BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — UTRGV is providing a free six-week American Sign Language (ASL) training to first responders as an effort to fill in the communication gap between the deaf and hard of hearing community.

The Brownsville Police Department is currently using the training as an opportunity to introduce ASL to its officers.

According to Brownsville Police Department Public Information Officer Martin Sandoval, officers are currently in week two of ASL training.

So far, officers have learned how to ask someone through sign language if they are okay, what’s their name or whether they need an ambulance.

Sandoval said the goal is to help bring in more inclusion within our community and have at least 50 percent of their officers who can communicate through ASL. 

“As a department, we’re growing and we want to include every single person in our community; that is hence the reason why this class and many other classes are about to come,” said Sandoval. “Hopefully this is going to be an ongoing thing throughout the rest of the department and hopefully it’ll catch on through the rest of the RGV.”

UTRGV’s ASL professor Elena Garcia said ASL is common in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We do have a big hearing impaired population, a lot of signers, a lot of individuals who are signing,” said Garcia. 

When it comes to learning ASL, Garcia said it is not just learning how to sign with our hands. It also includes the understanding of one’s expressions and body language.

According to Garcia, there are several places in the RGV like The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center in McAllen that provide ASL courses. 

All first responders who are interested in having UTRGV’s ASL first-responder training are encouraged to contact Dr. Brian Cheslik, assistant professor and program coordinator for the American Sign Language and Interpretation (ASLI) degree program at UTRGV via email at brian.cheslik@utrgv.edu.