In her new water exercise class, Delores Erlandson understands where to move her arms and legs by looking at the instructor.
For Erlandson, who is deaf, that’s remarkable.
Typically, in such classes, she must watch the instructor and an American Sign Language interpreter, if one is provided. But in the new class at UW Health, the instructor teaches in sign language.
“This way is really clear and direct,” said Erlandson, 81, of Madison. In other classes, “I’m always looking back and forth, like a tennis match, between the interpreter and what the instructor is doing.”
UW Health started the unusual class in May, at its American Center campus on Madison’s Far East Side. A handful of deaf people have been participating in weekly sessions, and organizers hope the class will grow.
It is run by Amy Free, of Madison, who has worked as a sign language interpreter for 16 years and is certified in aquatic exercise.
“Historically, there has been no access to fitness programming for deaf people,” Free said. “They miss out on a lot of instruction … But it feels good for anybody to be in the warm water.”
About 28 million American adults are deaf or have hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Katie Heiser, aquatics supervisor at UW Health’s American Center, came up with the idea for the class after meeting Free.
“I’ve taught classes where you have the interpreter next to you, and it’s hard as an instructor,” Heiser said. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to have the instructor do the interpreting?”
In a related move, yoga instructor Paul Mross conducted an eight-week yoga class this spring for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or use a Cochlear implant, as part of a UW-Madison research project on preventing falls.
Mross learned some signs so he could communicate some instructions on his own, but a sign language interpreter was present at each class.
Bill Scherer said he and his daughter tried a water exercise class that had an instructor who spoke in English and no interpreter.
“I had no idea what was going on; I had to ask my daughter what to do,” said Scherer, 82, of Madison, who until recently owned Bill’s Key Shop on University Avenue.
In Free’s class, “I can see clearly what I’m…