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A Unique Resource: American Sign Language at MFNERC

Vernon Jebb is an American Sign Language (ASL) instructor/support worker at MFNERC. Vernon has spent the majority of his life deaf after he contracted meningitis at nine-months-old. Originally from The Pas, Manitoba, Vernon’s family came to Winnipeg when he was two-years-old to access the supports that he needed. They received services from the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic for a year, but Vernon wasn’t learning how to speak. His mom then switched him to the Society for Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD), and that’s where he learned how to sign around the age of four. Once Vernon learned to sign, he also learned to talk. After SMD, he attended the Manitoba School for the Deaf (MSD) from kindergarten to Grade 12. “I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for my mom coming down here. We didn’t have the resources in The Pas that SMD and MSD were both able to give me.”

Vernon always knew he wanted to be a teacher and to teach other young deaf kids how to sign so they could grow up with the same confidence that sign language gave him. Once he graduated from college, he was able to get a job working at the Manitoba School for the Deaf as an educational assistant. After working there for a little over a year, Vernon was told about an opportunity at MFNERC that he couldn’t pass up. “I didn’t even know a job like this existed—I’m really happy here doing what I do in the community.”

Now, Vernon develops resources for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students in five out of ten assigned communities in Manitoba. His colleague Emil Easter covers the other half. “We come in and teach the kids how to sign in ASL. We spend time teaching the students in the classrooms, the teachers, and the educational assistants. We also provide community evening sessions to teach any interested family and community members how to sign in ASL.”

The other day, Vernon turned his office space into a makeshift photo booth and used his laptop to take photos of himself while signing about specific themes. This week was about winter. He then printed out the images of himself signing the words, as well as photos of the action or item he is signing. He makes them into posters or flash cards. He uses these flashcards in his work with students learning ASL and leaves them behind for the students to practice with. He also makes videos to share with the students.

“It’s great to be able to provide ASL instruction for the students in their home community and to provide ASL support to the com- munity as well. Kids can fall be- hind when they have no language or way of communicating with the other kids, teachers, and/or parents at school or home, so I love my job and the role I have here at MFNERC.”