Valley Life for All column: Skills camp at the Aspen Camp for the Deaf |

Valley Life for All column: Skills camp at the Aspen Camp for the Deaf

Annie Uyehara
Special to the Post Independent
Student Ehat Kpaw Say with instructor Kevin Berrigan

Editor’s note: the Post Independent, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, publishes a monthly series about fostering inclusion.

The sound of hammers and hand drills compete with the sing-song rippling of Snowmass Creek, which wends its way through the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Other than that, there is silence.

The young people constructing benches and a stage for an amphitheater are not using their voices, but their hands and facial expressions to communicate about where to drill in screws, where to lay boards on the stage, and how to follow the teachers’ instructions.

The Aspen Camp for the eaf and Hard of Hearing (ACDHH) held its first Tri-State Job SkillsTraining Camp the first week of May. Eighteen students from Utah, New Mexico and Colorado gathered to learn from carpenters from the hearing and deaf communities the skills to build with tools, wood, paint and concrete.

Ehta Kpaw Say, from Utah, is 18 and hard of hearing. This is his first time at a deaf camp. As he drills in screws, he signs to his friends and teachers. “Learning these skills at a hearing camp would take a lot of courage to speak up for myself,” he says, using his voice and sign language. “But here, I’m like all the kids. I feel confident, and it feels like home.”

Ehta is with a group of junior and senior high schoolers with a deaf instructor named Kevin Berrigan. “He taught me to measure and to use tools safely,” he says of Kevin.

Kevin, who is deaf, is proud of Ehta’s progress. He signs, “He’s an excellent young man, works hard and is reaping the benefits that the skills camp provides, that he can apply to his future.”

The ACDHH reopened on a limited basis in 2021, and although the plans are to fully open, board member Zeph Williams says the camp isn’t quite ready; funds and leadership are still in the works. However, there are two family camps in July as well as a women’s program in August and a fall retreat planned, potentially for CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults). The camp provides instructors and interpreters that are bilingual in speaking and sign language.

Ehta continues to lay out patterns with screws and hand drill. A deaf teen instructs him as the teacher and others gather around to watch.

It’s not really silent after all, beyond the noise of the tools and the creek. The sounds of light slapping is made when they use their hands to sign; whispers and throaty sounds are made as their lips enunciate visually for emphasis. American Sign Language (ASL) is not silent, it’s a form of communication.

For more information, please go to or call 970-315-0513

Local nonprofit Valley Life For All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. Find us at or on Facebook.

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