbor library on Tuesday at 6 p.m. for the beginner class and 7 p.m. for the advanced class. At the Safety Harbor Library classes are on Monday at 6 p.m. for the beginner class and 7 p.m. for the advanced class. For the Largo Library classes are at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday for the baby class and Wednesday at 6 p.m. for the beginner classes and 7 p.m. for the advance classes. For the Pinellas Park Library sign language classes are Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.
Rodriguez hopes what people gain from the classes is the understanding of deaf people. “Let’s break one more barrier because now one less person will give them a hard time just because they don’t understand,” she said.