Saturday, February 7, 2004

Counselor a beacon for deaf community

By Travis Gettys
The Cincinnati Enquirer

EVENDALE - Sally Monahan's hands flutter and swoop, and a group of students parade around her, matching every gesture as they perform the song "Circle Of Life" in sign language.

The students, part of the choir at St. Rita School for the Deaf, cup their hands a few inches apart and move them across their bodies in an arc, interpreting a lyrical reference to the sun.

"We study the song lyrics and the students help decide how to interpret them, because American Sign Language is not a literal translation of spoken English," said Monahan, the choir director.

At a lunchtime rehearsal, a boom box blares in the school's gym because, she said, some of the students can hear the music, and they can each feel its vibrations.

"You should hear it at one of their dances," she said.

Monahan, guidance counselor at St. Rita, has been named one of three "Women Making A Difference" by her alma mater, Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, for her work with the deaf community.

In addition to her work at St. Rita, Monahan works as a sign language interpreter at Mother Of God Church in Covington and directs another choir, Hands Of Love, which performs around Greater Cincinnati.

She became interested in the language and culture of the deaf during college, when she learned the manual alphabet.

"Just knowing the alphabet is not what you need to work with the deaf," Monahan said. "You need to know how to communicate."

American Sign Language employs body language and facial expression, along with signs, to convey inflected meaning.

"If your eyebrows are up, you're asking a yes-or-no question," Monahan said, describing some grammatical features of American Sign Language. "Eyebrows down, you're asking a 'Wh' question (such as where or why)."

Still, some subtleties can get lost in translation of words like "bow" or "fair," which have multiple meanings.

"There are all these opportunities for missed communication," Monahan said. "What you think you're saying is sometimes not what you are communicating."

In St. Rita's cafeteria, students gravitate to Monahan as she tries to eat her lunch.

Many of them wear bright, multicolored hearing aids, which Monahan said are very popular.

When speaking to a hearing person, Monahan interprets the conversation if her students are present.

"It's an opportunity for learning new words and ideas," she said.


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