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!!

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

Deaf Culture #15

Deaf people use a videophone more often than seeing each other in person?

This is true.  While the Deaf community is close knit, it is also spread nationwide.  You may meet a friend at a Deaf retreat, a convention, or simply on vacation that you may not see again in person for a decade or more.  Aside from how widespread the Deaf community is, there are often other factors that stop people from meeting face to face.  One of the most common questions is “Can Deaf people drive a car?”  The answer is a resounding YES! Often, Deaf drivers are better drivers than hearing people because they are not distracted by listening to the radio or talking on the phone.  Even so, many Deaf are either unemployed or underemployed.  This can be due to anything from being hindered by additional impairments to local business owners being under educated on what a deaf individual can bring to their business.  Whatever the reason, lack of employment stops many Deaf from having transportation, which means they are stuck at home.  There are a myriad of reasons why a Deaf person may use a V.P. more often than an in person visit, but, like everyone else, most wish that they could see their friends more often!

It is important for deaf children to have deaf role models?

This is true, and extremely important.  Every child needs a role model and the closer that role model is to the advantages and limitations of the child, the more the child will identify with the role model.  Another important reason for a deaf child to have a deaf role model is for language acquisition.  Hearing children are surrounded by examples, both good and bad, of the English language.  Deaf children are not as lucky, and must rely on Deaf adults to provide this important learning experience.  Not only will they learn language, they will also learn how to identify, and many times overcome their limitations.

Most deaf people don’t go out in public because of the difficulty communicating with hearing people?

This is false.  Deaf people have become very accustomed to making themselves understood.  Sometimes with pen and paper, sometimes through gesture, and sometimes through the spoken word depending on the individual.  However they decide to communicate, they are most certainly not staying at home!

Deaf people appreciate those who try and communicate with them in ASL?

Regardless of your skill level, any attempt to communicate in a person’s native language is appreciated.  Members of the Deaf Community are especially patient with newcomers as they realize that there are limited resources for those interested to gain exposure to the language.  That being said, there is always a time and a place to try out your new skill, and times when you should let the opportunity pass.  A doctor’s office waiting room while the Deaf mother struggles with a toddler and a screaming infant is probably not the best time, while a local Deaf social event is a wonderful opportunity.  Use your discretion and remember that as eager as you are to learn, Deaf are people first.

The Deaf Community is very unique?

Like any small niche community, this is true.  Not only is the Deaf Community unique as a whole, but they are unique depending on their region as well.  One community may be very focused on religion, while another on art, and still another on volunteerism.  What is important to remember is that there is something to be learned, and many things to be valued in each and every community, Deaf or otherwise, and it is never a waste of time to acquaint yourself with those around you.

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?

Technology Used by the Deaf Community

Some of you may be wondering what sorts of interesting technologies are used in daily life by members of the deaf community. There are some very creative technology tools for the deaf that coincide with the use of American Sign Language. For example, video phones! Deaf individuals used this type of technology long before it became more common with applications like Skype. By using a video phone to make sign language calls a deaf person can do everything from arrange appointments, to ordering take-out, to just simply communicating with a friend.

In addition to the possibilities of video, technology for the deaf includes a lot of different ways to send signals, such as flashing and vibrating alarms. Flashing alarms can alert a deaf person to everyday events like someone at the door or a phone ringing, but they also play an important role in safety when it comes to crossing streets or fire alarms. The prevalence of vibration to quietly get the attention of both hearing and deaf individuals is also on the rise and quite useful. You may ponder how deaf individuals are awakened in the morning? Vibrating alarm clocks can be placed under a mattress or pillow!

The deaf community certainly embraces the same technologies that everyone else does as well. Text messages are an easy way to contact friends, as well as using social-networking sites like Facebook or applications like Facetime on the iPhone to share and gather information.

So the next time you are heading out for the day, look at the world with a new perspective and perhaps you will start taking more notice of technologies that exist in your environment and how they might benefit the deaf. Ongoing innovations and technology for the deaf continue to broaden opportunities for the community.  Keep on the alert for what is sure to be a growing list of assistive gadgets in the future!

Socializing With the Deaf Community

ASLdeafined offers the tools for you to learn vocabulary, sentence structure, fingerspelling, numbers, multiple meaning words, ASL grammar, etc.  While learning all of this information, it is also imperative that learners interact with the Deaf community.

There should be a number of deaf events in your area for you to attend year-round.  Look online to find out where such events take place.  Also, many times, there are groups of students who meet on a regular basis to practice their ASL skills.  Now, some people may feel intimidated by their sign language skills, or who are afraid they will sign the wrong thing when communicating in ASL.  Well, believe me, we have all been there.  I have made so many mistakes while learning sign language.  However, like any language, it is part of the learning process.  Here are some tips on how to improve your sign language ability while interacting with Deaf people:

 

  • Make sure your signs are clear.  Try your best to execute each sign to its fullest.  This is important for beginners.  Years from now, you may be able to change your delivery a bit.
  • Fingerspell each word clearly, making sure you do not bounce your letters.

o   Use Fingerspelling for proper nouns (persons, places, and things)

o   Fingerspell words that you may not know.  It is okay to fingerspell a word or two that you do not know how to sign.  However, it is not okay to fingerspell your entire conversation.

  • Make sure you have great facial expressions.  The more relaxed you are when talking with a deaf person, the better you will do.  Remember, deaf people will not bite.
  • If you sign something wrong, it is likely the deaf person will tell you the right sign.  When this happens, remember what the deaf person told you.  Do not forget it.  If it helps, make a list of new words you learn on a daily basis.
  • Always thank the deaf person for their time.  When you do, they are more likely to be willing to talk with you again.

These are some helpful tips on how to improve your American Sign Language (ASL) ability.  The more you practice, the better you will become.  Learn all the vocabulary and structure you can, and go out and use it.  If you have any questions about ASL, please let Mercy and I know.  We will try our best to answer your questions.  And, remember, to always have fun.  Enjoy learning this new language, and your interacting with the Deaf Community.  You’ll quickly learn how special these engagements are.  There aren’t a lot of people that know ASL.  You are one of the luckiest ones, and your efforts to learn the language will be appreciated very much.