Where do we go from here?

There are many reasons that a person could decide to learn ASL, but one of the greatest benefits is being able to interact with the Deaf community.  Naturally I can only speak from experience with my regional Deaf community, but it seems that there are some traits that are universal.  Besides finding a group of open, happy, and welcoming people, you will probably find that many Deaf people love to help others learn their language.  If you are eager to learn, you will probably find people willing to teach.

The “search” for the Deaf Community may seem daunting at first.  However, there are many ways that you can come in contact.  One option is to see if there is a local Deaf Club.  What is that, you ask?  Good question.  A Deaf Club is simply a (generally) small group of people that represent the local community and are in charge of organizing outings, parties, even fundraisers.  Think of it as a local Moose Lodge.  You can search for a club near you simply by searching the Internet for “Deaf Club in [city]”.

While you are browsing the Internet, you can search for a local Sign Language Interpreter Agency.  The people at the agency may be able to point you in the right direction, or even help set up a meeting with a willing Deaf person.

Although interactions can seem intimidating at first, like many situations, the more often you are exposed, the more confident you will become.

You can also see if your local Community College has an Interpreter Training Program, or even some classes.  Many times, this could lead to events that have been set up specifically for meeting people within the Deaf Community.

The most important thing that you can do, is to become active in to your own community.  The more you are present, the better chance you have of running in to someone who will sign with you.  Plus, volunteering is great for any community!!

Secrets, Secrets, Everywhere!!

Have you ever been in a situation where it felt like everyone knew something that you didn’t?  It was pretty uncomfortable, wasn’t it?  This is the world that Deaf people have to traverse every day.  They are surrounded by people having conversations, sharing information, telling jokes, and they are not included.  This can be an extremely lonely existence.  Have no fear, you can be of assistance!

In the world of ASL, you will often hear the words “Sim Com”.  This means “Simultaneous Communication” and refers to signing and speaking at the same time.  It is some what of an art form and takes some practice, but it is something that will mean inclusion for the Deaf that you socialize with.  By signing what those around you are saying, and using “Sim Com” when you are speaking, the Deaf can be included in the conversation, understand jokes, and generally be a part of the crowd.

This has the added benefit of showing your friends how cool ASL is.  When they ask you how they can learn, you can confidently say “just go to ASLDeafined.com!”

Help! I see Deaf People!

Help!  I see Deaf People!

So now that you have some knowledge of ASL and Deaf Culture, you will begin to notice more Deaf people around you.  Yes, they have always been there; you are just now becoming aware of them.  You may be thinking to yourself, “Self….what do I do?!  Do I approach them?  Do I casually wave as I walk by?  Do I run!?”

Relax, Deaf people rank among the nicest, most accepting people I have ever met.  This isn’t to say that ALL Deaf people are wonderful, but as a whole, they are a wonderful group to be around.

So, what DO you do?  My suggestion is to remember that just like you and I, these are people.  They are not superheroes, they are not celebrities, they are people with lives and families.  With that understanding, first observe what they are doing.  Are they arguing with unruly children?  Are they on a date?  Are they in a hurry?  If it is not something that you would want to be interrupted by a stranger while doing, then I would suggest going about your own business.  If they seem as though they are not busy or in a hurry, it would be fine to nicely approach them, introduce yourself, and explain that you are learning ASL.  Yes, it really is that simple

LOL

As you work through American Sign Language lessons and read up on Deaf Culture, it is important to remember that deaf people have a sense of humor, too! Whatever aspect of deaf life you may be exploring, you should never forget to treat deaf individuals the same way you would your own friends and family. Although deaf humor and hearing humor does not always translate between cultures (for example, “It’s raining cats and dogs”), that doesn’t mean you should resist sharing a laugh like you would with anyone else.

Hearing people are often afraid to offend a deaf person by signing the wrong thing, but just as with any other language, deaf people appreciate it when others try to communicate with them. Just think how much easier it would be to learn a new sign than make sense of some of those French pronunciations! Everyone has the tools to be an ASL learner… just (literally) dust off your hands and get to work. The more you explore American Sign Language, the more we at ASLdeafined believe you will come to understand the unique beauty of this special means of communication.

Please join us in our goal to share this important language with others. Summer is a great time to catch up on that TO DO list of life and tackle some of the tasks you put off during the rest of the year. Why not make it fun by picking a favorite joke and learning how to sign it? What a great way to start a conversation with the next deaf person you meet.

Deaf Popular Culture

In our blogs we have often used the term Deaf Culture, but that takes on a little different meaning if you just add the word “Pop” in between. There are certain very recognizable celebrities in Deaf Pop Culture, such as the famous actress Marlee Matlin, who has starred in a successful film version of Children of a Lesser God (1986), originally published as a play in 1980 by Mark Medoff. Marlee has also been featured in several TV shows, including recent reality hits like The Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars. Speaking of Children of the Lesser God, actress Phyllis Frelich won a Tony Award for her role in the stage production. Do you want to know what else is incredible? Lou Ferrigno, American actor and body builder, well known for his role as the Incredible Hulk in the 1970’s and 80’s is also a Deaf individual.

Those in the Deaf community are more likely to know the name of I. King Jordan, but hearing people should learn more about this first Deaf president of Gallaudet University and the interesting history surrounding it (our next set of blogs will focus on history, so you may see more on that here too). Additionally, Heather Whitestone is worth noting for being the first Deaf woman to win the title of Miss America!  So what is stopping you from digesting that next American Sign Language (ASL) lesson? You never know when you might run into the next stage or screen star in the Deaf community.

Deaf Dogs?

Perhaps in a future blog entry we will extend the topic of deafness to the animal kingdom. For this entry, we wanted to highlight what the animal kingdom does for the Deaf. As you may have guessed, there are indeed service dogs for the Deaf. Paws with a Cause is one of the organizations that trains these special canines. There is also a British Organization, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.  A big part of what these dogs do is to act as an alert system for the Deaf person. These animals can learn to give alerts when someone is at the door, the phone is ringing or other important noises enter the environment. In addition to assisting with daily life, these dogs can particularly help with travel. Both the deaf individual and the dog must have special certification verifying their training as an assistance dog to allow them to enter establishments that normally would not permit animals. So just think! Now not only can you communicate with a Deaf person if you learn American Sign Language (ASL), but you may also run into some very unique and wonderful dogs too!

Does Being Deaf Make Sense?

The title of this blog is actually a little play on words, because it is literally about the myth (or perhaps, reality) surrounding the idea that if one sense is missing, others will be enhanced. There are a lot of differing opinions and studies that attempt to address this issue. Rather than attempt to cover them all in a quick blog blurb, here are a few things to consider as a broad summary. As expected, when one sense is gone the other senses are used more by default. For example, deaf people are more likely to have the habit of being more aware of their surroundings due to the lack of hearing cues. On more than one occasion you may have experienced frustration at traffic slowing down for no reason only to realize that blasting sirens were drowned out by your radio on the road.

On the other hand, since deaf people tend to be more sensitive to light, the visual alarms of emergency vehicles may come to their attention more quickly. If you have an afternoon free and feel like some scientific research, just “Google It” and you will see that several people have chimed in on this idea. As with any such speculation, we may never know the real answer. The important thing to remember is that each individual in this world, whether deaf or hearing, has their own perceptions and experiences. Why not improve yours by tackling that next set of signs on ASLdeafined?

Careers of the Deaf

So far recent blogs have briefly highlighted the origins of deafness and touched on family dynamics. Yet, what about where most of us spend the bulk of our time? Work. For hearing people reading this, it is important to remember that deaf people can do anything anyone else can do, except hear. Which means, deaf people can be and ARE lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, engineers, teachers, plumbers, mechanics… you name it! Although that may seem obvious to those who care enough to keep up with ASLdeafined, learn American Sign Language and take the time to follow this blog, we cannot stop stressing this enough.

That basic understanding is at the root of overcoming the unfortunately broad misunderstandings of many who see the deaf experience as more limiting than it truly is in reality. The only thing a deaf person cannot do? Answer a “hearing” phone in the traditional sense. Otherwise? The sky is the limit (yes, they can be pilots), as it is with all of us. So why not stretch our own limits and catch up with the Deaf Community sooner rather than later by tackling that next vocabulary lesson!

Family Dynamics for the Deaf

We at ASLdeafined would not presume to know the ins and outs of the family lives of those in the Deaf Community, as it is as varied as anyone’s family structure and experience. Yet, we felt it important to note some of the potentially unique situations that present themselves for the deaf. For example, it is said that 90% of deaf children are born to hearing families, and within that percentage, 75% of the hearing parents do not sign with their deaf child. Additionally, many siblings and extended family members (aunts, uncles and cousins) do not sign. As you can imagine, this would create an even more isolating situation for a child that is already set apart simply by the fact of their deafness.

Daily events like supper can leave such children feeling left out, as they may not know what is being discussed around the dinner table. Family reunions can be straining if the crowds overlook the challenges of the deaf relative. Although deaf students can alleviate this frustration some in a school with other deaf kids, this environment can also leave them feeling marginalized. One teacher for the deaf has shared that he sometimes had no knowledge of where the parents of his pupils worked or even what they did for a living. These are just a few thoughts, but it still leads us back to the bottom line… the more people to learn American Sign Language, the more likely deaf people can feel a connection in a world that is inherently isolating from the start. Will you do your part?

Autistic Children Benefit from Learning American Sign Language (ASL)

We have mentioned the benefits of learning American Sign Language (ASL) for many different populations (general, toddlers, etc.), but some may not consider how positive the experience can be for those with special needs. With the rise of autism, the need for communication with these individuals has also increased, and ASL can be a powerful way to bridge that gap.  Autistic children often express their needs and wants through gestures, and the unique form of language learning that ASL provides fits right in with that. Through the use of sign language, autistic children can communicate more effectively with their caregivers, teachers, other staff members and those outside the school community as well. This is a win-win for all parties as the autistic child is less frustrated, and they can learn sign language more easily and comfortably. This is also one more reason that educators, fellow students, family members and others may want to learn American Sign Language!