No Voice Zone: Danforth Center Community Gathers for American Sign Language Workshops

Along with her mentor, Dr. Tessa Burch-Smith, Postdoctoral Associate Dr. Amie Fornah Sankoh has worked tirelessly to push back on barriers that have historically made STEM inaccessible to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. Amie made headlines earlier this year as the first Deaf, Black woman to receive a PhD in a STEM Discipline. 

“A huge factor that contributes to my success is communicating with other scientists at the Danforth Center.” Amie said. “The open and collaborative environment prevents me from feeling isolated. This is very uncommon in the workforce, especially when you are the only Deaf person.” 

This summer, Amie saw an opportunity to take that collaboration and openness to the next level. Along with two Deaf REU interns, Fatuma Kuti and Maizy Wilcox, she started a weekly American Sign Language (ASL) workshop called No Voice Zone. The workshops were open to all Danforth Center community members, regardless of hearing abilities, and were designed to offer a crash course in communicating using ASL. During the workshops, participants were not allowed to use their voices to communicate, giving No Voice Zone its name.

“No Voice Zone workshops promote inclusivity and equality among participants, regardless of their hearing abilities,” Amie explains. “Everyone is on an equal playing field, and this helps to create a more respectful and supportive learning environment. By removing the use of spoken language, learners are forced to rely solely on visual communication, which strengthens their ability to understand and communicate in ASL.” 

No Voice Zone took place on Fridays in June and July and wrapped up its seventh and final session last week. Amie led all the lessons, beginning with learning how to fingerspell the ASL alphabet and progressing to cover sentence structure as well as specific signs for emotions, weather, activities, foods, and more. Dozens of community members attended the sessions, with about 20 participants completing six or more of the seven lessons. 

Throughout the workshops, Amie emphasized how powerful it can be to learn ASL. “I wanted to help spread awareness and understanding so that more people can learn this beautiful language and communicate with those who use it every day,” she says “ASL is an independent language, and teaching others to respect it is important so that future Deaf scientists feel included and empowered. It's been amazing to see the positive impact these workshops have had on the Danforth community.”