Inspiration from the ABC Stories of 4 Deaf Creators

Aug 6, 2021 | Interpreter Education

by: Brooke LaTurno, EIPA 3.8 - Interpreter Coordinator

At a fundamental level, storytelling is ingrained in the human experience. Stories help us to make sense of our lives, create meaning, pass on lessons, remember notable experiences, and dream up new ways of understanding the world around us. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list – the many functions of storytelling probably equal the number of stories that have cumulatively been told since the dawn of time!

When interpreting, we take on greater responsibility in respect to the stories of others. It is our job is to do justice to our client’s story, and transmit the tone, intent, meaning, register, etc. of the messages that each client (or protagonist, if you will) expresses. This is true regardless of whether our work takes us inside a medical office, classroom, theater, courtroom, or stadium. Being entrusted with the responsibility to faithfully communicate the story our client chooses to tell, is one of the great honors in an interpreter’s job. The process is by no means easy and requires intense focus and complex mental processing. To help us accomplish this task, part of our professional development should include the study of storytelling.

In addition to the important role storytelling plays in the lives of human beings in general, and the specific relevance it has to our job as interpreters specifically, storytelling is also an integral part of Deaf culture and Deaf traditions. As described in A Journey into the Deaf-World: “In order to become a storyteller, it seems one must be able to control language and nonverbal communication…being a successful storyteller also requires one to be observant and feel the pulse of the Deaf-World, and what one learns is then reflected in the way one selects and relates the stories.” [emphasis added] (Lane, Hoffmeister, & Bahan, p. 153)

Our work requires competency in both English and ASL storytelling, so our studies should include exposure to and analysis of stories in both English and ASL. One of the great storytelling traditions in Deaf culture is the ABC Story. When attending a Deaf event, the chances are good that you will have the pleasure of watching an ABC story. Unfortunately, our opportunities to come together face-to-face have been limited during the pandemic due to safety concerns. However, thanks to the proliferation and advancement of technology, the internet, and social media, we can now enjoy the artful storytelling of Deaf creators from the comfort of our homes, via virtual means.

Below are ABC stories from the creative minds of four incomparable Deaf performers: Patrick Fischer, Rob Nielson, Arlene Ngalle-Paryani, and Joseph Wheeler.

"Titanic" by Patrick Fischer

"Checkmate!" by Rob Nielson

"Black Cowgirl" by Arlene Ngalle-Paryani

"Haunted House" by Joseph Wheeler*

*This YouTube video does not indicate the performer’s name; however, the attribution is an educated guess based on the fact that Joseph Wheeler seems to create the majority of ASL THAT channel content. Please reach out to us if you have an edit to suggest regarding the name of the performer. Thank you very much!

As you watch each storyteller bring their tale to life, what do you notice about their creative use of language? Are there elements from these stories that inspire your own creativity?

Do you have a favorite Deaf storyteller or performer who was not included in this post? Or an ABC Story that really struck a chord with you or changed the way you thought about storytelling? Please let us know in the comments below!


Lane, H., Hoffmeister, R., & Bahan, B. (1996). A Journey into the Deaf-World. DawnSignPress.

Fischer, Patrick. (2017, July 20). Titanic – ABC Story [Video]. YouTube.

ASL with Rob. (2008, December 10). Checkmate! – An ASL ‘ABC’ Story [Videol].YouTube.

Ngalle-Paryani, Arlene. (2021, May 24). ASL ABC Story: “Black Cowgirl” [Video].YouTube.

ASL THAT. (2013, October 23). ASL ABC Story – Haunted House [Video].YouTube.

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