Ring a Bell for ASL aims to connect the hearing and deaf communities of Flint

FLINT, Michigan — Raised by a single parent, Flint native Linda Bell not only learned the ABCs during her youth but also American Sign Language (ASL). Today, as the founder and CEO of Ring a Bell for ASL, Bell is proud to continue her mother’s legacy of teaching.

After winning 100K Ideas' Pitch for $K for her app idea — Bell Tech Communications, which she designed to communicate between deaf and hearing communities — Bell lost her mother in 2018. After pivoting, she focused her attention on her newer venture, Ring a Bell for ASL, which aims to educate the community on the deaf and those hard-of-hearing. 

“I’m doing this in her honor because if she hadn’t taught me sign language, I wouldn’t have been able to be an interpreter, share my experience and incorporate this as a bridge to communicate in our community,” Bell says.

Growing up, Bell witnessed how underserved and isolated her mother and fellow deaf community members were. Many everyday activities were very different for Leola, who couldn’t hear speakers at events or church, movie theater sounds, etc. 

“I’m an advocate for the deaf community because I am part of it,” Bell says. “I grew up with a deaf mother, so I am trying to make Flint more accessible to the deaf community.” Bell’s research found that the city of Flint has 3,000 deaf people, yet lacks resources like interpreters at council meetings.

A 2018 5-year American Community Survey, found that approximately 3,213 Flint residents identified as having hearing difficulty.Through teaching regular one-hour-long weekly classes at the Ferris Wheel (615 N. Saginaw St., Suite 7014) Monday through Saturday, Bell provides American Sign Language classes for all ages for $150/person. Two-member families cost $150, and families of three+ members cost $200. 

Thanks to a grant from the Greater Flint Community Foundation, Bell is now able to bring her services to the community as a free option, too. She hosts a free program at Haskell Community Center (2201 Forest Hill Ave.), under the pavilion one hour a week on Sunday from 1 to 2 p.m., running now through September 11. Community members are invited to drop in whenever they can. 

“In my class, I have a little bell and every time somebody would come into the classroom, I’d say, ‘it’s time to ring the bell for ASL.’ If you have a question about sign language, you’d ring the bell and I’d give you an answer,” Bell says.

Bell hopes to bring public awareness to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community through entertaining and educational resources. “If you come to one of my classes, you’ll think it’s fun. It’s not dry or boring. You use your facial expressions, hands, and senses. We use it all in ASL,” she says. 

Ring a Bell for ASL staff facilitates community programs at senior centers, including Hasslebring every Thursday morning from 9-10 a.m. Staff member Kyren Johnson teaches staff and professionals at educational institutions about how to incorporate ASL in their programming. Bell says ASL is helpful for getting children’s attention, creating emotional stability, and assisting with their cognitive ability.

“Sign language is a healthy tool because it’s so active, visual, and hands-on. Kids feel like they’re playing, and it becomes a learning tool for them,” she says of the non-verbal cues.

“I’m an advocate for the deaf community because I am part of it.” - Linda BellBell hopes to bridge gaps between the deaf and hearing communities by showing people how similar they are, despite their differences. Bringing the two together “builds morality, it builds a community, and it helps people,” she says. “There are myths about deaf culture, and there are myths about hearing culture. I believe by bringing the two communities together, we can find a niche where we’re all the same, but we just have different ways of communicating.”

By creating and uniting an inclusive community, Bell hopes to foster a future where people can work together using their individual talents. 

“Deaf people have brilliant eyes, they’re very good at securing,” she says. “If you need a security person, deaf people’s eyes act as their ears. They see everything, but we don’t think to put them in positions where they can be watchful people or artists – but their eyes are so amazing. They see in-depth.”

By putting deaf people at the front of her organization, Bell hopes it prompts a bigger conversation about how important ASL is to a community. She invites people to ‘ring a bell for ASL,’ and ask questions about driving while deaf, and even about what it was like for Bell to grow up as a hearing kid learning to speak. 

“I want people to ask questions, and that’s why we’re there,” she says. “We’re there to teach ASL, but we’re also there to answer those myth questions. I want people to come out and learn.”

Bell envisions Ring a Bell for ASL as a resource center and hopes to spark interest in other communities that can create and embrace their own ASL programs.

For more information about Ring a Bell for ASL, visit: ringabell4asl.com

Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.