by Melinda Townsel
Head Librarian / Professor Library Services
Northridge Library
Austin Community College District

     Austin Community College District (ACCD) has recently become a regional center for Gallaudet University, which serves deaf and hearing-impaired students.  This article provides some of the backstory.

     I am currently the Accessibility Facilitator for ACCD Library Services.  My responsibilities include working along with library leaders to ensure that all students have access to library resources and services.  I am actively committed to addressing the special needs of students served by the ACCD Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD).  Additionally, Library Services is committed to providing effective accommodations for patrons with disabilities.  

      A few years ago, I worked at ACCD’s Riverside campus which serves a significant population of deaf students. I am not deaf and do not speak ASL.  I wanted to connect with the deaf and hard-of-hearing students as I did with other students.  In traditional library fashion, I recognized that ACCD had a responsibility to create resources in ways that could be both accessible and beneficial to all students.  Library Services had designed a number of successful tutorials which appeal to learning styles and habits of various populations, but we did not have a tutorial designed for students whose first language is ASL.  That tutorial, we believed, should have an audio component which would provide additional accessibility for students with low or no vision and also enable those who can hear to instruct deaf students through the tutorial. 

     We pursued development of the ASL tutorial for several reasons.  First, I wanted to continue building on the efforts of previous library staff to support the deaf student population at the Riverside Campus Library.  Second, I wanted to begin delivering library instruction or Information Literacy (IL) using video and ASL to deaf students attending ACCD.  I desired to incorporate some aspect of deaf culture, which flourished at the Riverside Campus, into Library Services’ information literacy program.  I also thought the tutorial would be a great way to develop a community between ACCD students and library services faculty and staff.  The contribution of an ASL tutorial seemed to complement the growing deaf studies collection at Riverside Campus Library.

     Another purpose for our project was that of providing the deaf and hard of hearing community with an alternative to reading.  “The decline of reading has fueled the popularity of streaming online video and podcasts. Or can it be that WITH the popularity of online streaming video and podcasts the desire to read has declined?  Either way, it appears that only the highly motivated individuals will take the time and energy required to look at and comprehend written words.  For the deaf and hard of hearing there is no other option but to read.” (Mackeachan,  2007)

     To assure that the final product would be truly appropriate for a community of longtime ASL users, the tutorial was a collaboration among library faculty and ACC ESOL/ESL teaching faculty staff.  The ESOL/ESL faculty loved the idea of developing a sign language designed video for deaf students about using our library's resources.  The project could not have been completed without ESOL instructors Erika Domatti and Don Miller. 

     I also enlisted support for the tutorial from librarians at the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD), the school from which many Riverside Campus students graduated.  Outreach coordinator Diana Poeppelmeyer provided a tour of the school and introduced me to the elementary and high school librarians.  Even though they were very busy, both Susan Anderson and Debbie Boatright volunteered to review the video. We also conducted a series of focus group meetings and collected input from ACCD librarians, faculty and staff as well as students and librarians who work with deaf students (e.g. TSD).

     The flash tutorial features ESOL instructor Don Miller as our interpreter signing and the voice of Kari Petryszyn, then Riverside Library Assistant.  It reflects the "cultural approach" and uses sign language as the natural language of deaf people.  With encouragement from ACCD teaching faculty, we designed the tutorial in PIP (Picture-in-Picture) style.  ASL Associate Professor Lisa Gelineau wrote, “I hope you can do more of this PIP style with other areas of ACCD’s website using different signers.  With a couple of modifications, I definitely will encourage students of all campuses to use this.”

     Eventually I applied for and we were awarded an ACCD Innovation Grant which allowed us to incorporate recommended improvements and meet our goals and objectives for the project.  The project title was “ASL Tutorial: Appeal to the Culture of Visual Language.”  I believe that we were awarded the grant because of our primary objectives, which are listed below:

  • Develop a Learning Object for Using American Sign Language
  • Develop a Learning Object with both ASL and text transcripts
  • Utilize new green background
  • Assure that users have mandatory navigation tools
             o Pause. Stop. Play. etc.
             o Standard tutorial buttons at the bottom of the tutorial.
             o Next and back navigation (both with words and back and forward arrows)  

  The result is available online to everyone at

      In a related assignment, I worked with Riverside Reference Librarian Donna Meadows and ACCD ESOL instructor Ericka Domatti to create an “ASL Integrated Library Assignment " with tutorial.  They selected appropriate online resources and chose CQ Researcher! as the preferred database over Opposing Viewpoints because it was more visual. They work together to prepare a list of topics based on CQ Researcher to ensure that all students find topics.

      I am really pleased to say that my efforts landed me an invitation to the Grand Opening of the new Gallaudet University Regional Center (GURC).  The Gallaudet University Southwest Regional Center at ACCD will serve Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

Melinda Townsel
Head Librarian/Professor Library Services
Adjunct Faculty, Human Development
Northridge Library



Original Publication Date: 
Feb 1, 2011
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