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Living Loud: Charles

Living Loud: Charles "CJ" Jones ā€“ Comedian, Actor, Producer, and Director

Deaf Culture   |  Tuesday, October 2, 2018

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

CJ Jones and Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver
CJ Jones and Ansel Elgort in "Baby Driver" (2017) (Photo Credit: Sony Pictures, Photo by Wilson Webb - © 2017 TriStar Pictures, Inc. and MRC II Distribution Company L.P., Retreived from IBDb)

Named Charles Paul Jones at birth, Jones, who prefers to go by CJ, claims that his life is all about "who I am, not what I am." He does not want his deafness to be his claim to fame. His journey in the world of comedy is fast becoming his legacy. You may recognize him from the 2017 summer hit "Baby Driver," which made CJ the first black, deaf actor in an international blockbuster. To both the deaf and hearing worlds, CJ Jones brings hope and compassion for our future.

The Flourishing Student

CJ is the son of Deaf parents and has 6 hearing siblings. His parents and all of his brothers and sisters used American Sign Language. At the early age of seven, CJ contracted spinal meningitis. This major illness left CJ with a profound hearing loss. To further his education, CJ transferred to Missouri School for the Deaf (MSD), moving away from his entire family. His deaf father, Clarence, fought the Missouri school system to get CJ a place in the all deaf school when they were told CJ’s residual hearing was too good to qualify for MSD. CJ said his dad, "showed a lot of love and support, encouraging us to have the best education." CJ excelled in the communication rich environment at MSD, which taught in his native American Sign Language. After graduating high school, CJ continued his education by enrolling at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) in Rochester, New York. He immediately joined and then later toured for two years with NTID’s National Theater for the Deaf, which started him on his way to popularity and becoming nationally known for his hilarious and heart-warming comedy routines.

The Traveling Comedian

CJ Jones One-Man Comedy Show
CJ Jones One-Man Comedy Show

CJ remembers while he was growing up, he was always a comedian, making everyone laugh and feel at ease no matter who and where they were in life. Now as an adult, traveling around the world, he says things are still the same. He likes making people smile. His good-natured ways and high-spirited personality has set him up for a profession in entertainment. People, both deaf and hearing, are drawn to his fast-paced humor and quick-witted performances, poking fun, and using his graciousness and passion for communicating through humor and American Sign Language.

The Restless Entertainer

CJ Jones in See What Iā€™m Saying
CJ Jones in “See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary" (2009) (Photo Credit: IMDb, See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary)

CJ has been in the business of entertaining for the past thirty-five years, spreading his message that being different does not mean being less worthwhile. He developed 3 one-man shows and is the only Deaf African American comedian that has traveled all over the world. He is also one of only four Deaf performers showcased in the 2009 documentary "See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary." He appeared in PBS’s "Through Deaf Eyes" and has had roles in several television shows, including Cold Case, A Different World, Frasier, and Sesame Street. He co-wrote and directed all six of the children’s fairytales in the "Once Upon A Sign" television series. Undoubtedly, these television roles were his best promotional roles. Movies are another claim to CJ Jones’ fame with roles in "Baby Driver," HULU’s "Castle Rock" and the upcoming 2020, Avatar Sequels.

“I think I have made an impact on the deaf community through my humor, experience, and share my success by overcoming obstacles and discrimination. I can prove that anything is possible. It has nothing to do with being deaf or black or any disability and color, it has to do with passion to do greater things in life!”
     - CJ Jones

The Inspirational Role Model

When looking at his life, CJ is himself amazed at all he has accomplished in his sixty-eight years. From childhood of being black and deaf, he has never had a problem expressing himself and turned that ability into a profession of outstanding success. He is adamant about American Sign Language being his connection to his profession and communicating to the world. He is proud of the fact he has performed in thousands of schools, theaters, and universities.

This quote from CJ says it all, "I think I have made an impact on the deaf community through my humor, experience, and share my success by overcoming obstacles and discrimination. I can prove that anything is possible. It has nothing to do with being deaf or black or any disability and color, it has to do with passion to do greater things in life!"



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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 30 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

International Week of the Deaf, Deaf Awareness Week, and International Day of Sign Languages 2018

Deaf Culture   |  Sunday, September 23, 2018

By Jillian Winn

On September 23, 2018, International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL) will kick off International Week of the Deaf (abbreviated as IWDeaf; used to be IWD), which is September 24-30, 2018 this year. You may also hear this week called Deaf Awareness Week, but the official name is International Week of the Deaf.

This year is the first International Day of Sign Languages (IDSL). It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and will be celebrated annually on September 23.

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) started International Week of the Deaf in 1958 and it is celebrated annually by national and regional associations of the deaf, local communities, and individuals worldwide.

The purpose of International Week of the Deaf is to increase public awareness of deaf issues, people, and culture. Activities and events throughout IWDeaf encourage individuals to come together as a community for both educational events and celebrations. Find more information on Deaf Awareness Week.

International Week of the Deaf 2018 Poster

Since 2009, the World Federation of the Deaf has created themes for International Week of the Deaf. The theme for 2018 is “With Sign Language, Everyone is Included!” Find out more about the 2018 International Week of the Deaf and download their campaign materials on the World Federation of the Deaf website.

You can also spread the message using the hashtags: #IWDeaf2018 #IDSL2018 #SignLanguagesDay


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Common Fingerspelling Mistakes New Signers Make

Learning Tips   |  Friday, September 14, 2018

By John Miller

One of the first concepts covered in beginning or basic sign language classes is fingerspelling. There are a few common mistakes that are made by many beginner signers related to fingerspelling. Hopefully you can recognize them in your own practice and avoid making bad habits that are difficult to break.

Signing Space When Fingerspelling

First of all, the misuse of sign space is a common mistake, specifically as it is related to fingerspelling. Yes, we have an imaginary box around us, almost like a television set that is just inches above our heads and goes off to either sides of our bodies, and then ends around our waists.

However, that does not mean that all that space is fair game for fingerspelling. For right handed signers (right dominant), fingerspelling should be done in the area to the right of center of the chest. For left handed signers (left dominant), fingerspelling should be done in the area to the left of center. It should be out away from the body about 6-8 inches (not too far and not too close) and your letters should not be "thrown forward" or bounced up and down within that area.


Example of fingerspelling A-V-O-C-A-D-O.

The Directional Movement While Fingerspelling

When spelling double letters or starting a new word, you should slide away from the center of your body. That is, if you are right dominant, move outward from left to right just like you were reading a book. If you are left dominant, move outward from right to left which is actually backwards from the way you read. In both cases, DON'T move back towards the center of the body. Many new signers do this and it looks so awkward to seasoned signers, they can see the mistake immediately.


Example fingerspelling A-R-M-A-D-I-L-L-O.
Notice how the double L-L slides away from the body.

Common Formation Mistakes When Fingerspelling

There are several common letter formation mistakes that new signers make. Here are a few examples to watch out for.

The letter Z is produced with the index finger NOT the little finger.

This seems to be a misconception that started with incorrect information and then caught hold with some people, but it is INCORRECT! The letter Z is produced with the index finger.


Example "Z" handshape.

Use a closed E, instead of an open or "screaming" E.

Fingerspelling Example: E

The letter E should be closed (as shown below) with the finger tips tight against the hand, not opened. An open E is sometimes called a “screaming E” because it looks like an open mouth that is screaming. This is not horrible, but it is something native signers will notice as sloppy form.

The screaming E has a tighter grip at the top of the fingers with the tips pulled back very tight against the lower part of the fingers, where the correct E (with the tips resting just over the horizontal thumb) are much loser of a grip and much more comfortable.
Because you have to pull the fingertips back much tighter to make the screaming E, it slows down the flow of the signing.


Example "E" handshape.

Point your fingers straight out over the thumb for letters M and N.

Other letters that can slow you down when fingerspelling if done too “tight” are the letters M and N.  You will often see the fingers on the M and N folded over tight over the thumb.  Again, this isn’t really wrong, as much as unnecessary.  If your fingers are this tight over the thumb, it slows you down in your fingerspelling as you become more fluent.  Leaving the fingers pointing straight out over the thumb frees up the hand to make faster movements while fingerspelling.


Example "M" handshape.

Example "N" handshape.

Do not use a flat hand when signing the letter O.

Fingerspelling Example: O

Fingerspelling Example: O

When signing the letter O, use a rounded O shape and do not make a flat O.


The letters O and C should face forward.

Fingerspelling Example: O

Fingerspelling Example: C

Another common mistake is that the letters O and C are turned to the side rather than facing outward like they should be. I think because many books will show a side or slightly turned angle of the hand in order for people to get the correct hand shape, people think that the turned O and C are the way to actually sign them. This is not correct. See the proper way below.


Example "O" handshape.

Example "C" handshape.

The letters K and P should face forward.

Fingerspelling Example: P

The letters K and P also run into that same issue. New signers want to turn them as they see them presented in books and they end up looking very awkward and uncomfortable to sign. Get the K-hand as it should be, facing forward, and then to go to the P-hand, just drop the wrist. The change from a K to a P is all wrist, nothing else.


Example "K" handshape.

Example "P" handshape.

The letters G and H should be turned sideways (so the palm faces the body).

Fingerspelling Example: H

Many books will show these letters from a different angle in an attempt to show the handshapes better. The letters G and H should be turned sideways (so the palm faces the body). See the examples below.


Example "G" handshape.

Example "H" handshape.

Don’t Read the Letter Names, Sound It Out

Whether it is you signing the letters yourself (expressive skills), or you reading others fingerspelling (receptive skills), you need to think of the sounds that are connected to those letters, and NOT the letter name itself. This will help you to be able to figure out the words better down the road as you are trying to read bigger and bigger words. You may miss a letter, but if you have been saying the sounds in your head, you will more than likely be able to figure out the word.

Try it! In the example below, don’t spell out each letter as they are signed, sound out the word.


Reference Sheets to Help you with Fingerspelling

Alphabet Letters in American Sign Language (ASL)

Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.

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Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 7

Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same - Set 7

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, September 4, 2018

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the "Dear Abby" for the interpreting world - author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She will be contributing blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

This article is part of our “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same” series, which highlights signs that look similar, but have different meanings.

Hello! Brenda Cartwright (BC) here. Let's continue on the fun topic of: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.

The ASL signs shown below look similar, but are not the same. There are many ASL signs that when produced look similar, but in fact have a completely different meaning. Below you will find examples of such signs. Watch closely to see if you can see the difference. In addition, watch my eyebrows, look to see when I tilt my head or lean my body in a certain way, even what my mouth is doing. These nuances are called inflections and trust me, inflections matter. Enjoy!

1. Brain vs. Think

It is easy to see the difference between BRAIN and THINK since they use different handshapes - BRAIN uses the X-hand to tap twice on the side of your head, while THINK uses the 1-hand to make a swift movement to point at your head. However, remembering which is signed which way, can be a challenge! For BRAIN you tap where your brain is, confirming it is in there, while you point to where you’re thinking takes place just as swiftly as you might get an idea.


2. Color vs. Friendly

COLOR and FRIENDLY both use the open 5-hand. COLOR is signed with one 5-hand at the chin with your fingers making a wiggling motion. Think about your wiggling fingers representing the colors in a rainbow when signing COLOR. FRIENDLY is signed with two 5-hands with wiggling fingers moving up and away from the face; the movement suggests a generous smile that accompanies a friendly person.


3. Oh I See vs. Yellow

OH I SEE and YELLOW both use a single, dominant Y-hand. To sign OH I SEE, the palm is out and makes an up and down movement. OH I SEE is like signing THAT multiple times because the meaning is that you are emphasizing you see or understand “that.” YELLOW is signed like many of the other color signs, such as BLUE, GREEN, and PURPLE, with the palm facing more towards the body and making a twisting motion.

Oh I See

4. History vs. Hard of Hearing

The dominate H-hand is used when signing both HISTORY and HARD OF HEARING. To sign HISTORY, the H-hand bounces up and down slightly two times. You can remember HISTORY moves twice in the same spot by thinking of history being cyclical over time and repeating itself.

HARD OF HEARING also has the H-hand move two times, but it moves down from your non-dominant side and then shifts over to move down again closer to your dominant side. This movement from your non-dominant to dominant side is also similar to how you move when fingerspelling multiple words and the sign for HARD OF HEARING uses two movements with the H-hand as a representation of the “H” in hard and then the “H” in hearing.

Hard of Hearing

5. Fancy vs. Fine

FINE has the thumb of the dominant open 5-hand tap the chest, while FANCY has the thumb of the dominant open 5-hand stroke the chest and come out in a repeated motion. The gesture for FINE suggests the feeling of doing fine and the motion made when signing FANCY is an exaggerated version of signing FINE, since when something is FANCY, it is much more than just FINE.


These examples are aligned with the Visual Discrimination section of Lesson 9 (page 109) from Lessons and Activities in American Sign Language by Brenda E. Cartwright and Suellen J. Bahleda. Check out the book for more ASL Activities and watch for more examples from this series: “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same.”


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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For the last 30 years Brenda has been the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about BC  |  Articles by BC

Savvy Tutoring and Savvy Chats: So Much to Sign About, So Much to Learn

Site News   |  Friday, June 29, 2018

By Jillian Winn

We first started our Savvy Chat service over a year ago and have since added Savvy Tutoring. These ASL sessions let you meet online, one-on-one with one of our signing experts, Marta Belsky, through video chat. In that time, Marta has had the pleasure of meeting with people from around the country to chat and practice ASL skills, as well as for tutoring on vocabulary development, receptive and expressive fingerspelling skills, and more. 


30 minutes


Each session is unique to meet the needs of the person who scheduled the chat. Future chats with the same person are often very different depending on the person’s changing goals and objectives. 

ASL One-on-One Session with Marta

Marta is a third generation ASL user and has been teaching ASL for 30 years. She has Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Gallaudet University and a Masters in Deaf Education from Western Maryland College. She has taught ASL at Michigan State University, Madonna University, and in Lansing Community College's Interpreter Training Program. She enjoys sharing her native language with new users. It is important to her that people learn the language the "right" way and learn about Deaf Culture at the same time. Marta has worked with people who have never signed before as well as experienced signers. When you meet with Marta, she assesses your current ASL fluency and then tailors the conversation or lesson in a way that will fit with your current ASL knowledge and also your goals for the session.

Savvy Tutoring

Some people have scheduled Savvy Tutoring with Marta to focus on a specific skill, like preparing for an upcoming test, practicing mouth morphemes and classifiers, and working on using ASL grammar instead of English sentence structure. Others who have had previous ASL knowledge wanted to work with Marta to assess their current fluency and receive suggestions for areas to work on for further improvement. Occasionally people have had a very specific topic they wanted to learn more about, like Deaf culture or a specific message they wanted to learn to sign to someone they care for.

Savvy Chat

Some people have lacked local resources where they can meet and sign with others, so they use Savvy Chat to practice conversational ASL.

Sometimes a single ASL One-on-One Session has turned into reoccurring sessions where either they simply practice signing through conversation or goals are formed to help the person build specific ASL skills. Regardless of previous ASL skill level, Marta works with you to meet your ever-changing goals. 

Here is some feedback from people who have had ASL One-on-One Sessions with Marta: 

"Marta was so friendly and easy to talk with! She helped me so much, and was very patient when I had trouble with receptive finger spelling! I was so happy to be able to practice with her and look forward to doing it again!”

“Marta was very helpful with giving me feedback and correction, as needed. I really enjoyed both sessions with her, last week and today, and after working with her felt more confident with my signing.”

“I feel like I'm really making some progress. Marta is amazing. She keeps the conversation rolling. We have a lot of similar likes and dislikes. Looking forward to another session!”

“Thank you Marta! I feel like I'm gaining confidence and really enjoy our sessions. So much to sign about! Thank you for your patience. You're truly a gifted teacher.”

“So grateful for the time to chat with Marta! I felt so comfortable from the very start!”

“Marta was fun to chat with. She was very helpful and kind. I learned a lot in my short 30 minutes. The time flew by!”

“Thank you for your help, Marta! I enjoyed speaking with you! Thanks for being patient with me and helping me with fingerspelling. You taught me some fun things. Now I know how to sign "cruise"! I'm looking forward to chatting again sometime.”

If you want to practice your signing or want help to learn and study ASL, check out our ASL One-on-One Sessions, including Savvy Tutoring and Savvy Chat.


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