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An Interview with Sheena McFeely

Sheena: Two things can happen with not understanding through communication. For example, if my daughter comes in and sees signs that don’t make sense to her. She would see that didn’t fit her own language. The other thing that can happen is that she’ll adopt those signs and bring it home with her and spread the misuse of sign language.


Melissa: That’s why Sheena McFeely, creator of ASL Nook, felt like she HAD to speak up after seeing a viral video made by Sign Disney. A girl was going up to different characters at Disneyland teaching them sign language for them to communicate with other Deaf children.   Tru Biz noticed this controversy and reached out to Sheena to see more thoughts about why she stepped up. We reached out to Sign Disney as well, but did not receive a response.


Sheena: As a content creator for ASL Nook, I feel it’s really important that when it comes to teaching language in particular, Deaf culture, anything-- we’re a minority group. We have to make sure we’re being portrayed accurately and that really starts from day one. From the first episode really. So when I saw this video, I could tell-- I teach ASL myself, as well-- I could see from her language, her production of signs, her fluency, structure, word order, it just wasn’t there. Some of the signs were totally off.


Melissa: After Sheena said something a controversy followed with many people giving different opinions.  Some felt it was no big deal, and others felt it was wrong. Deaf people have an accountability to stand up for our language, especially with media.


Sheena: The question is, how do we get through to the media? We need to have people supporting us.


Melissa: Yes, support is very important, especially with how roles of Deaf people in the media have been lately.


Sheena: There’s more to fight for. Yes, we already have Deaf people in media, and that’s great, but we still have a long way to go. After what I’ve seen, just wow.


Melissa: Sheena also had some interesting thoughts about how some may view ASL as a hot trend, but really it shouldn’t be - it needs to be preserved.


Sheena: ASL is a widespread language. So many people use it every day. But there’s an exploitive aspect to that. So with that, I’ve become more diligent than ever before when I see things like this. People who use ASL can become very trendy in a way, which isn’t what I want. Because trends can fade away quickly and we want the language to stick around! There’s this concept of like, there’s fame in this, how can I get in on this? I need that 15 minutes of fame. It’s all about popularity, being well known. But please, don’t do that to our language and our people. How did ASL start, and how does it flourish today? It’s us, the Deaf. Always has and always will. The language and the culture can’t survive without us. So I always emphasize letting deaf people take the lead. Let us do the work and of course, continue the fight for equality too.


Melissa: Sheena does think it’s a great idea to teach Disney characters how to sign, but it needs to be done the right way.


Sheena: I really hope that person has learned something from all of this. To stop, take a pause, and really find a way to get immersed into the Deaf community and learn, because it takes many years to learn sign language. That can’t be taken for granted. Just learn, and pick up on it.


Melissa: She realizes that many Deaf people may feel afraid to speak up, but it’s the only way a real difference can be made.


Sheena: We need to find a way to bring Deaf people together who work in the media. Who works in the media now, and people who might want to. If we work together and garner a support system, we could come together in the event of something happening so we could have a unified front for discussion.


Melissa: What do you think about this? How can the Deaf community work together to preserve ASL, especially in the media?


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