By Sydney Owens
No one is speaking, but the room is not silent. People raise their hands in joy, snap their fingers in disappointment, or slap playing cards on the table in attempts to win a game of “War.” Words are not needed to understand the lively expressions on their faces.
Welcome to the Edgewater Branch of the Chicago Public Library and one of its regular game days for deaf people and their friends. The idea is simple. Users of American Sign Language (ASL) meet to socialize, while playing board games. Family members often join them, along with friends and people who want to sharpen their ASL skills.
Although not all of the attendees are deaf or partially deaf, the program tends to run on a “voices off” policy, to better include everyone in attendance. About 20 people, both adults and teens, joined a recent session.
Evelyn Keolian, the Children’s Librarian at Edgewater, started the program about three years ago. Born with a hearing loss, Keolian was not exposed to ASL until she began college. Now she helps host ASL book clubs and coffee chats in the Chicago area. She has also volunteered in the Anixter Center’s Deaf Literacy Program and has participated in outreach with the Chicago Park District’s Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (DHH) summer camp.
Peter Wujcik, a member of the ASL/Deaf community, attended the event for the first time on Saturday and said he enjoyed “playing games and chatting” the most. He said he also attends ASL coffee chats regularly.
In addition to members of the ASL/Deaf community, many high school and college students attended the event hoping to improve their ASL skills and meet new people.
John Yunk, a Glenbrook South High School student, attended the event for the first time on Saturday with his older sister.
“It was fun to interact with others and enhance my sign,” he said.
Yunk said he took up ASL because he wanted to learn more about the deaf community. Yunk’s sister, Mary, enjoyed “meeting new people” at the event. She said she’s been studying ASL for two years.
“I love the language,” she said.
ASL/Deaf Family and Friends’ Game Days are held year-round, except in the Summer. Event dates can be found on the Chicago Public Library website.