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Nursing student bridges the gap between Deaf and hearing culture

Nursing student bridges the gap between Deaf and hearing culture

When Sarah Corbeil, a third-year political science student, arrived at Queen’s in 2018, she found very little in the way of American Sign Language (ASL) resources on campus. She knew this had to change. Although Sarah is a hearing person, she first became interested in learning ASL after travelling with her friend who is Hard of Hearing. During their travels, Sarah learned some ASL to communicate in tricky situations, and took her passion for the language with her back home. “I decided to create the club because there were no other opportunities to learn ASL on campus. I had intended to take an ASL class or join an ASL club when I first applied to Queen’s, but when I realized there wasn’t anything offered, I decided to create my own club!” The Queen’s American Sign Language Club (QASL) was born. Once the club was created, Sarah discovered a significant amount of interest within the Queen's student body, and quickly hired an executive team. One of those executives is a third-year nursing student, Amy Rowe.



Amy’s story is a unique one.  While not Deaf or Hard of Hearing herself, Amy came to ASL by accident. Her Toronto neighbourhood happened to be in the catchment area of a high school for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. By virtue of her high school classmates, Amy is not only fluent in ASL, but a passionate advocate for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community and its culture.  At Queen’s, Amy has become an ambassador for sign language. “I love ASL, I think it’s such a beautiful and expressive way to communicate.” Amy is one of the educators for QASL and has worked alongside Sarah to create a more inclusive and accessible environment for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students here at Queen’s.

ASL access is especially important in healthcare scenarios; many nursing students who attended QASL classes have learned how access to sign language skills can improve health outcomes for Deaf & Hard of Hearing patients. While some Deaf and Hard of Hearing Canadians receive speech therapy or have cochlear implants, for many their primary language is ASL.  American Sign Language uses facial expressions, body movements, and a unique grammar to communicate complex messages. Healthcare interactions without ASL for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals can be difficult if not impossible. Poor communication leads to inadequate health assessments, culturally inappropriate treatments, and poor clinical outcomes. In order to provide accessible healthcare – an important lesson for future nurses – understanding Deaf culture is critical.

QASL Club aims to help change this with weekly lessons and a YouTube channel for those who can’t make the lessons on campus. The channel, Queen’s American Sign Language, teaches non-medical ASL. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the QASL club was meeting weekly in-person. Now, they offer Zoom lessons that are free to attend and open to anyone at Queen’s or in the Kingston community. To address medical issues specifically, Amy also created YouTube videos for the Canadian Nursing Students Association (CNSA), which provide instruction on how to do medical assessments in basic ASL.

Their work is making a difference. In February 2020, the club was awarded the Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity Impact Award. This award is presented to individuals or groups who have contributed to making Queen’s a more inclusive space and who have, “…demonstrated contributions to furthering an understanding of the interplay and intersections among different identities on campus and their work will show that diversity strengthens the Queen’s community.”  Amy's thank you video is posted above. In addition, in March 2020, it was announced that QASL has been named Queen’s Club of the Year for 2019-2020.

Amy and the rest of her nursing student colleagues realize this is only just the beginning of their work. How can healthcare become more accessible for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people? One answer is training more Deaf and Hard of Hearing nurses and doctors. In the meantime, Amy and her nursing student colleagues want to make it easier for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people to work in health care, and that means more people with sign language skills. “It is not the responsibility of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students alone to advocate for inclusivity on campus. We all play a part in making Queen’s and our health care system accessible for everyone.”

If you are interested in learning ASL, visit the QASL YouTube channel and Facebook page  or email them at

Interested in learning some ASL during Pride month? QASL held a free online Pride ASL signs lesson this week which you can see on their YouTube Page.

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