Representation is important. For members of the deaf community, they can see one of their own playing a deaf role on the big screen in Marvel’s "Eternals."

It’s leaving an impact beyond the box office.

Lauren Ridloff, who’s deaf herself, plays Makkari, a superhero. The character isn’t someone overcoming a disability, but someone thriving because of their differences.

"It took a while for it to finally get that barrier breaking down," said David Wantuck, who teaches American Sign Language, deaf studies and deaf culture at Niagara University. "But I think with this role this movie, it shows what deaf actors, deaf actresses can do."

At least five courses are offered each semester at NU. They spread knowledge that’s useful anywhere, but especially in Western New York.

"I've actually been learning it since high school," said Emilee Dauphinee, an ASL class teaching assistant and former student. "I started learning it in seventh grade, back in middle school, because I'm from Rochester, which is a big deaf community."

Full conversations go on in silence.

"A big misconception is that it's just sign English and it's not," said Dauphinee. "It's a whole different language by itself and we're all about communication. We just want to communicate with everyone."

ASL Professor Rachel Violanti says when deaf people are seen in pop culture, it increases interest in ASL courses.

"The more mainstream it becomes, the more people learn to think differently and think deafness isn't a bad thing," she said. "It's not something to be afraid of. It's something that we can integrate into our society."

Her class is the basics: conversational ASL. You won’t go on to become an interpreter after one semester, but it does make a difference.

"Even to this day in 2021, deaf people are still marginalized," said Violanti. "So seeing the doctor who can say, ‘Hi, my name is,’ and then spell their name [in ASL], or the nurse who says, ‘Do you need water,’ or anything like that is very helpful."

As more deaf actors go mainstream, from a Helen Keller movie to a deaf character in MCU’s "Hawkeye" series, the momentum won’t stop here.

"[We’re] hoping to bridge the gap between everybody, all communities, deaf and hearing, and for that to be foreseen in the future and we're already seeing that happen now. This is great," said Wantuck.

The Niagara University classes are mainly for students, but they do open up a summer course. You can also reach out to Deaf Access Services if you’re interested in learning ASL.