Are You Up-To-Date?


This vintage biography by Etta Degering, entitled GALLAUDET, Friend of the Deaf, may quite rightfully be judged by its cover. The obviously outdated design and condition of this book, first published in 1964, is unlikely to interest the modern reader. We are featuring it in our blog post today as an analogy for those who may be interested in Deaf Culture. If you have found our Web site, are reading this or following our program, etc. we hope that is you, because sign language does not live in isolation, but is a vital part of world culture.

Sure, the information in this book may not have changed much since it is a look at Gallaudet, who passed away in the 1851. Yet, who knows what information may have since come to light about this pivotal person in Deaf history? Even if nothing too new has been discovered, it is irresponsible to ignore the changes in the literary audience over the years.

Just as book publishers need to stay in touch with the pulse of humanity, it would be equally irresponsible for someone interested in making connections with the Deaf Community to overlook the ever-changing nature of the world and how it has impacted Deaf Culture. It is important to remember that Deaf Culture is as rich and vibrant as any other on earth, and deserves respect and attention. Deaf people do not live in a vacuum and should not have to bear the brunt of stereotypes from the past. Those outside Deaf Culture have a responsibility to be a part of the movement to foster better understanding.

We live in a world where information is coming at us rapidly in many different forms. As politicians, pundits and people on the street push for our attention with flashy sound bytes, it can become overwhelming at times to dissect the onslaught of messages and get to the truth. That is why it is more important than ever for people learn to be sensitive to the experience of others and find ways to authentically engage with fellow human beings.

Whatever else we may hope to accomplish, that is a main driving force for the creation of We sincerely believe that if you want to get to what is real in this world, go to the source. What better way to do so in this case than to take an important step toward communicating with Deaf individuals by learning American Sign Language?

If you want to know more about Gallaudet, you might read a (more recent 🙂 ) biography. If you want to better understand Deaf Culture and what life is like for a Deaf individual in the 21st Century, simply taking the time to have a conversation seems like a great start. That is why we are here to share our thoughts and encourage discussions about important topics surrounding the Deaf Community, bridging the gap between the Deaf and the hearing… One Sign At A Time.

What will you do today to bridge that gap?

“You Have to be Deaf to Understand” Poem by Willard J. Madsen

What is it like to “hear” a hand?
You have to be deaf to understand!
What is it like to be a small child,
In a school, in a room void of sound —
With a teacher who talks and talks and talks;
And then when she does come around to you,
She expects you to know what she’s said?
You have to be deaf to understand.

Or the teacher who thinks that to make you smart You must first learn how to talk with your voice;
So mumbo-jumbo with hands on your face
For hours and hours without patience or end,
Until out comes a faint resembling sound?
You have to be deaf to understand.

What is it like to be curious,
To thirst for knowledge you can call your own,
With an inner desire that’s set on fire —
And you ask a brother, sister, or friend
Who looks in answer and says, “Never mind!”?
You have to be deaf to understand.

What is it like in a corner to stand,
Though there’s nothing you’ve done really wrong
Other than try to make use of your hands
To a silent peer to communicate
A thought that comes to your mind all at once?
You have to be deaf to understand.

What is it like to be shouted at
When one thinks that will help you to hear;
Or misunderstand the words of a friend
Who is trying to make a joke clear,
And you don’t get the point because he’s failed?
You have to be deaf to understand.


What is it like to be laughed in the face
When you try to repeat what is said;
Just to make sure that you ve understood,
And you find that the words were misread —
And you want to cry out, “Please help me, friend!”?
You have to be deaf to understand.

What is it like to have to depend
Upon one who can hear to phone a friend;
Or place a call to a business firm
And be forced to share what’s personal, and
Then find that your message wasn’t made clear?
You have to be deaf to understand.

What is it like to be deaf and alone
In the company of those who can hear —
And you only guess as you go along,
For no one’s there with a helping hand,
As you try to keep up with words and song?
You have to be deaf to understand.

What is it like on the road of life
To meet with a stranger who opens his mouth —
And speaks out a line at a rapid pace;
And you can’t understand the look in his face
Because it is new and you’re lost in the race?
You have to be deaf to understand.

What is it like to comprehend
Some nimble fingers that paint the scene,
And make you smile and feel serene
With the “spoken word” of the moving hand
That makes you part of the world at large?
You have to be deaf to understand.
What is it like to “hear” a hand?
Yes, you have to be deaf to understand!

How Did All of This Get Started Anyway?

American Sign Language (ASL) would not exist if there were no need. Perhaps those of you outside the Deaf Community have sometimes wondered how people become deaf? Certainly there are a variety of conditions and situations that can lead to such things, but there are a few worth mentioning when answering that question. As you likely have guessed, genetics and heredity can play a complete or partial role in creating deafness in a person. The circumstances of birth can also be a factor, such as premature birth or birth defects. Some life experiences can result in deafness, whether accidents that involve trauma to the head, certain illnesses or disease (i.e. rubella, Scarlet Fever) or prolonged exposure to loud noises. Many are familiar with the natural loss of hearing over time, which can sometimes lead to deafness in old age. At times, as with anything, the root cause is simply unknown. Yet, whatever the reasons for its origins, it is more important to focus on the rich life of those in this special subculture… and one way you can do that? Learn American Sign Language of course (you knew that was coming)!

TOP 10 REASONS to LEARN AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE (and encourage your friends to too!)

10. You can have a conversation across a room during a meeting or some other boring event and no one will know.

9. You can gossip about people right in front of them and they won’t be the wiser.

8. You can sign underwater with a fellow (signing) scuba diver.

7. How else will you start that conversation with the good looking deaf girl at the bar?

6. You can finally communicate with your deaf great grandfather.

5. You will have many more creative ways to send a message to people who cut you off in traffic.

4. Now you can talk during the Def Leopard concert no matter how loud the music is.

3. Forget the phone, you can chat with your neighbor through the kitchen window.

2. You’ll have a great response for that person who always yaps, “What?!”

1. To communicate with the Deaf Community!

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!


Earlier we spoke about general myths that many have about the deaf, and one area that people tend to have misunderstandings about is lipreading. As one might imagine, it is a very difficult skill to master. For starters, 60% of the English language is simply not visible on the lips, which places one attempting to lip read at a significant disadvantage before they have even begun!  If that wasn’t challenging enough, there are several other things to contend with. If you consider the variety in human faces, you have a good idea of what must be overcome… such as fat or thin lips, mustaches and beards or other facial quirks or features. Then of course there are variations in speech, from something as simple as mumbling to more elaborate complications like foreign language speakers. Other obvious issues include the level of lighting in the room, distance from the speaker, how quickly they speak and the extent of their vocabulary.

Now, there are some things that improve the success of the lipreader. One significant factor is how familiar the deaf person is with the topic. Another is how well they know the person they are attempting to lip read. With that in mind, if you don’t know ASL it is still better to gesture than assume that talking to a deaf person is sufficient.  This is made worse by the fact that hearing people tend to over exaggerate or talk loud when they are conversing with a deaf or hard of hearing person.

One of the ways that deaf people deal with this situation is to anticipate what people are going to ask or say, keeping in mind the context where the conversation is taking place. For example, if a deaf person were to be pulled over by the police, he or she would predict what the officer was going to ask, such as requesting their driver’s license, vehicle registration and certificate of insurance. Then again, if the officer were to ask something completely random to the situation, like a question about their mother, the deaf person would have difficulty understanding that by lipreading, even with the use of gestures.

Many more examples or explanations could be given, but the main things, as always, is to gain a better understanding of what it is like to be deaf to help inform your interactions with members of the community. Perhaps you might like to try it sometime with a friend by blocking your hearing and seeing if you can repeat back even 10% of what they said?  Chances are your struggle to understand will give you yet one more reason to learn American Sign Language!

Myths About American Sign Language

It is easy when you are not a part of a particular subculture to innocently come to believe certain myths about that group. In the case of the deaf, there are some glaring misunderstandings that people may not realize they believe until giving it more thought.

One significant myth is that ASL is universal. If you stop to think about it, you may see that the obvious clue as to why this is not the case is included in the name itself… AMERICAN Sign Language. It does not always occur to hearing individuals that every country has their own sign language system. For example, the sign for “Kangaroo” may vary in the United States and Australia! Similar to oral histories among the hearing, signs are also sometimes passed from one member of a culture to another without having any written record of the language. A related myth is that all deaf people use sign language. It may surprise you to know that some of the deaf are raised orally, which means that they depend solely on lip-reading and talking to communicate with others.

Apart from how deaf people interact with one another, there are a few other prevalent myths about the lives of deaf people that are worth note. First, there is a widespread misconception that deaf people cannot drive. Not only can they drive, they tend to be safer drivers than hearing people, in part due to their need to be particularly alert since they are unable to rely on the same sound cues others may take for granted. A second fallacy in regards to the deaf culture is a belief that they do not appreciate music. Actually, some deaf people find listening to music and feeling the vibrations an enjoyable pastime.

It is important to avoid these myths if you hope to interact successfully in the deaf community, otherwise you may unintentionally assume certain things and raise the risk of offending someone you are trying to make a connection with. The more you learn about the deaf, sign language, ASL and engage in an online program to broaden your understanding of the culture, the richer and more successful your experiences will be.

American Sign Language (ASL) Connection to the Girl Scouts of America

Happy New Year to all of you, and with that wish, may each of the 365 days in 2012 hold some special meaning for each of you; a phone call from a friend, or family member, or a word of good cheer while you are waiting in a long line of cranky people.  May each day contain something positive from which you can take to grow into an even grander person than you already are.

While visiting my relatives in Atlanta, Georgia, for Christmas, I decided to take them along for a beautiful tour of Savannah.   It was a spectacular time filled with historical information, good food, and lots of laughter, all contributing to a very memorable Holiday.

As we toured the Historical District of Savannah, I recalled something I had learned as a student of American Sign Language, regarding a woman who was deaf, who not only lived in Savannah, but she was also the Founder of the Girl Scouts of America.   Her name was Juliette Gordon Low.  Not only was she born in Savannah, but her house is still there.  This is also the very spot where the Girl Scouts held their very first meeting.

There’s one very familiar quote of Juliette’s call to her sister:  “Come right over!  I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight.”  This quote appeared in a brochure I picked up at the house during our tour of the city.

I am sure many of you who are former (or current) members of the Girl Scouts can recall seeing the American Sign Language alphabet in your Girl Scouts manual.

To my knowledge, Juliette was born with a severe ear infection which left her deaf in one ear.  Then, when she married, a piece of rice punctured the eardrum of the opposite ear, leaving her completely deaf.  Juliette’s birth place, and her life-long home, continues to be beautifully preserved in Savannah, Georgia, by the Girl Scouts of America.

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Myths About the Deaf Community and American Sign Language

Today, we want to talk about some common myths about American Sign Language, and the Deaf community.  We hope you will ask your friends and family about some of these myths to see what their reactions are.  You may be shocked at some of their responses.

Myth#1:  American Sign Language is universal.

This myth is false.  American Sign Language (ASL) is not a universal language.  It is primarily used in North America.  However, there are other places around the world that use ASL because of missionaries visiting those countries, and there are places using ASL simply because those knowing the language have shared it with these other cultures .

Myth #2:  Every deaf person knows how to sign.

This myth is also false.  Some deaf people are taught how to read lips, while others learn how to sign, while others rely on paper-pencil to communicate.  Remember, ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents, of which, seventy-five percent of those parents do not sign.  Some of these parents who do not sign simply raise their deaf child to read lips, or they provide them with no training whatsoever.  However, for those parents that do sign, they may use a combination of home signs (signs that are made up, and are not commonly known by the Deaf community ), and ASL.

Myth #3:  Deaf people can do anything except “hear”

This myth is true.  Deaf people can do anything that a “hearing” person can do, except hear.  Today, there are deaf people in every profession, including engineering, medicine, and law.  Deaf people do not consider their hearing loss a “handicap”.  Instead, they are connected by a common denominator to others who are like them.  REMEMBER, deafness is NOT a disability, but simply an inability.

If there are myths that you would like to share that you have heard, please do so.  We will be posting various myths from time to time.

It’s All in Your Face!

American Sign Language (ASL) has many unique attributes that helps signers with the understanding of expressed thoughts and ideas, such as the usage of facial expressions.  Now, not everyone will have their “face” (facial expressions) on all of the time.  However, the more expressions you exhibit, the greater the chance your message will be understood.

On occasion, deaf individuals may ask for clarifications because facial expressions are not present.  Now, if this were to happen, do not feel insulted, nor should you consider it rude.  Instead, change how you are signing the message, and merely add more facial expressions. Your facial expressions show if you are sad, mad, shocked, surprised, disappointed, happy, jovial, etc.  Use them to the best of your ability.

Another feature of American Sign Language (ASL) that is critical to command while communicating with a deaf person is the use of your eyes.  While engaged in a conversation with a deaf person, you should be looking at the deaf person the entire time while conversation is taking place.  However, if for any reason, you break eye contact, it is considered rude.  Now, I can just imagine what you are thinking as a hearing person.  There are numerous times when we hear something, and we automatically look to the source of the noise for an explanation.  However, you have to try your best to break that habit of looking away when you hear a noise, or if someone is calling your name while you are conversing with a deaf person.   So, if someone is calling your name, or trying to get your attention while you’re signing with a deaf individual, what can you do in this situation?  (Can you just feel another poll coming up?).

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Another way to use your eyes while conversing in ASL is with eye gazes.  You may be talking about a certain person in the room, but the deaf person doesn’t quite follow who you are referring to.  So, with a quick and swift eye gaze over to the person you are (so secretly) talking about, you can let the deaf person know who it is, and make it easier for them to follow the conversation.  You can also use your nose and head in the same sense.  For example, a mere twitch of your nose can be used to indicate a person “over there”, which is similar to a tilt of the head to point out the presence of someone.  Who knew that learning American Sign Language could be this much fun?