By Almeda Girod
Susan Walker had a chance encounter at an elevator with Lois Burr, a member of the Riderwood Deaf community, that led to a conversation in American Sign Language (ASL) with a friendship developing.
Susan, a math teacher, was mid-career when “curiosity” led to classes in ASL. She “was hooked” after having a Deaf teacher. This led to more classes and later an M.A. degree in Linguistics at Gallaudet University.
A career change occurred when Susan began teaching English as a second language to foreign students at Gallaudet’s English Language Institute. The students had to learn ASL, having arrived with sign language from their individual countries. The goal was to prepare the foreign students to take courses on the main campus.
The students lived in a dormitory with a built-in support system. They were taken on field trips to experience D.C. and absorb the American culture. Susan comments that these foreign students “were very polite and respectful.”
Susan was born in New York City, one of three children, in a family with a stay-at-home mother and a father who was a biostatistician. She studied math at Sweet Briar College in Amherst, Virginia. She met John through a childhood friend who had once dated him. John has three sons and Susan a daughter from previous marriages.
Susan has since met a Deaf couple and a single Deaf woman living at Riderwood and, along with Lois, meets with them at regular intervals.
Susan says that “only 30 to 40 percent of English is recognizable with lip reading” and that “the rest needs to be in context” which the Deaf cannot hear. She encourages hearing residents to greet Deaf neighbors since most appreciate the effort to connect. Gesturing or writing notes often is helpful.
The PGCC SAGE program offers classes in American Sign Language to Riderwood residents who may want to communicate better with the Deaf community.
You may see Susan and her Deaf friends around campus. Please stop and greet them.