Learning a new language and stepping out of the familiar can seem very daunting, but ASL Social Happy Hour, held at The Infinite Monkey Theorem is designed to be just the opposite. The happy hour is a monthly event put on by local interpreter Lyndsey Gibbons as a means to expose all people to American Sign Language and the Deaf community here in Denver.
“There are so many people who have never met or interacted with a Deaf person and so this is a really cool opportunity for that. You know when we step out of our bubble it can feel awkward and unsafe and so those are all the things I wanted to minimize with happy hour” says Lyndsey.
American sign language (ASL) is the third most commonly used language in the United States behind English and Spanish, with more than a half-million people using ASL as their primary language. This number is only projected to grow in the coming years as our population ages. John Hopkins University expects by 2060 the number of Americans aged 20 and older who experience hearing loss will double.
“A lot of the time people either talk really loudly, raise their voice to a Deaf person, or just make assumptions. I think if all of us as humans just saw each other as just that, as humans, and we all just made a little effort, that would go so far in this world. So, that being said, learning just the basics can make a really big impact on someone’s day because it is all about effort,” says Lyndsey.
Growing up Lyndsey was exposed to sign language by her family, despite no one being Deaf. However, she didn’t study ASL until she started taking classes in college and was embraced wholeheartedly by the Deaf community.
“I wasn’t born into Deaf culture and yet they didn’t judge me. I made mistakes and they just took me for what I was,” says Lyndsey. “And so to fast forward, ASL happy hour is part of going back to that. Giving back and honoring my friends who embraced me with open arms.”
After seeing her Deaf friends struggle because people didn’t put in the effort, especially with Covid and masks, Lyndsey decided she wanted to help change the narrative with an inclusive, accessible event. It is typically held in the back barrel room. Over the span of two hours, people learn how to sign common phrases and engage in conversations with people they might never have talked to in their lives using just their hands. People with every level of signing experience are welcome and present.
“As Lyndsey says at the start of every meeting, the rule is to reduce the amount of work that her Deaf friends have to put in to communicate and that has always felt so meaningful to me and these ASL happy hours have started many people in that process which is so beautiful” says Piers’ McCarthy.
Piers’ was born Deaf in Ireland into an all-hearing family. However, after finding that Ireland was far behind in services for the Deaf, his family decided to uproot their lives and move to the US for better access for him. They moved to New York City where Piers’ was entered into a Bilingual Bicultural school, where they taught in both English and ASL. After three years, the family uprooted again to Denver where Piers’ has been ever since.
“When I moved to Denver I was mainstreamed from age 6 and on. It was hard but I got a better education because of it, that was the positive. The negative was the isolation, and that is what Lyndsey is trying to improve with the ASL happy hour.”
Piers’ is a strong advocate for every person learning ASL. Piers’ mom and sister learned it for him, yet his father did not. He says that this is quite typical with hearing parents. According to the National Institute on Deafness, more than 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents and of those families only 10% of the parents learn ASL. Having his mother’s and sister’s support helped him tremendously and ASL helped him come into his own self.
“Every Deaf person struggles to hear, with or without an implant and so I encourage every Deaf adult to learn ASL, because it really is so much easier than having to struggle through situations,” says Piers’.
Sitting down on one of the plump couches in the back barrel room Rebecca Sloan practiced signing her name. It was her third time attending ASL happy hour and the most Deaf people she had ever seen. Raised by two hearing parents, Rebecca was fitted with a hearing aid at age three and never learned ASL.
“I was fitted with hearing aids before cochlear implants became mainstream for children,” says Rebecca. The hearing aids were far from perfect and everything sounded muffled compared to what it sounds like with a cochlear implant now. Everything sounded like it was moving through cotton balls. Living in the mainstream world 24/7 and having a hearing loss and trying to fit in was very hard. I was very good with structured things but organic interactions with people on an everyday basis was and continues to be very very hard for me.”
For Rebecca, ASL happy hour has allowed her to become better acquainted with Deaf culture, something she never had access to growing up.
“Deaf culture is so small that I never really had access to Deaf adults, peers, or the community, or any of that” says Rebecca, “I struggled with feelings of rejection and exclusion higher than the normal person and going through that and overcoming that was hard,” she added. “It could have been that people around me weren’t encouraging me in certain ways, in the way I needed to be encouraged and I wasn’t learning how to advocate for myself.”
Despite the challenges growing up, Rebecca has persevered. She graduated from one of the top journalism schools in the country, Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, Rebecca now has her own photography business, Rebecca Sloan Photography. Rebecca is determined to keep coming to ASL Happy Hour to learn more about Deaf culture and the language of ASL.
“For much of my life I struggled to fit in. On the cusp of both the hearing and Deaf communities but never inside. ASL happy hour has let me in” says Rebecca.
“With ASL happy hour the goal isn’t to bring down hearing people to Deaf people’s level but to raise the Deaf person up. ASL is raw, it’s real, it’s like any other language but way more visual. Using a 3D space to describe something, that’s one of the best feelings I will ever feel in this world” says Piers.
One of the many reasons Lyndsey fell in love with the language is the deep expressiveness of it.
“In hearing culture, people don’t feel comfortable looking others in the eyes and ASL will teach you to because facial expressions are a part of the signs,” says Lyndsey. “Being able to look someone in the eye and be like I’m genuinely paying attention to you is one of many great characteristics of the language. Whereas with hearing culture we’re looking down, we’re on our phone ‘yeah I hear you’ you know, we’re looking all over, we’re distracted, with ASL you have to be in the moment.”
ASL Social Happy Hours take place every month on Mondays or Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Infinite Monkey Theorem. ASL Crash Courses are also happen at the Infinite Monkey Theorem from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. every other Monday led by deaf teacher Kelly McCrary. A minimum $1 donation (for ASL social happy hour) and $5 donation (for ASL crash course happy hour) is required in order to keep the ASL happy hours continuing, as well as compensating the ASL teacher. Interpreters volunteer their time for these events. To stay up to date follow the Instagram @aslhappyhourcolorado or go to the events page at theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com