[Photo courtesy of Sophia Kucharski]
By: M.K. Killen
Angela Reisner may not be on St. Bonaventure University’s campus every day, but her bubbly personality has made an impression on many students.
“Angela is adorable, engaging and passionate,” said Simmi Kalsi, a sophomore biology major. “She’s just such a fun and phenomenal person. She’s super understanding, and she even brings us a bowl of candy every class—and takes requests.”
Reisner teaches courses in American Sign Language (ASL) on Monday and Tuesday nights. Students describe Resiner as energetic, fun and kind-hearted.
“She makes the class come alive by making it interactive. She could easily make it a crazy hard class that’s like draconian on the grammar, but she totally gets that there’s a learning curve to ASL, and her in-class videos and activities are a great, forgiving and engaging way of actually learning about the language and Deaf culture,” said Kalsi.
Reisner said her ASL experience stems from growing up as a Child of a Deaf Adult (CODA). Her father is Deaf and her mother was an interpreter.
In her home, Reisner said they used both English and ASL. When Reisner was very young, she said her father used to come to her classrooms and read, teaching the children a few signs to go along with the story.
“You could tell which of my friends spent the most time at my house when I was younger, as they all had sign names,” said Reisner.
Being a CODA was sometimes difficult for Reisner.
“At some point when I was little I became embarrassed about using ASL, so I refused to use it a lot of the time. I would fingerspell a lot, and rely on my mother to sign for me,” said Reisner.
However, Reisner said knowing ASL has offered many opportunities in her life.
Reisner started doing interpreting work when her mother needed a substitute. In 2012, Resiner graduated from Bonaventure with an M.S. in Education and her professors’ knowledge of her ASL fluency helped her get a job as an adjunct.
Reisner said she knows that first-hand experience is invaluable when studying language and she stresses this to her students.
“When I took my first interpreting job I was very under qualified,” Reisner said. “Not because I didn’t know the language, but because there is a whole different skill set involved in translating one language into another. I really learned this ‘on the job,’ and looking back I am slightly horrified at how clueless I was.”
As an interpreter, Reisner said her most rewarding experience came from a student she started with in preschool.
At first Reisner acted as a language model, allowing the student to learn by mimicking her signs. Once the child began understanding the language Reisner said it was amazing to see the progress she made in school. Language access opened a door, allowing that student to understand everything else that was going on.
“I really love finding the students who are genuinely interested in the Deaf community and want to be able to interact with them,” Reisner said. “ASL is a fun language to learn, but why learn it if you never intend to interact with someone who is Deaf? Part of the ASL class is learning about the Deaf community and their culture, because it can be significantly different from American hearing culture.”
As St. Bonaventure is a predominantly hearing campus, many students are unaware of the ASL courses offered or the number of people in the United States who speak ASL. Currently ASL only counts as required language credit for education and some science majors.
In the future, Reisner said she hopes that ASL will be offered to all majors as it is, “an amazingly useful skill to have. It is a language used by many people here in our own country, and if everyone knew even the basics it would really open up communication access for everyone.”
Sophia Kucharski, a sophomore education major who took Reisner’s class last semester, said that she has used sign language more often than she expected outside of class.
“One time—I work at Barnes and Noble—and a customer was signing and I knew the signs for chicken and big, and I figured out what book he wanted. Big Bird. Context clues,” said Kucharski.
When she’s not teaching or interpreting, Reisner said she enjoys reading and crocheting. She also sells LuLaRoe clothing online. As anyone who has taken her class can attest, Reisner loves “Doctor Who,” “Harry Potter” and “Pokémon.”
“I fully embrace being a nerd,” said Reisner.