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Louisville Zoo celebrates Deaf Awareness Day

Julie Johnson signed along in ASL as Louisville Zoo staff explained to an visitors how they train their animals.
Julie Johnson signed along in ASL as Louisville Zoo staff explained to an visitors how they train their animals.

Julie Johnson stood in front of Sasha, a female Amur tiger, as the big cat rose on her hind legs to grab a piece of food from a zookeeper. 

Johnson signed along in American Sign Language (ASL) as the keeper explained how tigers like Sasha can grow to be 8 feet tall on their hind legs and how staff train animals to make health check-ups easier.  

The Louisville Zoo’s training demonstrations included interpreters as part of a Deaf Awareness Day celebration Saturday.

“It’s a great, nice way for families to feel like they can see and connect with one another,” said Nea Cowan with Kentucky Hand and Voices.

The group, which aims to offer support and community for families with deaf and hard-of-hearing children, partnered with the zoo for the event. 

In addition to the ASL-interpreted training demonstrations, the zoo placed signs throughout the grounds with facts about hearing loss. Deaf and hard-of-hearing children also received free admission.

Cowan's daughter is part of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. She said events like Deaf Awareness Day give her daughter a chance to bond with other children.

“All of these kids are the only deaf or hard of hearing in their school or in their community, so whenever they get to see another child who has an implant or another child with a hearing aid or one that signs, they feel like they’re not alone,” Cowan said.

That aspect is what brought Kelly Scott and her son, Charlie, to the event.

“He’s actually never seen another child with a hearing aid, and so we wanted to normalize it for him and let him know that there are others out there like him,” Scott said.

The increased accessibility for everyone was another event feature Scott appreciated.

“Every kid, no matter what their abilities are, should be able to enjoy places like this,” Scott said. “The zoo is a wonderful place for all kids of all different types, and so it’s fantastic that they’re doing this and enabling it to be accessible for everybody.”

Six-year-old Luke Montgomery was one of many children attending Deaf Awareness Day at the zoo. He hoped that others could understand how much events like this mean.

“I want other people to know that Deaf Awareness Day is very special for deaf people,” Montgomery said. “It just makes them feel happy and special and stuff.”

Other than hanging out with his friends, Montgomery was most excited to see the flamingos for one simple reason. 

“Because those are my favorite animals at the zoo,” he said.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

News Youth Reporting
Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.