Building Community Connections through American Sign Language Programs

Deaf Heritage Day 2021

Conner Prairie is a special place — a portal to a time very different to our own. When a visitor arrives, they are confronted with the physical reality of another era: sights, sounds, and smells — bells ringing, murmurs in a schoolhouse, the myriad of stimuli associated with a petting zoo. These are the things that make a place like Conner Prairie different to everyday life, but they are not what makes it unique.  

Imagine yourself walking across the grounds and seeing the conversations happen between Dr. Campbell and residents of Prairietown but not being able to understand what’s being said. Would your adrenaline rush quite as much from the Headless Horseman without joining in on the squeals of thrill and fright? As a parent, how would you know how to engage and reinforce important lessons from our past if you weren’t able to hear them explained by the historical interpreters on the grounds? What can be learned from the stories told by the Lenape residents?

The Importance of Inclusion and Accessibility at Conner Prairie

Part of what makes Conner Prairie truly unique in our community is the commitment to inclusion and diversity; for employees, volunteers, and participants… and this specifically includes our Deaf and hard-of-hearing neighbors. Most people may not realize that central Indiana is home to one of the largest Deaf communities in the Midwest. Keeping this fact in mind, Conner Prairie seeks to tell a story, our central Indiana historical story. With all good storytelling, the listeners’ senses are piqued and heightened. With the addition of American Sign Language interpreters on the grounds and during special events, Conner Prairie is ensuring that their stories are accessible by everyone and that our Deaf and hard-of-hearing community members feel embraced. 

The ability to communicate and fully access the stories that are shared socially — by people who can inform, explain, and share their passion — is the most unique thing about a visit to Conner Prairie. With a passion for history and notable communication by immersion, American Sign Language interpreters help to preserve the passion and stories that make a visit to Conner Prairie truly exceptional for Deaf visitors. By providing interpreters, individuals who otherwise would not be able to fully participate and access the community of Conner Prairie — the storytelling and the adventure, the learning and the doing — can do so.

Click here to learn more about our ASL Tours of A Merry Prairie Holiday!

About the Author

Rebecca Buchan is a nationally certified ASL interpreter and the Director of ASL Services and Education for LUNA Language Services. In her role she oversees one of the largest ASL departments in the Midwest and works to provide training opportunities for interpreters of all languages.