The Importance of Learning Sign Language

Sign Language is not only a form of communication for those who have hearing loss—it’s a culture.

Let’s jump right to the point with this blog post, shall we? According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), American Sign Language is defined as “a complete, complex language that employs signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body.” ASL is not global, meaning the American version won’t be the same as British or French Sign Language. The grammar rules differ from those in the spoken English language and modifications are added to ASL daily.

In 1856, Edward Miner Gallaudet founded Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. The school educates those with hearing loss and a small percentage of hearing students. President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that allowed the school to confer college degrees in 1864. Until this day, graduates have their diplomas signed by the current President of the United States. Gallaudet University is an integral part of Deaf culture as a primary resource for career opportunities, educational opportunities, open communication, visual learning, ASL, and Deaf history and culture.

Why should you learn American Sign Language? Here is my personal experience: I have a cousin who is Deaf. She inspired me to learn ASL so I would be able to communicate better with her and others within the Deaf community. My local library was a great place for me to locate resources about the basics such as the alphabet and the most used common signs. Lehman College offered an ASL course while I was a student there, so I enrolled as soon as registration was open. I bought a beginner’s kit at Barnes & Noble and reviewed it over the summer. By the first day of class, I already memorized numbers 1-50, and more signs for everyday life.

Within four months of taking the course, I learned more about Deaf culture, how to give directions, the correlation between facial expressions, body posture, and signs, and the importance of learning the language. My professor was deaf and did not use a cochlear implant: a medical device used to replace the functions of the inner ear. This made the class more intimate in grasping the grammar. After graduation, I was able to have a conversation in ASL and have continued to study and practice on my own.

Not all who are deaf use a cochlear implant. Some can hear various frequencies of sound depending on their range in the audio spectrum. There are other technologies that help someone with hearing loss communicate such as Real-Time Text (RTT). It is offensive to a Deaf person when the words “hearing impaired” or “disability” are used to describe them. The correct terminology is “Deaf”, “hard of hearing”, or “hearing loss”.

There is a debate in the medical field about doctors learning ASL in their studies. Interpreters are not always available when a Deaf patient needs their diagnosis to be translated. Most who are Deaf can read lips, but if more than one person talks at the same time, it can be frustrating to understand anything. More medical professionals are taking ASL classes to assist those in the Deaf community. This is also debated in courtrooms, federal offices, and schools.

The media has begun to include Deaf narratives and experiences. Switched at Birth, a teen drama on the Freeform network, told the story of two teenagers who realized a mistake had been made the day they were born. One of the protagonists is Deaf. The show gained praise for its controversial topics like campus rape, racism, and even had an episode done completely in ASL. It inspired viewers to learn the language during its six-season run. Dancing With The Stars had Nyle DiMarco, their first Deaf contestant, win the mirror ball. DiMarco’s victory proved to it’s audience that being deaf doesn’t stop anyone from dancing and enjoying music.

Social media has also played an important role in Deaf culture. Amber Galloway Gallego, has impacted the Deaf community with her interpretation skills at music concerts. Nyle DiMarco teaches his followers signs through his social media pages. I follow the Sign Language Center Instagram page to refresh and improve my skills by watching their reels. They also offer both in-person and Zoom classes.

I have had great conversations with an individual who are Deaf or hard of hearing and the smile on their face tells me everything. This is a language that is poetic and becoming a requirement in most federal offices. Take a chance and see how American Sign Language can impact you.

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Last Updated: September 14, 2023

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