I am currently fascinated with deaf people. They are limited by a disability, yet they offer so much to the rest of us. As pointed out in this post, I mentioned that deaf and hearing people have a common denominator; and that is, that we are all human beings.
Human beings are emotional beings. We like to be healthy. We like to feel and give love. We like to laugh and when it is called for, we cry. We can be guilty of the worst gossip and at the same time lift each other up when we are down. We are constantly communicating with each other to move from one point in time to the next.
This, and many other attributes, is what makes us human.
But then we get separated into groups and subgroups as life deals with us one way or another. One such group is the one I am currently fascinated with. Deaf people!
The deaf community consists of people with various degrees of deafness. Some are completely and totally deaf while others can hear in only one ear. There are those who were born deaf while others became deaf at some point in their life due to health and other reasons. And then there are people with Cochlear Implants and those who oppose such implants. We even have deaf pride!
How then does this variety of deafness get along? How do they communicate with each other? And how can they interact on an intelligent level with the rest of the world? Do they have a language?
These are very important questions that require an educated response. Unfortunately, this blogger cannot get into the details of how deaf people communicate, but I will try to answer the questions raised in the above paragraph.
My interest in the deaf culture came about because of Sign Language. I became hooked to it after watching “Switched at Birth.” I have caught myself talking with people and making random gestures. The actors in “Switched at Birth” sign properly, but I like to pretend that I can throw random gestures around and make sense like they do in the TV series.
Now, here comes the big revelation – deaf people communicate primarily with each other with Sign Language. There are different sign languages around the world. The diversity is a result of the plethora of human languages that exist in this world.
The sign language being used in the TV series is the Americal Sign Language or ASL. Then there is the British Sign Language or BSL and a host of other sign languages. A convenient list is accessible here. The different languages differ from country to country and from region to region. Some regions and/or countries adopt sign languages from other regions and/or countries. For instance the Moroccan Sign Language is actually ASL – signed by deaf people from Morocco.
Due to the diversity of languages and the signs associated with them, communication between signers of different regions and countries can be difficult at times. This is similar to when someone from Ureparapara tries to communicate to someone from Paama in the Ureparaparan language. The person from Paama will not understand the Banks Islander if he does not specifically know the Ureparapara language.
In the same way, deaf people from different countries will have to teach each other how to sign certain words, actions, places, events and a host of other things before they can start to communicate with each other. There is no universal sign language understood by all deaf people!
But the biggest challenge that the deaf community faces is the stigma and stereotyping that they have to deal with because of their disability. The hearing populace are mostly the ones who are guilty of causing this type of hurt to deaf people.
A lot of hearing people do not understand that the deaf are as healthy and as fit as people with normal hearing. Their brains operate on the same level – some even better than most hearing people. Yet, their lack of perceiving sound in its fullness makes them unworthy of fair treatment by a lot of hearing people.
Something that a lot of hearing people are too lazy or too careless to notice is that sign language is a form of identity for deaf people. It is part of the deaf culture. When the deaf, the hard of hearing, and interpreters “speak” with sign language, they are able to understand and and complement each other in a way that brings deep-rooted identity. This is why there can be a lot of debate among deaf people when it comes to innovations like Cochlear Implants.
A lot of hearing people disrespect this cultural identity by assuming that deaf people are unintelligent beings who need extra special attention and care. While it is true that they need hearing people around them to keep them from harm, they should be treated with intelligence. Their culture prepares them for life just as much as a hearing person receives life training from within his/her culture.
Learn to Sign
Sign language is not a difficult language to learn. It is easy, but you have to choose which language you need to learn.
Learning sign language is more than just learning the alphabet. While each word can be spelled with the alphabet, whole words also have associated signs. There are signs for verbs, nouns, adjectives and a host of other language structures.
A very important accompaniment to hand gestures to depict emotion in sign language is facial expression. This is very important when someone has to use the same sign for different words. The expression of the face will indicate what the sign depicts in the context it is being used.
So, take up the challenge today and learn to sign. If you are unsure where to start, get in touch and we’ll start with ASL.
See you in the next post.