DawnSignPress Celebrates 40 Years

[Transcript] Alex: I’m here in San Diego, California! This is DawnSignPress, who just celebrated their 40th anniversary.

They are the top provider of ASL instructional resources and also features ASL/Deaf culture. There are over 80 titles.

I’m here with Tina Jo Breindel and Joe Dannis, the owners of DawnSignPress (DSP), who are now celebrating 40 years. What a milestone.

You’re a couple and also business partners. How did you both meet? Can you explain that?

Tina Jo: I have to thank Gallaudet, out of all places, it’s Gallaudet. It was during DPN (Deaf President Now). I worked at Gallaudet that time. I bumped into him again and again and we just clicked. Thanks to Gallaudet!

Joe: Yes, we met during the protest, and would get together. We marched to the Mayflower together. We were inseparable the whole week.

Alex: As a couple, how does that relationship influence the organization and its expansion?

Tina Jo: I see a lot of him. That’s nice. He’s my partner in crime. We overlap each other. He is the force of the business.

Joe: I have my strengths. I’m good in specific areas. I see that she is good at other areas and we overlap each other. It’s the same with our other staff. They are good at various areas. It takes a team. You can’t do it by yourself or with only two or three people. When a team works together and overlap each other, it becomes very strong.

Alex: I’m with Ken Mikos, who is one of three authors of the “Signing Naturally” textbooks…

…the ASL curriculum that is widespread. Can you tell us about you three: you, Ella Mae Lentz, and Cheri Smith? Smith is a CODA, Lentz is Deaf, and you are also Deaf. How did you three collaborate and develop the curriculum?

Ken: We make a good team. We worked together at Vista College. That’s where it started. We applied for and received a two-year grant. As we were developing it, we brought in experts such as Dr. Carol Padden, Dr. Ted Supalla, and others, who provided advice. We filmed multiple Deaf people and how they signed. We documented it, and remember that we were working with VHS at the time. We collected data and language samples. We put it all together and wrote it. We did test runs with 12 different colleges. After everything went well, we completed it in 1987. We reached out to DawnSignPress because we wanted a Deaf company to publish it. It was our core belief to support a Deaf business. That’s how it got started and it has been successful.

Tina Jo: When it was released, it became very popular. There was high demand and it made teachers’ jobs easier because there was a curriculum provided in their hands.

Joe: I remember when there was no concept of ASL. It was a dirty word. People would react negatively to it and say “sign language” instead. In the 60’s and 70’s, there were only vocabulary books, but for sentences, grammar, structure… when ASL was recognized as a language, we could be proud of our culture. In the past we felt inferior. My father used to say, “Deaf people are no good.” That was in the 1920’s, 1930’s. Today, Deaf people can!

We sold over one million books, so it’s widespread. I’m really thrilled that more people are aware than before.

Alex: What kind of responsibility do you you two feel, that you are the ones that are leading and creating what influences how others learn our language and culture?

Tina Jo: It’s not just learning ASL, but preserving it, and also about Deaf culture, what it means to be Deaf. It’s more about Deaf life, Deaf art, Deaf poetry, and the like. There is more awareness.

Joe: If a book is not projected to sell many copies or generate revenue, but there is a need, we will produce it. We will produce the best quality regardless. We look for the best people in the Deaf field. The best artists, the best writers, for a specific topic. We want to create it with the highest quality.

Alex: As we look back on 40 years, let’s instead look forward 40 years in the future. What do you see?

Joe: Martha’s Vineyard… reborn! Where everybody can sign and communicate. Where communication barriers are no longer barriers. Again, the internet will make ASL more powerful and those teaching ASL will spread it. When there is more awareness, there is more respect and understanding of our culture.

Alex: I’m here at Broadway Pier! I’m surrounded by water. It’s nice with boats passing by. DSP is hosting a 40th anniversary celebration gala that coincides with the ASLTA convention’s closing ceremonies. People are coming here to mingle. I’ll go inside and do interviews.

Can you share your insights on when you realized how big DSP is?

Jesse Jones III: I’ve lived here for about 8 years before I started working at DSP. Prior to that I didn’t realize there was a large Deaf-owned, Deaf-run company in our backyard in San Diego. I didn’t realize it until I applied for a job and showed up for an interview. I was like, “Wow! It’s a complete brick-and-mortar building with its own staff and everything. It’s a legit Deaf business!”

Alex: You use the “Signing Naturally” curriculum. How has it reinforced your teaching?

Svenna Pedersen: It’s a big help. Without it I would have to come up with things, which consumes time. I have a guide, which is very beneficial. It helps teachers and students to go on a path towards success with ASL. In time, it will benefit the Deaf community with interpreting services and other things. There’s this connection and it’s very nice.

Alex: Do you have any stories of your students turning into success stories? Do you want to share it?

Amy Andersen: Yes, sure. So, we have one student who graduated and went on to Gallaudet University as an undergraduate student and completed their interpreting program. Then she became an interpreter for Michelle Obama. That was really cool. She was called the “Michelle Obama girl.” Another example is with Madonna at a concert. She interpreted for her.

Alex: DSP is a Deaf-owned business and a big one.

Melissa Yingst: Yes!

Alex: What is your view on the role DSP plays in the Deaf ecosystem?

Melissa: A huge role. I don’t think people realize how huge of a company DSP is. It generates many jobs internally with many employees and it also makes it possible for many ASL teachers to have jobs with the right curriculum. I also know of many who have developed their own content, books, stories, and even films, using DSP’s services. So DSP also provides those people with jobs. DSP is really a big part of our ecosystem.

Alex: The curriculum… did it benefit you as a teacher?

Gerardo Di Pietro: Absolutely. When I open up the curriculum, it provides me with activities that I provide to the students. I’m able to provide feedback, coaching, and facilitate discussions. Students are paired up, converse with each other, and tell stories. My favorite part is the stories.

Alex: What is your view on the role DSP holds in ASL instruction, ASL curriculum, or supporting Deaf professionals?

Dr. MJ Bienvenu: A big role. They’ve always been a big role. The “Signing Naturally” curriculum is widespread and DSP was behind it. There are more and more conferences and DSP has sponsored them. I think that’s important, to show Deaf supporting Deaf events. I’m sure they will keep on developing new materials. This (ASL) dictionary is one of them. I’m developing it and working with people who recognize the importance of ASL, Deaf culture, and Deaf studies. I think that’s important. Maybe Deaf history as well. I think it’s lovely.

Alex: Why is it important to have Deaf people take the lead, to have Deaf products?

Deanne Bray: Here is my story. In 1998, during that time, going back to the 1990’s, ASL classes, teachers, and instruction of language — there was no direction. It was scattered. There was no uniformity. One day my father was driving me up to Sacramento. He said, “I want you to meet your half sister.” I had never met her. At the time I wanted to go into UC Davis. My father said she took two sign language classes. He seemed to be proud that she knew sign language. But in my mind, I rolled my eyes. What does that mean? It meant nothing. Just two classes. But I said, “Oh, okay.” When we arrived and we met, I was expecting her to incorrectly fingerspell “hi” or make multiple errors. But I saw that she showed specific facial expressions as she said, “Do you like this or that?” I was blown away. Just two classes, two semesters? I asked, “Who is your teacher?” It was Ella Lentz. That time, her activism… she must be doing something right.

Joe: It takes a team. Can it just be myself or the two of us? No, it takes a team.

Do you remember when there was an earthquake and the building shook? We checked if everybody was okay.

Thank you all for coming, and thank you for teaching. I love you all.

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*This project was sponsored by DSP.