My Second Nature is Sign Language

By Jenny Sanderson

Raised in a predominantly deaf family, Jenny Sanderson grew up with American Sign Language (ASL). Her parents rarely spoke in the home, and Jenny and her sister, who have hearing, grew up immersed in the language and in deaf culture. Jenny also grew up with dogs and a desire to help the hearing-impaired, so it’s perhaps no surprise that she’s now a trainer at Leader Dogs for the Blind, which matches vision- and hearing-impaired people with guide dogs.

Jenny works in the Special Needs Program, which serves clients with both hearing and vision impairments. Signing is a big part of her job, including tactile signing, in which signers sign on their conversational partner’s hand.

“Signing is like a dialect almost,” Jenny says. “It goes back to where they’re from, when they started learning, how they were raised.” Jenny loves learning new signs, and she often thinks and dreams in sign language—she’ll even make up words. She and her colleague often text in sign language, too.

When she’s not speaking with clients, Jenny is training future Leader Dogs, exposing them to situations like going to the mall or riding the bus. Clients su

bmit videos and applications to be matched with their ideal dogs; there’s then a 25-day training at Leader Dogs’ Rochester Hills campus.

“The clients we meet are amazing,” she says. “They’re independent, and we get to empower them.” Their disabilities can make for an isolating experience, she says, but “when they walk with a dog, they never walk alone.”