professor teaching a student American Sign Language

ASL-Themed Eclipse Event Invites Exploration


Buffalo State University’s Speech-Language Pathology Department will host a special eclipse-themed event focusing on American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf culture on Thursday, April 4, from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. in Bulger Communication Center 423. 

Amy J. Crockford, ASL program coordinator and lecturer of exceptional education, and Melissa VanOsch, lecturer of speech-language pathology, will use the free event to celebrate the upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8 by teaching attendees how to sign the refrain from Bonnie Tyler’s song “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

Crockford hopes the activity will not only be entertaining but also pique student interest in ASL and Deaf culture. No prior ASL experience is required to attend.

“We wanted an interesting event that centered on what everyone is talking about—the eclipse—but also to spread the word about ASL courses on campus,” she said. “Students can see what sign language looks like and ask questions of the professors that teach it. As we are teaching the refrain, I’ll be using ASL word order and making a quick explanation of why I’m doing that.”

Hearing people may not realize the value of music in the Deaf community. “Just because deaf people can’t hear the music doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate it or don’t like it,” Crockford said. “This is a chance for hearing people to take something they love and express it in a new language with facial expressions and body language.”

Crockford, a Deaf interpreter and children’s book author, joined Buffalo State in 2011. She has used ASL for 41 years and has taught at five Western New York colleges or universities. At Buffalo State she developed the ASL microcredential with exceptional education professor Kathy Doody, with whom she co-teaches EXE 324/524: Sign Language for Students with Autism and Developmental Disabilities, one of the microcredential’s required courses. Crockford teaches the other four required courses: introductory, intermediate, and advanced ASL (SLP 101, 201, and 301) as well as SLP 330: Deaf Culture in America. Since the development of the ASL microcredential, roughly 25 students have enrolled in the sequence.

The microcredential is housed in Buffalo State’s Exceptional Education Department. Since 1944, Exceptional Education has trained educators to assist students with special instructional needs. Buffalo State is home to one of the first and largest special education programs in the country, and is nationally known for producing skilled, experienced teachers. 

“Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were approached by St. Mary’s School for the Deaf,” said Wendy Paterson, dean of the School of Education. “They appealed to us to develop a program for Deaf education. Programming like Thursday’s event is all part of what Buffalo State has been working on.”

While developing a full program takes time, the microcredential is a step in the right direction. “This is a community need that we’ve been sought to fill,” Paterson said. “Buffalo State is committed to creating teachers that serve all children and families.” 

Crockford emphasized the value of ASL for all educators, even beyond working with deaf and hard-of-hearing students. “ASL is such a broad and unique language,” she said. “It is not uncommon to see teachers incorporate ASL into Pre-K–12 and special education classrooms, even in many classrooms that have no association with deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals.” 

Beyond educational purposes, ASL has practical use. “People are aware of deaf and hard-of-hearing people; you know they’re around,” Crockford said. “But I want people to understand you can take your ASL experience and apply it to the real world, whether it is in an emergency or the grocery store. Talk to somebody.” 

To register for Thursday’s Bengal Pause event, please email Belinda Lyndsley, administrative assistant in the Speech-Language Pathology Department.

To purchase tickets for Buffalo State’s Eclipse Fest, please visit Buffalo State’s eclipse website.

Above: Amy Crockford teaches ASL to a Buffalo State student.

Photo by Buffalo State Marketing and Communications.