Deaf Awareness Month: The History of Black ASL & the Fight to Save It

Young Black boy and Black man sit on a couch and use sign language to communicate


Not only is September Deaf Awareness Month, the International Day of Sign Language is celebrated on September 23rd. When it comes to American Sign Language (ASL), there are a number of misconceptions. One of the most prevalent is that ASL is just English spoken with your hands. This couldn’t be further from the truth. ASL is a rich, visual language that has its own grammar and sentence structure. It evolved not from the English language but from Old French Sign Language. Like every language, sign language grows and shifts over time to accommodate the different needs of the people using it.

For example, modern American English is an adaptation of British English. American English has an offshoot used by many Black Americans, called African American Vernacular English (AAVE).

This has also been mirrored in sign language. However, Black American Sign Language (BASL) is less an offshoot of ASL and more a closer cousin to the original ASL developed by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet in the early 19th century.

The development of BASL is directly related to segregation. Black and white children were schooled separately well into the 1960s, and in some places even longer. Schools for d/Deaf and blind people were no different.

Traditionally, all d/Deaf students were taught using manualism (ASL and fingerspelling). In the late 1860s, white students began primarily learning through oralism. Oralism encouraged lip reading, speaking, and mouthing words when signing. This was an attempt to discourage the use of sign language because it was considered by some to be a lower form of communication.

Because the education of white children was prioritized, oralism saw little use in Black d/Deaf teaching environments. So, Black signers continued to use and develop ASL, adding new terms, ways of signing, and styles.

One of the most notable differences between BASL and ASL is that BASL has a larger signing space and tends to employ more two-handed signing than ASL. BASL also has signs not found in ASL and that capture phrases and terms used in AAVE. One example is the sign for “stop tripping,” which takes the sign in ASL for trip and moves it to the forehead to change its meaning.

Because ASL is now the standard taught to all signers in the country, the prevalence of BASL may begin to wane within a few generations. To prevent this rich language from being lost entirely, there is now a movement to recognize and preserve it.

Leading the charge is Carolyn McCaskill, who is a professor at Gallaudet University and the co-director of the Black ASL project. The project’s goal is to collect footage of conversationalist BASL and create a description of what makes it a unique variety of ASL. This information will then be used to teach and disseminate information about BASL more widely to new generations.

Note: The writer of this article is white and is not Deaf. To learn more, we suggest the following:

Black ASL Project | Gallaudet University

Sign language that African Americans use is different from that of whites – The Washington Post

Preserving Black American Sign Language in the Deaf community – ABC News (

Step Up for CP During STEPtember

Logo with the words Steptember move together for cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common lifelong physical disability in the world. It affects roughly 1 million people in the U.S. and 18 million people worldwide. Yet research about CP remains vastly underfunded.

However, by participating in STEPtember, a global health and wellness event, you can make a difference. The virtual event helps Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation (CPARF) raise funds for life-changing scientific and technological advances.

Participating is fun, free, and easy for people of all fitness and ability levels. All you have to do is start moving.

“STEPtember is an inclusive, peer-to-peer fundraising challenge that’s also great for your health,” says Michael Pearlmutter, executive director of CPARF. “You can either take 10,000 steps a day or choose from 80 activities that convert to steps, like physical therapy, handcycling, horseback riding, chores around the house, everything you can possibly imagine. And if 10,000 steps isn’t a reasonable goal, you can set your personal goal to a number that’s meaningful for you.”

Because STEPtember is free, anyone can join the challenge at any time in September. “If someone isn’t interested in the month-long challenge, they can just do a one-week challenge or even a one-day challenge,” says Michael.

To participate, start by registering as an individual or as a team at STEPtember : Register. After that, share your personal fundraising page with friends and family. Finally, track and record your movement in September through the optional app, online, or any other way that works for you.

What Is CP?

While most people have heard of CP, they may not understand exactly what it is. That’s because CP isn’t a singular condition. Instead, it’s an “umbrella term referring to a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move,” according to CPARF’s website.

CP occurs when there’s damage to the brain during pregnancy or birth, or shortly after birth. While there is no single cause of CP, there are certain risk factors that increase its chances of occurring. These include premature birth, stroke, low birth weight, multiple births, oxygen loss during pregnancy or at birth, and blood type difference between the mother and the baby.

The condition is as unique as each person who lives with it. It can affect mobility, communication, sight, hearing, or behavior to varying degrees. While one person may limp slightly, another may be unable to feed or dress themselves.

To address the needs of those who have CP, CPARF funds research on detection and early intervention, chronic pain, technology, regenerative medicine, and genomics.

“Funds raised through STEPtember support our broad research and innovation efforts but each year we focus on a couple of specific projects,” says Michael. “This year’s focus is on technology and our disability technology start-up accelerator called Remarkable US.”

black and white photo of five people who are the STEPtember trainers. All have CP.who are the

This year’s STEPtember trainers.
(Photo courtesy CPARF)

Making Accessibility Accessible

Launched this year by CPARF in partnership with CP Alliance in Australia, Remarkable US helps develop start-ups that want to innovate in disability, aging, or health technology.

“For the 18 million people who have cerebral palsy and for the 20% of the world that uses assistive technology, Remarkable US is a game-changer,” says Michael.  “The technology is developed by or heavily involves people with disabilities every step of the way. It’s well made, thoughtful, affordable, and takes into consideration the needs of the community. You don’t get that if people with disabilities aren’t included.”

The work being done by Remarkable US isn’t just for those living with CP, according to Michael. “This technology will impact people with many different disabilities. For example, one can technology helps anyone who has mobility challenges, such as people who are aging and finding it more difficult to get around.”

Best of all, it won’t be out of reach financially, unlike many new disability tech innovations. “People don’t need another $40,000 product,” explains Michael. “We like to say we’re making accessibility accessible and that includes affordability.”

Learn more about cerebral palsy and STEPtember at Home | Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation – USA (

Then and Now: Celebrating 32 Years of the ADA

A child with a cognitive disability wearing a yellow shirt and glasses sitting next to an adult wearing a blue shirt in a classroom.

Imagine you are involved in an accident and need to temporarily use a walker. On the day you return to work, you must park far from the door and then negotiate several steps to get into the building. Once inside, you realize that there are no elevators to your office on the third floor. You call your supervisor, who tells you that if you can’t get to the third floor, that’s your problem. No, he can’t allow you to work remotely or arrange for an office on the first floor. Either get to the third floor or get fired.

Taken as a whole, this scenario might seem far-fetched. However, this was the reality for many people with disabilities before July 26, 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law.

Today, many of us take for granted the access and opportunities that the ADA made possible. They are such a part of our daily lives that we don’t think about them, but things have definitely changed! Let’s take a look at a few examples of what life was like before the ADA and what has happened since.

Then: People with disabilities could not legally request accommodations in the workplace.

Now: Title I of the ADA outlaws discriminatory practices against an individual who is “qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.” This applies to employers with 15 or more employees and includes employment practices such as hiring, pay, leave, benefits, and job assignments. Employers must also provide reasonable accommodations to ensure employees and applicants enjoy benefits and privileges equal to those without disabilities.

Then: Children with disabilities were not guaranteed access to public schools.

Now: Thanks to Title II of the ADA, in conjunction with two other landmark laws, children with disabilities are guaranteed comparable access to public education. Providing this access may include removing communication barriers by providing ASL interpreters for d/Deaf children or offering auxiliary aids like large print materials for students with low vision. Title II also ensures that all people with disabilities have access to services, programs, and activities provided by local and state governments.

Then: While staying in a hotel, a person with a mobility disability might not have been able to access the toilet in their room.

Now: Under Title III of the ADA, all private businesses that accommodate the public are required to provide equal access to the goods and services they provide. In the example of a hotel, they must offer rooms that provide accessibility features such as roll-in showers, wider doorways, and grab bars.

Then: Individuals who were d/Deaf or hard of hearing were unable to access important public service announcements (PSAs) – like emergency broadcasts – on television.

Now: Title IV of the ADA requires that closed captioning is provided for all PSAs that are partially or fully funded by the federal government. In addition, it required telephone companies to provide telephone relay services that allow those with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the phone through a teletypewriter (TTY).

Thanks to the ADA, our country and community have become more accessible for people with disabilities, but we still have work to do. If you would like to know more about your rights under the ADA or how you can help break down barriers to equal access, contact The Independence Center at 719-471-8181 or

Join us in raising awareness about PTSD

Image with the words, June is PTSD awareness month not all wounds are visible

In 1943, General George S. Patton infamously assaulted two soldiers in separate incidents after visiting injured men in different Army hospitals. These soldiers drew Patton’s wrath because, instead of having physical injuries, they had “battle fatigue” or what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The assumption made by Patton and many others at the time was that PTSD wasn’t a “real” condition and the men were cowards.

Fortunately, since then, PTSD has become more understood and recognized by medical professionals and the public, although misconceptions and stigma still remain. To help educate the public about this mental health condition and available treatments, PTSD Awareness Month is observed each June.

What is PTSD?

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD “is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.” You can even be affected by hearing about an event or reading about it in the news.

Who does PTSD affect?

In the U.S., there are about 3 million cases of PTSD each year; about 7 to 9 percent of the population will have PTSD in their lifetime. It affects individuals of all ages and races, although some groups are more likely to experience PTSD including women, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

While it’s normal to be upset, on edge, or have trouble sleeping after a traumatic event, most people start feeling better after a few weeks. However, if these feelings continue for many months, or if symptoms develop later on, an individual may have PTSD. These symptoms can include:

  • Reliving the event through intrusive memories, flashbacks, or nightmares.
  • Avoiding anything that might be a reminder of the trauma.
  • Increased anger, irritability, or difficulty sleeping or concentrating.

Left untreated, PTSD can be disruptive and interfere with day-to-day activities and functioning. Complex PTSD can also lead to thoughts of hopelessness, uselessness, and suicide.

Is PTSD treatable?

Yes, PTSD is treatable! If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, work closely with your health care provider to develop a treatment plan. The primary treatment is psychotherapy but may also include medications to help manage symptoms.

If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis brought on by PTSD or another mental health condition, these local resources are available to help:

Colorado Crisis Services Hotline
Call 844-493-8255, or text “TALK” to 38255
For more, see

AspenPointe Crisis Stabilization Unit
Crisis line: 719-635-7000
Walk-in crisis stabilization unit: 115 S. Parkside Drive (where individuals may seek immediate help)

What can I do to spread awareness about PTSD?

Although we’ve come a long way since 1943, raising awareness and providing education about PTSD is still important. Begin by educating yourself and sharing facts with friends and family on social media and elsewhere. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a calendar of ways to help spread the word throughout the month of June. You can view it at June PTSD Awareness Month Calendar (

If you or someone you know has PTSD, The Independence Center can help connect you with resources and services in our community. Call us at 719-471-8181.

Expanding Digital Inclusion and Accessibility

Side view of captivated multiethnic young people smiling and looking at screen while browsing computer with headphones and sitting at desk in modern library

Just in time for Global Accessibility Awareness Day , The Independence Center (The IC) and Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD) have partnered to improve digital accessibility for people with disabilities. These upcoming improvements, made possible in part by a $25,000 grant from The Independence Center’s IC Fund, will help PPLD expand accessibility via their Library spaces, resources, and services.

The goal of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is to shine a light on the need for digital access and inclusion for the one billion people worldwide living with a disability, according to its website. Digital accessibility can take the form of alt text on images for people who are blind, captioning for Deaf individuals, or simple, easy-to-understand navigation for those with cognitive disabilities.

“Individuals with disabilities deserve the same access to web-based services, content, and even gaming as someone without a disability,” said Deb Walker, director of strategic partnerships for The IC. “PPLD is such an important resource for people of all ages and abilities. The IC is proud to support them in their efforts to ensure their vision of being fully inclusive and accessible is realized.”

At PPLD, the accessibility improvements will include accessible game controllers and adaptive games kits, software updates to assistive technology computers, and more at select locations. For example, at Library 21c and other libraries in the northern part of El Paso County, a new FM system will help people hear better in noisy listening situations. It is typically used in conjunction with hearing aids but can also be used by those without. This will make a difference to students from the Colorado Springs School for the Deaf and Blind when touring the Library or using its makerspaces and studios.

“We’re grateful for the funding support from The Independence Center that will soon help us improve accessibility at multiple Library facilities in our service area,” said Teona Shainidze-Krebs, interim CEO and chief librarian for PPLD. “It’s important for our Library spaces, resources, and services to be welcoming and inclusive for all in the community.”

Celebrating National Nurse’s Week: Meet Jean

May 6 – 12 is National Nurse’s Week 2022. We’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the nurses who work here at The Independence Center. Every day, they make a difference in the lives of others and we couldn’t do what we do without them.

Today, we’re shining the spotlight on Jean Bell, who has been connected with The Independence Center for over 20 years!

Photo of Jean BellJean, who hails from Central Illinois, graduated from nursing school in 1973 and spent most of her nursing career there working in critical care. She married her high school sweetheart in 1974 and they adopted three children together.

A desire to be closer to family brought them to Colorado in 1992. She worked for 11 years for a large HMO-PPO insurance company doing medical reviews but she found that she missed nursing. She started picking up some part time home care work and joined The Independence Center in 2000. She spent the next 20 years running the U.S. office for a large nonprofit mission in Haiti, traveling back and forth a few times a year and continuing to work part time for The IC. Since retiring from her Haiti work at the end of 2019, she has been primarily working for The IC.

“I have two patients that I admitted in 2001 and I have been their nurse ever since,” she says. “There are others that I’ve had for many years and have enjoyed watching them grow up. My plans for the future are to continue doing what I love doing for as long as I can.”

Celebrating National Nurse’s Week: Meet Cheryl

May 6 – 12 is National Nurse’s Week 2022. We’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the nurses who work here at The Independence Center. Every day, they make a difference in the lives of others and we couldn’t do what we do without them.

Photo of Cheryl CareyToday, we’d like you to meet  Cheryl Carey, who has been working as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) for The Independence Center for more than 10 years.

Cheryl is originally from St. Paul, Minnesota. Married for almost 40 years, she and her husband have two grown children and four grandchildren. Her nursing background centered around coronary care in the early years, but she has worked in nursing homes, private duty, pediatric clinics, adult clinics, and other home health agencies.

“I enjoy taking care of our clients here at The IC and, most of all, I enjoy the comradery and team effort it takes to do so,” she says.

Celebrating National Nurse’s Week: Meet June

May 6 – 12 is National Nurse’s Week 2022. We’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the nurses who work here at The Independence Center. Every day, they make a difference in the lives of others and we couldn’t do what we do without them.

Today, we’d like you to meet June Johnston, who has been our Home Health Clinical  Manager for the past three and a half years.

June grew up as a self-described country girl in California. She met her husband in high school band and they have been married for 52 years. Together, they have lived in six different states, one of them twice. They have three children and 11 grandchildren.

She began her nursing career early, when she volunteered in a nursing home while in high school. Since graduating from nursing school in 1973, June has had a varied career in many types of nursing. She started as a charge nurse in the ER of a large county hospital/trauma center. She transitioned to a mobile intensive care nurse field, training paramedics for about a year, before going to surgical intensive care.

When she lived in Missouri, she worked in home health and hospice. She found her passion working as a hospice nurse for nine years, five of those as hospice director. She worked as a school nurse in Houston and then returned to hospice when she and her husband moved to Colorado. Following a stint at a large family practice clinic with Peak Vista, she took on her current role at The IC.

Thinking about her different experiences, June says, “During my entire career, I have felt called to serve underserved populations. The places I have worked have blessed me with all the different people I have been allowed to serve.”

Busting the Myths About Mental Health

Imagine that you trip and break your arm. Now imagine that you’re so embarrassed that you don’t tell your friends or family. You don’t even visit a doctor. Instead, you endure the pain and hope your arm heals in time.

On the surface, this can seem like an outlandish scenario; but for many living with a mental health condition, it’s part of everyday life. Even though 1 in 5 adults live with a mental health condition, fewer than half seek treatment, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Why? Often, it’s because the stigma surrounding mental health conditions leads to fear, shame, and judgment from others.

For Mental Health Awareness Month, which occurs each May, we’d like to bust a few myths surrounding mental health. After you read this article, we hope you will share it and have conversations with those you care about. By talking openly about it, we can help make treating a mental health condition as normal and expected as treating a broken arm.

Silhouette of woman wearing a hat. The sun is shining through the hat, evoking an image of mental wellbeing.

MYTH: It’s easy to tell when someone has a mental health condition.

FACT: Mental health conditions are often invisible disabilities. In other words, it can be difficult to know that someone has a mental health condition just by looking at them. As the recent passing of legendary country singer, Naomi Judd, reminds us, even those who seem to be happy or to “have it all” can be quietly struggling with mental health challenges.

MYTH: People with mental illness are more likely to be violent.

FACT: It is estimated that only about three-to-five percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, studies show that people with severe mental illness over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.

MYTH: Having a mental health condition means you can’t work.

FACT: While some severe conditions may keep an individual from working, most people with mental health conditions lead full, productive lives. Overall, employers who hire those with known mental health conditions report that productivity, quality of work, and motivation are on par with other employees.

MYTH: There’s no hope for people with mental health conditions.

FACT: Although it’s true that there is no “cure” for someone with a mental health condition, there is great potential for recovery to a greater or lesser degree. According to Mental Health America, “Recovering from mental illness includes not only getting better but achieving a full and satisfying life. Many people affirm that their journey to recovery has not been a straight, steady road. Rather, there are ups and downs, new discoveries, and setbacks. The journey to full recovery takes time, but positive changes can happen all along the way.”

MYTH: I can’t do anything to help someone with a mental health condition.

FACT: Having a strong support system can go a long way toward helping someone recover. Not sure how to help? Educating yourself by reading articles like this. Treat them with respect. Use person-first language, instead of saying they’re “crazy” or “unbalanced.” Offer them mental health resources like those below. Finally, and most importantly, let them know that you’re there for them and want to help.


Colorado Crisis Services Hotline
Call 844-493-8255, or text “TALK” to 38255
For more, see

AspenPointe Crisis Stabilization Unit
Crisis line: 719-635-7000
Walk-in crisis stabilization unit: 115 S. Parkside Drive (where individuals may seek immediate help)

NAMI Colorado Springs
Call 719-473-8477 (Note: This is not a crisis line.)

The Independence Center
Email Us

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a mental health condition as a disability if it limits one or more major life activities. As such, many mental health conditions are protected under the ADA, as well as other federal laws. The IC offers a variety of resources, information, and support – including assistance with housing, employment, disability benefits, and peer support – to help those with mental health conditions live more independently.

Autism Awareness Month: Holland’s Story

Photo of Holland Pentz sitting on a curb in front of The Independence Center building.

“If I could snap my fingers and be non-autistic, I would not. Autism is part of what I am.”
-Temple Grandin, renowned scientist and animal behaviorist

Autism Awareness Month is observed in April as a way to increase understanding, acceptance, and support of the 3.5 million people worldwide with autism.

While most of us have heard of autism (formally known as autism spectrum disorder), there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about what it actually is. According to the Autism Society, it is “a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a ‘spectrum condition’ that affects people differently and to varying degrees.”


Autism: As Unique as the Individual


That last part is important to remember. While many people with autism share similarities, each individual’s experience is unique and personal.

Just ask Holland Pentz, Quality and Support Specialist for The Independence Center’s (The IC’s) Veteran in Charge (VIC) program. A thoughtful young woman with bright eyes and an inquisitive mind, she’s been with The IC five years.

Upon meeting her, one might notice that she’s a little shy or that direct eye contact makes her uncomfortable. However, it probably wouldn’t occur to most people, at least right away, that she has autism.

That’s why Holland thinks it’s important that others understand that autism truly is a spectrum. “There are a lot of misconceptions people have about it,” she explains. “They tend to think in broader strokes and the image that often comes to mind is someone who is nonverbal, who does a lot of stimming. People really don’t think about those who are on a different point in the spectrum.”

Because symptoms of autism typically manifest before the age of three, most new diagnoses occur in children. Although Holland was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child, she didn’t receive her autism diagnosis until she was 26 years old.

This isn’t uncommon. On average, girls are diagnosed about a year and a half later than boys because girls’ symptoms are more subtle, becoming more apparent in their teen years. Because of this, some girls aren’t diagnosed until adulthood, if ever. This was the case for Holland, whose autism was finally identified when she sought out additional testing from the Thede Family Center (now Whole Kids Company) several years after an incorrect diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Once she finally got the correct diagnosis, everything started to make more sense. “I mean, it obviously doesn’t change how I look at myself or who I am. But it just changed the game for, really, everything else.”


Life on the Spectrum


Holland sees both challenges and rewards to having autism. One of the challenges, she says is “communicating in a way that the other person can understand. Just making that connection from what’s in my head to what comes out of my mouth.”

Another challenge is the perception that she lacks empathy. “I think it goes back to that communication thing and other people not understanding the ways I show I care. It might not even register to the other person and so they think I don’t have empathy.”

On the other hand, “a lot of the positives are connected to work. My supervisor, Marsha, and the others I work with will mention how I tend to bring a different viewpoint into a discussion or an issue. I’m able to look at it a different way.”

From a personal standpoint, she thinks hyperfixation can also be a positive. Common among people who have ADHD or autism, hyperfixation is extreme focus and complete immersion in something, whether it be a game, a topic, social media, and more. “It might seem odd to others but to me it’s just something I enjoy, you know? I actually feel a little bad for people who don’t have something they love and get kind of obsessive about,” she laughs. “It just seems a little boring.”

When asked what others can do to remove barriers and make interactions easier, Holland sits thoughtfully for a moment before responding. “Just be compassionate. Even if you don’t understand why something may be difficult for a person on the spectrum, give them the same respect you would to anyone else with a disability. Remember that accessibility is just as important to someone with autism as it is to someone in a wheelchair.”

And if someone is uncertain about how to accommodate a person with autism? “Just ask! But do it in a kind way and remember that, hey, you’re talking to a person. I think some people forget that, you know?”


For more information on supports and services for people with autism, contact The IC at 719-471-8181 or email

Whole Kids Company (formally the Thede Family Center) offers full neuropsych testing for children. Visit their website at Home | Counseling in Colorado springs, CO | Michael Collins (