Deaf Culture #1

Is American Sign Language universal?

A common assumption about American Sign Language is that it is universal. This is, in fact, false. Just as spoken language has many variations, so does sign language. Many of the variations are members of related families of languages and many are independent of any other influences. Some of the major languages include American Sign Language, British Sign Language, and French Sign Language (LSF, or Langue des Signes Française).

While spoken American English and British English are similar enough that communication is not obstructed, the sign languages are different. Words, the alphabet, and grammar can all vary between different sign languages. Just as a hearing American who has never learned French is unable to understand a French speaker, a deaf American who knows ASL would not be able to understand LSF. Many signs in ASL were derived originally from LSF, but from mixing with local signs, the languages are now different.

Often, communities of Deaf people develop their own dialects and local slang, which can evolve into differences in the language. Every year, words are added to our dictionaries as they crop up and become popular, and sign language grows and changes, too.

Can deaf people drive?

Recently on YouTube, a video was posted of a dog that had been trained to drive a car. Porter, “The World’s First Driving Dog” carefully tours a track, steering the vehicle with his tongue hanging out and tail wagging. Fortunately, Porter isn’t on the open road, because he might cause accidents, which is a common misconception about deaf people.

Studies suggest that deaf people are actually often better drivers than the hearing. Deaf people, because their other senses have adapted to a lack of hearing, are more visually alert than hearing people. The flashing lights on fire trucks and police vehicles are enough of a signal for a driver to be aware, even if he or she cannot hear the sirens.

Besides, if a deaf person shouldn’t drive because he or she may not be able to hear sirens, what about people that crank their music up so loud that they can’t hear over the bass? And those people don’t have adapted senses to work in their benefit!

What is the average reading level for a deaf person?

Reading is an essential part of most of our existences. In school, at work, or even for recreation, we read. On average, deaf people read at around a 6th grade level. Research has shown that it is the lack of access to acquire language at an early age as well as available resources.

Other studies suggest that a deaf person trying to learn to read English is just as hard as a hearing person trying to learn the written version of another language. ASL is a separate language from English, and following all of the complexities and idiosyncrasies of spoken English is challenging enough, let alone learning the written version.

Unfortunately reading around a 6th grade level has implications. Newspapers are usually written at about a 5th grade level, or much higher, making them just barely accessible to many deaf people. Subject matter, as well as vocabulary will be more challenging the higher the reading level is, preventing comprehension and learning. Not being able to read also obstructs employment. Most jobs require at least some reading, so any challenging reading material will be a struggle.

ASL stands for?

American Sign Language.   As a visual language, ASL is a language, independent of English, for deaf people to communicate. ASL is a force that has helped empower many people that were, and often still are, considered deaf and dumb. From everything to signaling basic needs, to composing poetry and stories, ASL helps keep a culture unified. ASL has its own grammar, and is a living language that continues to change as it grows and develops. ASL is made up of gestures, body language, facial expressions, and space around the body to describe places and people that are not present.

Do deaf people have their own personal interpreter?

There are not nearly enough interpreters for each deaf person to have their own. Besides, deaf people do not always need an interpreter. For when they do, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, requires that all businesses open to the public must provide accommodations for people with disabilities. While deaf people mostly prefer not to be seen as disabled, this part of the act does protect their rights.

When a deaf person makes it known that he or she is in need of an interpreter, the organization must provide one, with no cost to the deaf person. Businesses can often seek interpreter networks to find a certified, professional interpreter. On the date and time the interpreter is needed, businesses can schedule an interpreter, or, if the appointment, meeting, etc. is longer than two hours, two interpreters. Interpreting can be pretty mentally exhausting, so sometimes alternating, or having a backup is necessary.

Since interpreters need to make a living as well, they can schedule interpreting for many different people at different times, rather than just being restricted to interpreting for one person. However, if a business is known to use a particular interpreter network, the deaf person can often request particular interpreters. This can allow the interpreter and deaf person to form a relationship which can lead to better understanding. And good, understandable communication is a right we all deserve.