contact me at

Sunday, July 8, 2012

You can break the communication barrier

Blurb: There is a way to break the communication barrier between
hearing people and those who are deaf. The question is: Are you
willing to learn?

The communication barrier is the most difficult obstacle faced by
people who are deaf and deaf-blind. Too many deaf individuals are
ignored by family, friends and the general community because they
can't hear spoken words. It's a horrible feeling and represents
one of the main reasons why people who are deaf reject family
members and old friends.

Language is what brings society together. When a person cannot
use the primary language, they live like a stranger in a strange
land. Foreigners some times work hard to learn English so they
can overcome this barrier. It's different for people who are
deaf. We can't learn to hear. We need you to be the one to take
action. Are you willing to try?

Here are some things you should know. There are two forms of sign
language. One is known as signed English. A person learns signs
for words, but uses English grammar. They are basically speaking
English with their hands.

There is nothing wrong with this method. It is often preferred by
people who lost their hearing later in life. It is easier for
hearing people to learn, as well. Just be aware that you are not
speaking ASL. Some people say they know ASL, but they are really
using signed English.

ASL refers to American Sign Language. It is an actual language
with its own grammar and rules. There's more to ASL than just
learning signs. Many people might be surprised to learn that ASL
is the third most common language used in the United States.

I'll give you a simple example of how ASL and English are
different. In English, you would say, "I lost my keys at the
library on Friday." In ASL, this would be signed, "Friday library
keys me lose."

There's much more to it than changing the word order. Facial
expression is crucial to understanding ASL. If I sign, "Dad
angry," how do you know if I'm telling you that dad is angry, or
if I'm asking you if he's angry? The movement of my eyebrows and
look on my face is the answer.

Still, there's even more to ASL. Handshapes, movement and
location are all important. ASL uses classifiers that allow the
signer to almost act out a story. But there are rules about how
classifiers can be used. There are even ASL signs that have no
English translation.

Let's say you meet a deaf person, and you want them to
communicate through reading and writing notes. This is often a
big problem for deaf people who grew up speaking ASL. It's hard
for hearing people to understand this. ASL is a visual language.
You can't really write in ASL. For these people, ASL is their
primary language. English is a foreign language to them. They
might not be skilled enough to write English. This leads to

I've heard of hearing people complain because a deaf person won't
write notes to them. Employees who work in medical offices or
other businesses that are required by ADA to provide interpreters
often express anger about this. Why should they have to pay for
an interpreter when they could just write notes? Now you know

I'd love for more people to learn signed English or ASL. It's so
nice to go some place and run into a person who can sign. But
I'm not telling you to make such a commitment. I'm suggesting
something easier.

Everybody out there can and should learn to fingerspell. Family,
friends, neighbors, teachers, employees... There's no excuse why
you can't do it. You only have to learn 26 handshapes. That's not
asking too much.

Get a book from the library. Look online for the sign language
manual alphabet. Ask someone who is deaf to teach you the
letters. It's easy. Just 26 handshapes, and the communication
barrier is broken.

Alas, I should mention that it's not a perfect solution. People
who are long-time ASL signers or weak in English might have
problems understanding much of what you are trying to communicate
with fingerspelling. Remember, you will spell in English. It can
be challenging for some individuals who are deaf. Some people who
are deaf-blind can read close range sign language but have
trouble distinguishing certain letters of the manual alphabet.

Regardless, most deaf people can communicate with fingerspelling.
Some, like me, only need you to fingerspell to them. They will
reply using their voice.

Don't tell me you can't speak my language. Don't say you are
sorry and brush me off. Don't pretend I'm not there because I'm

You have the option. The choice is up to you. All you have to do
is learn 26 letters. If you think that's too much to ask, then
shame on you. I'm deaf. I'm human. I want to communicate. The
rest is up to you.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Angie! When I was about 10, I read a book that involved a deaf child and had the finger alphabet in the back of the book. I was fascinated! I taught myself the alphabet that same afternoon and then taught it to my sister, who was several years younger than I. I remember after that, I was always hoping to run across someone deaf so I could try talking to them. It never happened. But, my sister and I used the finger alphabet to talk during church with our hands innocently in our laps and no one ever knew!

    Whenever I attend a function that has a deaf interpreter, I always focus on him/her. I've discovered this is a great way to learn new words as I can see the signs immediately after hearing the words. I believe I could have a simple conversation with a deaf person even though I've never had a single lesson in sign language. Hopefully, I'll get the chance some day to see if it's so!

    I understand how it feels to be unable to communicate. I've lived in countries where English is not spoken and hated the feeling of sitting in a room full of people and being the only one not laughing. Or being with a group of people and not only being left out of the decision making process but being completely clueless about what the plan is. It's a horrible feeling!!