Spotlight Saturday: Jody Cripps, Towson University - Hearing and Speech Agency

Spotlight Saturday: Jody Cripps, Towson University

What drew you to teaching?
When I was a young boy about 12 years old, I started teaching my hearing peers ASL. Ever since then, I have had the pleasure of teaching ASL to a wide range of people, including children, college students, and adults who have never taken classes. I have long suspected that teaching ASL was a natural talent for me as well as a passion of mine.

How long have you been affiliated with Towson University and in what capacity?
I first started working for Towson University as an Assistant Professor in the Deaf Studies program about 9 years ago. After graduating with two Bachelor’s degrees (Deaf Studies and Sociology) from Gallaudet University, I then went to the University of Arizona where I obtained both my Master’s and Doctorate of Philosophy degrees. For my Master’s degree, my specialty was Sign Language Studies and for my Doctorate, it was in the area of Second Language Acquisition and Teaching. Currently, I am an Associate Professor with a strong interest in research.

What is one Deaf history fact that everyone should know?
It is too difficult to just pick one but there are actually two important and historical facts that everyone should know. The first one is the film of George Veditz’s 1913 presentation titled, “The Preservation of Sign Language,” made by the National Association of the Deaf. He was a former president of NAD and truly dedicated to preserving signed language at all costs, especially in the face of the encroaching ideology of oralism. In the early 1900s, deaf people were actually prohibited from using signed language, with spoken language being forced upon them. It is also interesting to know that Veditz was a Baltimore native who was educated at, and later became a teacher for, the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick, MD. The second historical fact would be the story of Laurent Clerc and Thomas Gallaudet working together. Mr. Clerc was the first to bring signed language from France and is sometimes referred to as “The Apostle of the Deaf in America.” He and Mr. Gallaudet co-founded what is currently the oldest residential school for the deaf, now called the American School for the Deaf. This school and this collaboration between these two men were crucial to the formation of American Sign Language.

What is one Deaf history fact that would be a surprise to us?
I believe that would be Martha’s Vineyard. There, it did not matter if one was deaf or hearing, as everyone there simply spoke signed language without so much a second thought. It was truly an all-encompassing culture of signed language that thrived from the early 18th century well into the 1950s. One out of every 25 people from the town of Chilmark, a remote coastal village on the west side of the island, were born deaf and to this day, there are still a few remaining hearing residents who still talk about being part of this signed language community. With this being such a signed language rich environment, equal linguistic accessibility was easily made possible for the deaf islanders. There are stories of how hearing children would use signed language to chatter (but quietly, of course) behind a teacher’s back, and hearing adults who also regularly used this as simply another way to communicate especially during church, or while working in the fields or on the docks.

Many of our readers are new to ASL. What's your favorite sign?
My favorite signed word is FAR-OUT. Actually, not many know or use this word. My parents, who are deaf as well, introduced me to this cool and unusual word. While I do not use it much these days, it still remains my favorite.

Are you a Maryland/Baltimore native?
No, I am not a Baltimore native and am actually Canadian. I was born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I am a surfer bum at heart and will absolutely look for any opportunity to surf.
This passion of mine came about while living in Australia for a year, where I also ate unusual cuisine such as witchetty grubs. Chosen as the first ever deaf exchange student (high school) for Rotary International, this was truly one of the best and life changing experiences of my life.

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