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Following a sign
Gainesville woman finds that her passion also fills a need
Lori Fugere signs the music during the Central Baptist Church Christmas music service last Sunday. - photo by Tom Reed

Lori Fugere is a very animated speaker.

When she can't make her point with words alone, she's been known to incorporate lots of hand motions.

For the last 24 years, Fugere has been an active user of American Sign Language. She picked up the skills in college and quickly blossomed as an interpreter for the hearing impaired.

She's been interpreting at various churches for more than two decades, which is fitting since she says she got into signing "by the grace of God" during her freshman year in college.

"One day on campus, (an acquaintance) came up to me and said, ‘You have to try getting into this sign language class — it's amazing.' It was odd because I'd never told him that I was interested in signing or anything," said Fugere, a C.W. Davis Middle School teacher.

"I tried to get into the class that first semester, but it was full. I tried again second semester. Only 45 people were allowed to sign up for the class — when I registered, I was No. 45."

That first class proved to be a turning point for her.

"Signing became the first thing in my life that I felt really good at," Fugere said.

"Everything just fell into place for me."

Just as non-impaired individuals enjoy going to special events and even concerts, so do individuals with impairments, she says. To accommodate their needs, Fugere has been interpreting productions like AtlantaFest, a Christian music festival, for a number of years.

Although interpreting music may seem like an impossible task, Fugere says it's not that difficult.

"For some performances, I type all of the lyrics to a song, and follow those music sheets, but for others, I just listen. Since a lot of words in the English language have the same meaning, there's just one sign for all of them. But if you learn the (signing) alphabet, you can spell out words if you don't know the sign," Fugere said.

"About 50 percent (of communicating with signs) is facial expressions and body language."

Sign language isn't just an effective tool of communication for individuals with hearing issues, it's also great for non-impaired children.

"Verbal skills don't develop as quickly as fine-motor skills," Fugere said.

"If you use sign language with (young children), you would see a lot less frustration from them because even if they can't talk, they can still communicate their wants and needs."

From trips to the store to trips to the dentist, Fugere has seen a need for her services everywhere.

"The deaf population is capable of doing anything, just like anyone else, so you never know when you may run into someone who is hard of hearing," Fugere said.

Although sign language clubs are often available to students as extracurricular activities, Fugere would like to see more Georgia schools offer signing as a foreign language.

"Georgia was one of the last two states to accept American Sign Language as a foreign language (option), but there sill isn't a lot of participation," Fugere said.

Aside from deciding on a career as an interpreter, offering the class also can help students get ahead in their desired field of choice.

"For instance, a doctor may have a deaf patient. A teacher could have a deaf student, or even a non-impaired student with a parent that is deaf," Fugere said.

"You just never know where you will be and be able to help someone communicate."


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