Denver Bar Association
May 2001
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Eliminating the Barrier

Attorney learns American Sign Language to aid her practice, community.
By Karen Bries

The old saying that all we ever needed to know we learned in kindergarten is obviously not true if you're a lawyer, but Amy Costello, 32, considers it a major jumping-off point.

Costello, a first-year associate at Dufford & Brown, remembers taking a class in sign language at age six, where she learned how to finger spell all of the letters in the alphabet.

"I have never forgotten the little bit I learned," Costello says.

Costello now is trying to become fluent to not only help her career along, but also to help the deaf and hearing impaired, which is the largest group of people with a disability--about 16 million Americans are deaf or hearing impaired. About 13 million of these Americans use American Sign Language or ASL.

"There are probably lawyers out there who are deaf or hearing impaired offering legal services to their community. I think it's important for members of the speaking community to provide these services, too."

Right now, she is putting her skills to the test. She took a pro bono adoption case through Metro Volunteer Lawyers, where the parents are deaf.

"The family is so much fun to work with, and I enjoy the practice I get," she says.

Costello feels it's important for the deaf and hearing-impaired to feel like the law and court systems are user friendly.

"Attorneys from the speaking community need to be more aware of their specific needs, such as having an interpreter and a TTY system for telephones. They need these services to use the courts effectively."

Learning sign language is part of an answer to this problem, she says. She took four classes before getting her J.D. at the University of Denver College of Law, and is now taking a refresher course at the Colorado Free University. Eventually, she would like to become certified as a court interpreter.

As a first-year, she is working in family law and commercial litigation. She says she will have the opportunity to use sign language skills in her practice.

"I hope sign language will allow me to provide legal services to a larger segment of the population and make me an asset to the firm as well as the deaf community," she says.

Top: Amy Costello signs the word "Denver." Make a "d" with your hand and shake your hand at the wrist from front to back.
Middle: Amy signs "Bar," which can be used interchangeably with the word "law." Start by forming an "L" with your right hand. Touch the right-hand index finger to the top of your left-hand index finder, and pull your right hand down to the base of your left-hand.
Bottom: The sign for "Association." Start by making two fists, and touching your thumbs together. Then, turn your hands so that your pinky fingers are touching, pictured at right.

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