A Boerne, Texas woman is using American Sign Language (ASL) alongside her service dog, Hank, to teach kindness and inclusion to area children.
Emma Faye Rudkin lost her hearing when she was just a child. She learned ASL, how to read lips and how to speak with her own voice.
Rudkin runs Aid The Silent, a nonprofit that advocates for those with hearing disabilities.
“I think it’s a very important message for kids.
It’s really targeted for ages four to eight,” Rudkin said. “But I’ve had several people who are adults message me and say how much it meant to hear that perspective.”
Katrina Kehoe, Vice President for Marketing at San Antonio’s PBS affiliate KLRN, said, “In these one-minute spots, we’re going to be teaching one word, whether it’s ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ or ‘love’ or ‘sharing.’… She teaches how to sign the word, and then she uses it in a few sentences and talks about how it’s important to be that word, to be kind, to be loving.”
The videos are short but their messages are long-lasting. Rudkin said learning to sign, even just a few words, produces empathy for those who can’t hear in those who can. The videos don’t just star Rudkin: they also feature her service dog, Hank. Kehoe believes Hank helps Rudkin connect to the younger audience. “He is an amazing, an amazing dog who is very calm,” she said.
For now, the one-minute segments are aired between programs on KLRN. They are also distributed to PBS stations statewide and PBS decision-makers nationwide. Kehoe said that Rudkin comes across on TV exceptionally well, and the goal is to, eventually, create a full-length program.
“She has such a presence, and she has such a beauty that’s about her. Not only is that external beauty, but it’s really just an internal personality that glows,” she said. “And that all comes across on TV very, very well.”
A few years ago, Rudkin stepped on a light rail track, not realizing a train approached the station.
A stranger pulled her back onto the platform, saving her life. Rudkin had always took pride in her independence, but this incident made her swallow that pride and she applied to get a service dog to help her navigate daily life. That’s how she met Hank. “I ended up with the love of my life. He is just an adorable black lab,” she said.
Hank escorts Rudkin to speaking engagements, wakes her up in the mornings and lets her know when someone is at her door.
Hank has also come to play a more important role in her work: helping kids understand differences in others. “A lot of my job is going to schools, and I teach against anti-bullying. I teach how to be kind,” Rudkin said. “If you met someone with a disability, how do you interact with them? How do you play with them?” Hank loves children and the connection he makes with the kids is an important step, she said.
Rudkin praised her parents for helping her learn to face and overcome her fears by utilizing her love for horses. “My dad had a rule. He said, the only way you can keep the horse is if every time you get bucked off, you immediately get back on the horse, because something happens: The longer you let fear rule that situation, the more you become afraid of something you once loved,” she said.
Now that she’s overcome her own fears, Rudkin and Hank are trying to impart a message of kindness to a bigger audience. That’s a message we could all learn.