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Connellsville girl, 9, learns new language

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Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, 10:34 a.m.

On a snowy Saturday morning, Abby Trich and half a dozen family members arrived at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Uniontown, eager to resume sign language lessons.

Abby, 9, was diagnosed several years ago with enlarged vestibular aqueduct syndrome, a congenital disorder that has led to hearing loss.

“She has medium to severe loss in her right ear and severe loss in her left ear,” said her mother, Kerri Trich, of Connellsville.

Surgery is not an option, Trich said.

Abby's teacher at South Side Elementary School, where she is in fourth grade, uses a wireless microphone system that Abby picks up through her hearing aids.

A petite blonde, Abby arrived for her fourth lesson holding an American Girl Doll, also equipped with hearing aids.

“I taught my friend Kylee how to (sign) her name,” Abby said, demonstrating.

“She gets a kick out of knowing a ‘secret code,'” Trich said.

Abby loves playing softball, and rides a bicycle and a scooter.

“She wears a helmet,” Trich said.

Because any head injury could further Abby's hearing loss, dodgeball, roller skating and ice skating are out, Trich said.

Trich contacted Cathy Zimmerman, coordinator of the Hear Fayette program, with questions after learning of her daughter's hearing loss.

American Sign Language classes are taught for a minimal donation, Zimmerman said.

“Participants are supposed to practice during the week, which this family does,” Zimmerman said. “They are probably the most enthusiastic family we've had.”

“We want people to realize there are deaf people here in Fayette County. When people see us in a restaurant ‘signing,' we get a lot of attention. We want people to know what it looks like.

“We have had EMTs, people who work with special needs students. They think it will help them communicate better,” she noted.

Trich credited her father, Jim Hill of Mt. Pleasant, for suggesting the family learn sign language together.

“I was just worried about her. I wanted to make sure she had everything we could give her,” Hill said. “We practice at home. It's fun. We are getting there.”

“We decided that, God forbid, she loses any more hearing, we wanted to be able to communicate with her,” Abby's grandmother, Jeanne Hill, said.

Also participating in the 16 weeks of lessons are Abby's cousin, Andrea Bitner, and aunt, Tricia Miller, both of Mt. Pleasant; and brother Doug Trich, 6.

Trich's older children, Amanda, 19, and Michael, 17, practice at home with the family.

Jeff Martz, who teaches from the American Sign Language University curriculum, is deaf and mute, and has been using sign language for decades.

Saturday's lesson included learning to sign aunt, uncle, bedroom, brush teeth, friend, idea, excuse me, happy, help, hurt, wash, sad, sorry and love.

Sitting in a semi-circle facing Martz, the family repeated the symbols he demonstrated.

Several asked each other questions, laughing as they caught themselves speaking while signing.

“How are you?” Martz signed.

He bent his hands, touching knuckles, opened and cupped his palms and pointed a finger at family members.

The students responded, their fingers spelling “fine,” “good,” “so-so.”

When Abby correctly signed “excuse me,” Martz applauded and waved his wrists to say ‘yea!”

Some of the easiest symbols were those for “baby” — Martz crossed his arms as if holding and rocking an infant — and “brush teeth,” which is self-explanatory.

The family learned to place their pinkies to the sides of their foreheads and flick up, to express the word “idea.”

They learned to sign “cry” by dragging their fingertips down from their eyes, as if shedding tears.

No one had trouble when Martz pointed to the word “love.”

Family members crossed their arms over their hearts, palms inward.

At the end of the session, they turned to Martz and raised the fingers of one hand to their lips, then downward in his direction.

Their words were silent, but their meaning clear.

“Thank you,” they signed.

Visit for more information about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or




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