Sign up for sign language: LaPlace woman teaching skills to families, schools

Published 12:07 am Saturday, June 10, 2017

LAPLACE — Like millions of children, Danielle Culpepper suffered from many painful ear infections.

Like millions of parents, hers decided to allow her doctors to have tubes surgically implanted to alleviate the pain.

Unlike most cases, however, things went wrong and her eardrum was damaged.

By the time she was in college, Culpepper had undergone six operations to try to repair the damage in her left ear, but she still lost a significant amount of hearing.

One day her roommate at Southeastern Louisiana University was trying to have a conversation.

Danielle Culpepper signs for the word ‘more.’

“I realized I couldn’t hear her at all,” Culpepper said.

After a seventh surgery, which restored most of her hearing, Culpepper decided she wanted to learn sign language.

“It just made me feel for them,” Culpepper said. “That’s what got me into it.”

Now she wants to teach it to others.

Culpepper will teach an adult American Sign Language course this fall through the St. Charles Parish Community Education program.

Over the six-week course, participants will learn everything from the alphabet to how to sign a complete recipe.

Culpepper also offers sign language lessons to anyone who wishes to learn.

American Sign Language is a series of hand gestures developed by the hearing impaired in the early 19th century to communicate. It originated at the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut.

The sign for ‘water.’

In recent years, however, it has been adapted for other situations. Some parents even use it to communicate with their infants as they develop their verbal skills.

Culpepper said it has other uses, as well, including many children with autism.

“It’s for anyone who is non-verbal,” Culpepper said. “I do a lot of autistic children. Stroke victims, this is an alternative for them. There’s a misconception that it’s just for the deaf. It’s not. It’s for parents to help their kids who are not verbal.”

Culpepper says there are many benefits for teachers and parents of non-verbal children, but she feels many school systems don’t fulfill the needs of their students. She spent many years working as an interpreter for several school systems, but felt they failed to meet the needs of the students.

“Some kids need this but they’re not getting it from the schools,” Culpepper said. “I felt like I was fighting for the special needs students but the parents didn’t know the right resources and I didn’t have the power to go over their heads. That’s one of the reasons I want to do this on my own. I feel I can give the parents the resources and not have to depend on the school system. Some of these kids have no communication skills. I fought so hard for these kids to have sign language skills, or just services. Some of the schools just don’t see it.”

She cites one example of a deaf child who was offered Culpepper as sign language interpreter twice a week.

“What is she supposed to do the other days? Is she going to just not communicate with anyone?” Culpepper said.

Culpepper is hoping school systems will call upon her to teach sign language workshops to teachers and administrators, especially those who deal with special needs students.

“I wish I could just go into some of these schools and just talk about how well sign language works for communication,” she said. “Let me teach some of the teachers some skills, even if it’s just ‘eat’ or ‘drink.’ If they want to know if a child is hurting or what’s wrong, just to get their point across instead of the child just sitting there crying and no one knows why.”

Culpepper can be reached at 504-400-0124. To register for the St. Charles Parish Community Education class in the fall, call 985-785-7268 or email Participants must be 18 or older. Classes begin in September.