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Faculty and administration officials tour the new Deaf Studies Lab on the Ohlone College campus in Fremont, Calif. on Monday Sept. 20, 2010. The lab was funded by a $200,000 grant through the East Bay Community Foundation from the estate of Evelyn Henderson, a former teacher of deaf students at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley, before it moved to Fremont in 1980. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)

FREMONT -- After two decades of having students practice American Sign Language using clunky VHS cassettes, Ohlone College fast-forwarded to the digital age Monday, officially opening its new Deaf Studies Lab.

The spacious facility in Building 6 of Ohlone's Fremont campus provides 20 computer stations and plenty of open space for deaf students and hearing students studying American Sign Language to interact with each other.

With the California School for the Deaf just a few miles away, Ohlone has about 200 deaf students and a nationally recognized program for hearing students to learn American Sign Language and become interpreters.

But the college's former deaf studies lab was a compressed maze of cubicles housing outdated computers and video cameras, which made it difficult for students to learn or to spend much time getting to know each other, students said.

"It was really a challenge because it was such a small space and it was very crowded," said Sara Marcucci, a student, who tutors American Sign Language at the new lab.

Ohlone built the $250,000 facility with $50,000 of its own money and a $200,000 grant from the East Bay Community Foundation. The foundation obtained the grant from the estate of Evelyn Henderson, who worked at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley before it moved to Fremont in 1980.


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Nearly 700 Ohlone students take classes in the Deaf Studies Division, which Ohlone is planning to concentrate in Building 6 next to the lab, which had been a classroom.

The labs' new computers allow students to digitally tape themselves practicing American Sign Language as opposed using camcorders and VHS tapes.

The new computers allow for more immediate feedback than before when students had to continually rewind tape, said Sandra Ammons, who teaches American Sign Language at Ohlone.

"You can catch when someone needs to make improvements," she said. "It's much more exact."

Just as important, administrators said, the lab's spacious setup will make it a hub for students interested in American Sign Language.

"It's a place where deaf people and hearing people will come to know each other and develop friendships," said Ohlone professor Tom Holcomb.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002. For more Fremont news, read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat