Now, imaginethe same situation as mentioned in the first paragraph, but this time theworkers in the store are able to sign back to you, answer any of your questions,and just exchange pleasantries. All though this a far-fetched dream, I believe itcould be possible for more Americans to at least become familiar with the deafculture. Even just being able to understand and sign the alphabet would be advantageousfor everyone.
This process can start with more school districts offering instructionin American Sign Language and more citizens being encouraged to learn it. ASL hasendured many obstacles but its survival is a testament to its value in meetingthe human need for communication. ASL is nownot only being used as a language to communicate, but also as a form of visual art.In 2016, the Deaf West performing group’s production of Spring Awakening becamethe first Broadway show where all of the actors used sign language and over halfof the cast was deaf. Today, most play productions have at least one showingwith ASL interpreters and screens with closed-captions. Many big-screen moviesalso offer closed-captioning for their deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons. While thedeaf community has struggled for years to bring ASL to classrooms, there ismuch popularity in ASL among hearing parents and their babies. Sign languageallows a parent to be able to communicate with their baby many months earlierthan a typical non-signing parent.
Studies have shown that signing babies havea bigger vocabulary, understand more words and engage in more sophisticatedplay than non-signing babies. The originsof American Sign Language can be traced to two specific historical events.First, in the 1600’s, there was a group of people in Martha’s Vineyard with agenetic mutation that resulted in a large deaf community. This resulted invarious indigenous signs being used among the deaf members and eventuallyresulted in the first school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817. Thesecond influence was French sign language brought to America by Laurent Clerc, adeaf teacher from France, who traveled to America with Thomas Gallaudet, ahearing American minister. The blending of the indigenous and French signlanguage formed the basis for American Sign Language as we know it today.
If there areat least three deaf people in my very small town, chances are you have met, orat least seen, a deaf person in your town. So why aren’t more people learningsign language if there are people we have seen and met that are deaf or hard ofhearing in our community? I believe that this is because people are intimidatedand apprehensive to approach someone different from themselves. It isintimidating because ASL is a language where each word, or even letter, has adifferent hand motion. It is different from spoken word due to the modality ofthe language as it is a visual and gestural language. Since only 5% of Earth’spopulation is deaf, many people may not personally know someone who is deaf andmay therefore not realize the importance of learning ASL. However, in reality,one will come across more deaf people than you might expect. According to GallaudetUniversity, about 2 to 4 of every 1,000 people in the United States are “functionallydeaf”.
This number is 4 to 10 times higher if one includes all people with asevere hearing impairment. When my momwas in nursing school she was required to take a language class and chose to studyAmerican Sign Language. My mom decided she wanted my brother and I to learnsome basic ASL phrases as well. Even after my mom’s class ended she wanted usto continue interacting with members of the deaf community.
We startedattending meet-ups in my city for the deaf and those learning ASL. Even thoughnone of us were yet fluent, it was always a great experience and I learned somuch. The members of the deaf community were so helpful and willing to teach us.Some time has passed since then and I have now moved to a much smaller town,yet I have already met three deaf people who are my neighbors.
Imagine youare at your local grocery store and you have a question about a product but youare not able hear what other people are saying and have no efficient way tocommunicate with others. This is the life most deaf individuals must endure.Imagine the relief that a deaf individual must experience when they run into anotherperson who understands and speaks sign language and is able to communicate withthem. I feel it is vital that more individuals should learn and use signlanguage and most, if not all, school districts should offer instruction in it.American Sign Language (ASL) has evolved in Canada and the United States as ameans for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to express their thoughts,wants, needs, and ideas