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Wilkins Joins Colleague Among Elite

The Deaf Women of Rochester’s 2007 Deaf Woman of the Year—Professor of American Sign Language (ASL) Dorothy M. Wilkins—joins the ranks of other notable women from the greater Rochester area, including her colleague, Assistant Professor of ASL Sharon Staehle.

Staehle received the award—first given in 1994—in 1998.

Wilkins was presented the award earlier this semester at the Deaf Women of Rochester’s annual kick-off picnic.

The Deaf Woman of the Year Award recognizes and honors a deaf woman whose life and work reflects her lifelong commitment to deaf womens’ enlightenment.

“I’m touched and so appreciate that the work I do is noticed,” said Wilkins.

A former board member of Deaf Women of Rochester (1985-87), Wilkins has been the secretary of the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) since 2005. ASLTA is the only national organization dedicated to the improvement and expansion of the teaching of ASL and Deaf Studies at all levels of instruction, from K-12, college levels and beyond.

She and Staehle—who is president of the Lilac Chapter of ASLTA (one of about 25 Rochester-area chapters)—attended the ASLTA’s Fourth National Professional Development Conference Oct. 25-28 in Tampa, Fla.

“The purpose of ASLTA is to share information, learning and research,” said Wilkins. “It’s a professional network within the fields of ASL teaching and Deaf Studies throughout the USA. It’s also a means for teaching certification.

“ASLTA board members come from all over the U.S.—Florida, North Carolina, Washington, Virginia, and Arizona,” added Wilkins. “We are able to meet in chat rooms online using Web cams.”

Wilkins has served as coordinator for the Deaf Rochester Film Festival since its inception in 2005. She participated in the Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims Family Fun Day, a biannual event. She has participated in the National American Sign Language Literature Conference since its second annual event in 1996.

Wilkins is the co-author (with Dr. Karen Christie) of “Themes and Symbols of ASL Poetry: Resistance, Affirmation and Liberation,” published in International Deaf Studies, a British journal, and “Roots and Wings: ASL Poetry of  ‘Coming Home,’” which Wilkins and Christie presented last year at the Deaf Studies Today! Conference. She is also the co-author of an ASL video dictionary and inflection guide.

Prior to Keuka, Wilkins taught for 15 years in the ASL interpreting department at Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT’s) National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID).

Wilkins and Staehle participated in the first-ever rally/march for the International Day of Deaf People and Sign Languages Sept. 29 at RIT.

Staehle is one of five deaf women responsible for bringing Advocacy Services for Abused Deaf Victims to Rochester.

Her Lilac Chapter of ASLTA will hold its second workshop on Deafhood in March.

“Deafhood is a new definition of deafness,” said Staehle. “It’s a more broad term that is identity-based rather than medically-based. A man by the name of Paddy Ladd coined the [term].”

Wilkins and Staehle have known one another for “years.”

“The deaf community is very small,” said Staehle. “Dorothy was my teacher at one time; I took an ASL linguistics course with her at NTID. What a pleasure it is to work together.”

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