Tag Archives: sign language

ASL Unlocking Communication

asl-communication-faqs-sign-language-info-01What is American Sign Language? Is it a culture? Is it an identity? Is it a foreign language? Is it an art form? Is it for Deaf people only? ASL fills a variety of roles in different people’s lives, but most importantly: it is a communication tool. ASL is emotional expression, it is connection; it is a way for humans to build meaningful relationships.

asl-communication-faqs-sign-language-info-02The use of sign language has been discovered all around the world in areas where groups of Deaf people have had the opportunity to interact with one another. Nicaraguan sign language spontaneously emerged in the 1970s, after it was developed by deaf Nicaraguan school children. In Martha’s Vineyard, MA, from the early 18th century until the mid-20th century, there was an unusually large deaf population among the island’s residents. This led to the development of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), a unique form of sign that all island residents knew and utilized, regardless of whether they were deaf or hearing!

why-i-sign-hashtag-asl-info-03Last month Stacy Abrams, a Family Mentor Program Coordinator at Arizona Schools for the Deaf/Blind and the Arizona Early Intervention Program, launched the viral video campaign called Why I Sign #WhyISign. According to Abrams, she started the campaign “to inspire families everywhere to share their personal stories of why they elect to sign with their Deaf children.” #WhyISign quickly caught on with the Deaf community as parents, children, and whole families shared what ASL means to them. These personal and passionate videos depict hundreds of members of the Deaf community explaining in their own words why they choose to use ASL with their family and friends. The campaign also appealed to a number of hearing individuals such as parents of Deaf children, Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs), Deaf school employees, and sign language interpreters; all of whom consider ASL an important part of their lives.

why-i-sign-asl-faqs-info-04#WhyISign was so powerful because of the community pride it generated and the incredible diversity of ASL users that it showcased. The campaign also brought an important issue to the forefront: giving deaf children access to signed languages.

Research has shown that learning to sign improves cognitive and linguistic development skills in both deaf and hearing infants. Because babies develop basic motor functions before they are able to orally communicate, knowing certain signs can help children express their wants and needs, thus reducing frustrations. Unfortunately, this seems less clear-cut for parents who decide to go the oral or cochlear implant route for their child, as these parents tend to worry that teaching their child signs will prevent them from acquiring spoken language skills. Recent studies however have shown that this fear is unfounded, and in fact learning ASL “may mitigate negative effects of early auditory deprivation for spoken language development.”

asl-communication-faqs-sign-language-info-05Peter Hauser, a deaf clinical neuropsychologist and associate professor in the American Sign Language and Interpreting Education Department at NTID, has been studying how exactly deaf people’s brains are wired. Hauser’s research indicates that not having comfortable access to language from a very early age can delay the development of executive functions in the brain— this includes emotions, impulse control, memory, and thought organization. Sign language provides deaf/ HoH children who are learning to communicate orally with another (potentially more effective) way to sort through their own thoughts while they learn English.

Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K) is a national campaign by ASL4Deaf Kids, which aims to end language deprivation amongst Deaf children in the United States. This growing movement, which features celebrity spokesperson Nyle DiMarco, recently helped pass SB 210 in California: a bill designed to help assess and support literacy amongst deaf young people. LEAD-K promotes an integrated approach where deaf/ HoH children are offered both ASL and English, and not made to choose between the two languages.

asl-communication-children-faqs-info-06Some people believe that signed languages will die out as medical technology alters the social landscape of deafness. Members of the Deaf community and deaf allies are working hard to change this perception. As the previously mentioned research suggests, teaching ASL to deaf/ HoH children is actually beneficial to language acquisition, as well as their emotional development, and it has been linked to long-term educational success.

April 15 is asl-communication-kids-faqs-info-07celebrated as National ASL Day and marks the last day of Deaf History Month. On April 15, 1817, the first school for the deaf in the United States opened and the language we know as ASL began to form— born from a mix of Native American Signs, French Signs, and Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language. ASL is a language created right in America by deaf Americans for deaf Americans. It is the key to a visual culture that has its own folk tales, stories, and sense of humor. Offering yet another tool to figure out this crazy world, sign language is the birthright of every deaf child.

Weaving the fabric

As illustrated by the attention I received for interpreting during Hurricane Sandy, deaf communication really fascinates the hearing population! Growing up a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), it took me a long time to accept the wonderment others experience when they see sign language being used.When I was young, I ‘d become frustrated when patrons in restaurants or grocery stores would stare at my family while we were trying to have a conversation. Being naive, I didn’t know that their stares were not meant to be insulting. I didn’t realize that most hearing people have no communications or interactions with deaf people. It never even occurred to me that most don’t know how!

Until I was in the second grade, I simply assumed deafness was a societal norm. It was hard for my young mind to envision families who did not enthusiastically sign to one another over the dinner table. Other children’s curiosity regarding ASL, which was the primary language of my household, helped me begin to see the divide that exists between deaf and hearing cultures.

I feel such an innate connection with the 38 million deaf and hard of hearing individuals living silently among America’s hearing population. Sign language is the third most widely used language in the US, yet deaf/HoH accommodations remain frightfully scarce. How is it that in 2013, we have not created a cultural melting pot where deafness is, as I for so long believed, a normal aspect of life? By remaining separated, both cultures lose so much opportunity to learn from the other. Deafness is by no means a disability or impairment, it is just a different way of using your brain to experience the world. I wish there were a way to make the whole population understand this! I feel as though my heart and soul are deaf, but I have the ability to hear. I view my multicultural background as a strength, and the struggles of my deaf family members as inspiration to weave deaf culture more closely into the fabric of this country.

Ultimately, I would love to help society let go of their misconceptions, and one of the best ways to do so is to keep pushing for all-inclusive events. When hearing people become used to seeing competent ASL interpreters signing away on stage, without it being spoofed on SNL or going viral, we will know progress has been made!