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'CODA' wins big at Oscars, boosts visibility of Tri-State Deaf and ASL communities

CODA 94th Academy Awards - Press Room
Posted at 10:36 PM, Mar 28, 2022

CINCINNATI — The movie 'CODA' made history Sunday at the Academy Awards, but its recognition is also helping shine a spotlight on both the Deaf and American Sign Language communities.

"Last night, that was our moment, that was our time to say 'OK, things don't stop from here,'" Arrianna Bedgood said. "The only next step is to keep going."

Bedgood is the ASL and Deaf Studies program director at the University of Cincinnati. She is deaf and spoke with WCPO using an interpreter.

"It has really been nice to feel recognized," Bedgood said. "That deaf people can be accomplished, that they can do all of these amazing things and can be recognized in a platform like the Oscars."

UC's Deaf Studies program and ASL Lab have been gaining popularity since Bedgood, who graduated in 2019, was a social work student.

"It is growing and the reason for that is because we are exposing them to Deaf culture," Bedgood said.

Interest is also high for Cynthia Long's Norwood-based ASL Teaching Resources business, with teachers, parents and even a local library asking for training.

"We are breaking down barriers," said Long, who is hearing. "We have diversity, we are all-inclusive."

Long started training to become a certified interpreter after her son asked her to teach him sign language so he could talk to a friend, who is deaf. Now, she runs a nationwide business focused on training teachers and young kids in ASL. It has a YouTube page, TikTok account and an online store selling workbooks and lesson plans.

"Imagine being in school and you have not only a deaf kid, but you have a child with autism who only communicates in sign language," she said. "It's beauty of expression."

Dawn Caudill runs Cincinnati State's Interpreter Training Program.

"[The film] brings attention to some things that need attention, so learning sign language and hopefully businesses realizing 'Oh, I do need to get an interpreter,'" Caudill said.

One of her students, Austin Hannah of Columbus, identifies with the movie 'CODA' on a fundamental, personal level. Like the main character, Hannah is hearing but a child of deaf parents (CODA) and has grown up helping them.

Austin Hannah
Austin Hannah, left, is a hearing child of deaf adults and is studying to become an interpreter. Provided.

"I interpreted every situation for my mom," Hannah said. "Doctor's appointments, going to the bank, you name it, I interpreted it for her."

He chose to attend Cincinnati State to pursue a career as an interpreter, taking his family's first language one step further.

"Interpreting is a whole different thing [from casual signing], it's such a professional level," he said.

Troy Kotsur made history Sunday night to become the first deaf man to win an Oscar for acting, taking home the statue for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. In an emotional acceptance speech, he dedicated the award "to the Deaf community, the CODA community and the disabled community."

It was part of increased visibility Hannah says has helped start conversations about life as a CODA, even with some of his friends who grew up asking questions like 'Can your mom drive?' or 'Did your mom go to school?'

"Just from my experience, they look at it like it's a disability," Hannah said. "I think this movie shows that it's not a disability. I mean you have a family that's working just like any other family."

If you're interested in learning more about ASL, both Cincinnati State and ASL Teaching Resources are offering free or discounted opportunities on their websites for a limited time.