SignOn in the Grosse Pointe News

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Millennial entrepreneur filling a void

GROSSE POINTE NEWS. APRIL 27. 2017 BUSINESS HOUR THE GUILD Sr JOHN Providence By Jody McVeigh Editor Twenty-six-year-old Ashlee Trempus never dreamed of being an entrepreneur. For the past year, she's watched as her business launched, then became a required supplement at seven Michigan colleges and universities. SignOn, a virtual immersion program for anyone interested in learning American Sign Language, uses live one- on-one sessions with deaf individuals to teach anything from basic vocabulary to advanced interpretation skills.
It was developed out of necessity and need, said Trempus, a Grosse Pointe Farms resident. "When 1 was going to school, I wanted to become an interpreter, but I got very sick and was homebound," she said. "You're required to have more than 200 hours of interaction with the deaf community. You have to travel across the state …. It was frustrat ing, because I couldn't travel and get my hours. There was nothing online, nothing around me. I wanted something so bad." Trempus brainstormed with her mentor and SignOn co-founder, Paul Fugatz, to create a way for students to remotely build their sign language skills. The website launched February 2016.

"We started small," Trempus said. "Twenty- five deaf ambassadors work for me now. They're paid $15 an hour. We pay all our workers a living wage. When we were starting the company, we wanted to make it some thing worthwhile for all our workers. That was close to my heart - to be a sustainable company with a living wage." SignOn started as a means for students to hone their ASL skills, but soon transformed into a place for anyone inter ested in not only learning the language, but finding answers to questions about the deaf commu nity. "We have quite a few parents logging in," Trempus said. "When you find out your child is deaf, it's a scary experi ence. Here, the whole culture of being deaf is being learned and spo TOMFINCHAM 800 SUNNINGDALE DR. GROSSE POINTE W OODS ken about. There are 600,000 deaf people in Michigan, but the deaf community is pretty small; they're a commu nity unto themselves.

"The deaf community and culture is very unique, very special," she continued. "The best per son to learn sign lan guage from is a deaf person. It's their lan guage." During each 30-minute session, deaf ambassa dors explain bits of deaf culture, as well as help with ASL. "They tell the hearing world their experiences," Trempus said. "It's good for students. You can read about it, but actually hearing a true, live story is awesome." ASL - the fourth most common language in America - officially is considered a foreign lan guage and counts toward foreign language credits for students. However, while a German or PHOTO COURTESY OF ASHLEE TREMPUS Ashlee Trempus created the virtual immersion pro gram SignOn for people who want to learn American Sign Language.

French student can travel to Germany or France to immerse themselves in the language and culture, there is no deaf country to visit, Trempus said. "We're creating that experience with SignOn," she said. The only items needed to participate in SignOn are internet access and a web cam. During each session, communication takes place via ASL or by keying in questions and comments. Children are allowed to use the program, with adult supervision. "We don't want kids sit ting there alone because it is a stranger, but chil dren can sit with their parents and talk with ambassadors," Trempus said. "All our sessions are recorded and archived for safety reasons." Sessions are available 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven d ay s a w eek . Ambassadors are located around the country. Videos on the site - - help explain the program, too.

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