News | June 3, 2022

DLA Aviation employee’s virtual ASL classes teach inclusion, diversity one sign at a time

By Natalie Skelton, DLA Aviation Public Affairs

While the pandemic eliminated virtually all in-person interactions, it did not eliminate the need for partially deaf and deaf individuals to understand — and be understood by — their hearing counterparts.

This need prompted Charlotte Bell, an American Sign Language interpreter in the Defense Logistics Agency Aviation, Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Office to develop an ASL Beginners’ Course, teaching her lessons online using the Zoom for Government web platform.

“I love the challenge of teaching online, and the need is there for both the deaf and hearing,” Bell said of her innovative approach. “I wanted to find a way to continue teaching the DLA workforce. The pandemic created a new kind of format for instruction, and I wasn’t going to let COVID be a barrier.”

Bell has been teaching in-person ASL and cultural sensitivity classes on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia twice a year since 2005. Her students are DLA enterprise-wide and have included first responders and installation commanders, as well as civilian employees.

Bell said though technology is not her forte, learning to pivot and taking on the challenge “was so worth every moment learning how to teach in a new program.”

The virtual opportunity was equally worth it for Natisha Lawrence, a procurement analyst within DLA Aviation Procurement Process Support Directorate’s Acquisition Support Division, who has taken Bell’s course several times and was inspired to continue her ASL education.

"Sign language was something that I was always interested in, and I thoroughly enjoyed the classes,” Lawrence said.

In a recent note to Bell, Lawrence wrote, “In August of 2021, I finally took the leap and enrolled in an ASL certificate program.”

Bell said the six-week course, which wrapped up last month, also addresses the cultural differences between the deaf and hearing communities.

“It helps to broaden understanding and acceptance, making the environment truly inclusive for all,” Bell said.

“What I’m trying to do with the class is give hearing employees a new way of understanding the deaf and hard-of-hearing employees they work with or supervise. After getting out of their comfort zone and looking at life from another person’s perspective, it truly opens up the beauty of diversity and, most of all, inclusion.”