Filer helps bridge communication gap with ASL

Although Peggy Filer's, instructor of American Sign Language, classroom is silent, there is a lot of learning taking place through signs. Filer was the very first deaf student to graduate from Adams State College and now teaches all the ASL and Deaf Studies courses at the college.

Filer grew up in a family of seven, of her four siblings, two older brothers and two older sisters; she is the only deaf child. "As a child it was difficult and frustrating because I couldn't understand what my teacher was saying most of the time and there was no interpreter," Filer said. "Books were my saving grace, I couldn't always understand what was going on in class but I could always read a book."

Without sign language I felt isolated from communication in the hearing world. You can only really lip read 30 to 40 percent of what someone is saying."

It wasn't until, as a 22 year old, Filer took a hard-of-hearing night class and she learned sign language. "Learning ASL made my life whole, it was the first time I was able to connect because ASL felt like my natural language," Filer said. "For many deaf people sign language is like a bridge of communication."

Filer said she "worked her tail off" for her two degrees at Adams State. "I didn't want any special treatment because of my deafness," Filer said. She completed two degrees at Adams State College starting in 1988. She received her bachelor's in selected studies and her master's in community counseling from Adams State.

As a counselor, Filer worked with hearing and deaf clients. "I found that with hearing clients it was very easy for me to tell what they were really saying through their body language and we were able to communicate and solve issues that way," she said.

Peggy briefly worked for two years at Pikes Peak Mental Health in Colorado Springs, but she missed her SLV deaf community family and came back to Alamosa.

"We can do everything except hear. There are deaf people in every profession throughout the United States," Filer said, "I feel as though I have a foot in the deaf world and a foot in the hearing world. Both are important to me."

Along with being a full time student, Filer was asked to teach an ASL 1 class in the spring semester of 1989. Filer said she never intended to be a professor, but when she taught ASL for the first time she found her passion. "I discovered teaching was in my blood."

Her first class had 50 students. "It was very overwhelming to have so many students," Filer said. "Now class sizes are about 12-15 students which are more manageable and the ideal size for a language class." Adams State now offers four levels of ASL. Filer finds teaching ASL a rewarding experience, "it is priceless when you see a deaf or hearing student finally understand sign language, the expression on their face lights-up the room."

During Filer's class there are always multiple members of the San Luis Valley deaf community there. "I feel that it helps the students in my class to be exposed to deaf culture on a regular basis. Deaf people have their own sense of humor and are friendly and patient."

When asked about Filer's class, Roxie Delorenzo, a junior with a double major in Spanish and secondary English, said: "She helps her students because she is able to give them experience using the language right away by bringing people from the community into the classroom. She encourages anything that is going to help the student understand the language and it is nice because I don't have to leave the country to immerse myself in the language, she does it for us everyday in class."

Outside of class, Filer said she enjoys hiking, traveling, reading and said she loves to go camping. Filer can be seen often with Nutmeg and Yukon, her service dogs. Filer's husband, Rex, is a professor in the department of counselor education. She has two step-sons in Pittsburg and her daughter Kelly is a student at TSJC. Filer said, "My daughter is my best friend and we do a lot together."

If you see Filer with her dogs, say hello with a simple wave.

Marni Zabel