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Canalside Chronicles

The Student News Site of Canalside Chronicles

Canalside Chronicles

The Student News Site of Canalside Chronicles

Canalside Chronicles

A second chance
May 7, 2024

Speaking in silence


By: Michala Schram

Smoothly he moves his body forward and back with swift motions while making direct eye contact with each student intently watching him. Bold expression with his hands, eyes and face are the threads that bind the students understanding to the intricacies of American Sign Language (ASL). As the professor of ASL at SUNY Brockport, Michael Weingart demonstrates the moves and meanings of the language through repetition and patience. Weingart’s patience extends to the larger hearing community.

Michael Weingart chatting with a student before class begins on April 23, 2024. Canalside Chronicles photo/Michala Schram

“I often have to find ways to conform to society’s norms. When they don’t know how to accommodate me. Hence one of the main reasons for teaching ASL. So I can educate hearing people on effective communication with deaf and hard of hearing people and better awareness of their culture including their perspective and practices,” Weingart said.

Rochester has one of the largest deaf populations per capita in the United States of about 40,000 people. Weingart knows the impact that learning ASL can have on someone’s life because he experienced the impact first-hand.

“It was a very challenging life as a deaf child. When people expected me to be able to read lips and hear sound with my hearing aids, and use spoken communication,” Weingart said. “So you can imagine the first time when I tried to use ASL and it opened a whole new world for me.”

Weingart contracted spinal meningitis at two years old. A vaccination for meningitis was not available at this time, and it resulted in hearing loss. He was directed down a conventional path of education in a program for those with a hearing impairment, said Weingart.

“[The program involved] deaf and hard of hearing students learning in an aural-oral modality. They thought that it was the best way to raise me,” Weingart said.

Throughout childhood he worked to adapt with hearing aids and attempting to read lips. This led to feelings of isolation from those around him. Seeing ASL on the school bus a few times was his only exposure to the language.

During his senior year of high school, Weingart started learning ASL from a deaf family. After graduation, he traveled from the Cleveland area to study at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). While attending RIT, he started understanding ASL more. While attending school, he found that he wasn’t happy majoring in graphic design.

“I went back home to do some exploration. Trying some different career possibilities until I was 21 years old when a friend of mine suggested that I try out teaching ASL,” Weingartsaid. “So I started teaching it in an adult education program and loved it. As I not only was realizing what I had missed out all my life communication-wise. I also was motivated to educate hearing people that ASL is integral to the lives of deaf and hard of hearing people like me.”

After finding how much he loved teaching ASL, he decided that was the path he wanted to take. He went to community college and then attended Kent State University majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies and a minor in Education.

“Because there was no major in ASL, I enlisted the assistance of a professor in Deaf Education who was more than happy to create one,” Weingart said.

After graduating he applied to schools throughout the country. He was hired at Monroe Community College (MCC) in 2002, and fifteen years later hired at SUNY Brockport. With over 30 years experience teaching ASL, his students feel they are gaining knowledge from level one course.

Professor Michael Weingart teaching at SUNY Brockport on April 23, 2024.
Canalside Chronicles photo/Michala Schram

Communication major Maryam Nor said she didn’t know what to expect from the class. She was pleasantly surprised by how much she was learning especially in the first few weeks.

“I feel like every single time he explains it in a way where it’s easy to understand how he is signing a word [and] he’ll explain it in depth for you to understand it. Whether it’s gestures or writing it on the board and stuff like that,” Nor said.

In class Weingart teaches vocabulary words by explaining a story that goes with the vocabulary words. Further describing these words with stories that tie in his life is another step in the process of his lectures.

Confidence is something that Nursing major Eddie Graves feels he’s gaining from Weingart’s class. Being a veteran, he starting to lose some of his hearing from his service in the military. He said each year his hearing declines. He’s taking ASL to use it in the work field after graduation.

“The whole purpose for me is I’m in nursing school, and I want to work at the VA helping other veterans. So learning sign language is important because, you know, a lot of vets are going deaf, and it happens early [in life],” Graves said.

Whether a student starts learning ASL with an interest in the language or to help aid in their future career, it benefits the community in Rochester. 

“I am very blessed to live in Rochester, N.Y. as we have a large Deaf population and greater interest by hearing people to communicate with them. Which is not the case in other parts of the world,” Weingart said.

Michael Weingart with his wife and their four children. Canalside Chronicles/Photo provided.

Weingart’s patience, time, and effort at Monroe Community College and SUNY Brockport contributes to bridge the gap between the hearing and the Deaf community. The flow of communication from his eyes, hands, and body exudes the vibrancy of Weingart’s personality, and the community he represents.

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