The powers of American Sign Language

Krystina Murphy, Writer

Being deaf may seem like you’ve lost something, but learning sign language can help prevent you or those who surround you from feeling blindsided. I began learning sign language before I lost my hearing, and it was not because I saw indications that I was about to become deaf. As I have mentioned in a previous article, at the age of eighteen, a week before Christmas, I had my third stroke and contracted mono from a school water fountain. Together, these incidents caused me hearing damage, leaving me deaf.

I am now currently what is known as a level three proficiency signer and have started advocating for ASL and Deaf culture to be taught around campuses. In my free time, I teach sign language and Deaf culture to a homeschooled group at the previous college I attended, UWO in Fond du Lac, because I believe that American Sign Language should be more widely known in America. 

American Sign Language bridges the gap between the hearing and Deaf community. The severity of how often Deaf individuals feel encumbered from the hearing community is substantial. According to the publication “The Hearing World Must Stop Forcing Deaf Culture to Assimilate” by Sara Novic in 2017, “Too many hearing people view deafness as a deficiency rather than a separate linguistic context, worldview and culture.”

From experience, I understand the consequences of being treated like my ability is a disadvantage rather than a part of my culture. This uncertainty limits the encounters between the hearing and Deaf culture, creating a gap between the communities. 

According to “The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education,” by Ross E. Mitchell, in 2005, approximately 1 in 20 Americans suffered from hearing loss. This article was written by a member in the hearing community, who is uneducated about Deaf culture, which supports my concern that the hearing community often views deaf people as incompetent or “suffering.” It is this hasty generalization that often causes communities to separate from one another. 

There have been numerous occasions where I have had to educate a hearing person on the capabilities I have in being deaf. If anything, I stress the importance of my advantages. Because of my lack of hearing, I have taught myself to read lips, which has become a handy skill in many regards. I self-taught myself American Sign Language, started an ASL club at my previous college, and got a job out of teaching children about Deaf culture. I am anything aside from incompetent or “suffering.”  

Providing a proper means of education about American Sign Language and Deaf culture is critical in the amalgamation of these two communities. As a society, I wish there were more opportunities to educate the American society to learn sign language. American Sign Language is not easily accessible to citizens—but it is not impossible. 

Marian actually offers two ASL courses, which are only an introduction to the language; however, it is a starting point. I wish students and faculty would stress the importance of taking these introduction courses because there is so much to learn from taking a non-verbal class. By participating in these classes, it expands knowledge and appreciation between both communities. 

It is often viewed that because sign language is a non-verbal language, it is harder to decipher. In reality though, according to a research study from Brain and Language, early and late first language learners performed similarly within—group of language tasks, regardless of whether the language was spoken or signed.” ThereforeASL is not any more difficult than a verbal language. Instead, because ASL is a motor language, tactile and visual learners benefit from learning the languageOverall, learning sign language will bring new learning opportunities to both communities.  

A signed language will evoke benefits that aren’t definite in spoken-only languages. Envision the opportunities deaf students will have in classrooms if sign language was more integrated into the education system. According to the publication “Teaching Strategies in Inclusive Classrooms with Deaf Students”, a study conducted by Dr. Stephanie W. Cawthon, a Deaf studies director of University of Wisconsin in Madison, students with some hearing loss resulted in the comprehension of 46% of material when placed in a mainly oral setting. When placed in a simultaneous communication setting, comprehension increased to over 86%.

Deaf students should not be deprived of an education. In fact, our attention needs to be directed toward how to better their education. Establishing a better education system for the deaf is the first step in coalescing as a nation. Another step towards this is normalizing assistive technology within the classrooms, such as FM systems, C-Print, speech synthesizers, and personal amplification systems. Interpreters alone are not sufficient enough for a well-rounded education.  

Now, envision the opportunities hearing students will have in classrooms if sign language was taught more frequently. Bimodal bilingualism is the knowledge of a spoken and a signed language, which can expand visual-perceptual skills such as spatial awareness, mental rotation, visual sensitivity, memory retention, spelling, and motor skills.

I often use fingerspelling as a way to remember key information in classes. It is because I am using my fine motor skills that help to keep my brain activated throughout the day; thus, another skill I have learned from being deaf.  

ASL can even result in fewer auditory distractions for students who need silence to concentrate. This allows students in group work to communicate silently while students who work independently can focus. This also can benefit students with other disabilities where sensory issues may cause them to be distracted, plus it can be less exhausting. When I communicate verbally, I have to focus closely on the tone and volume of my voice. Although I can communicate verbally, almost effortlessly it may seem, this is in fact not true. I constantly am straining my voice from trying to maintain proper tone and volume.  

Finally, envision the opportunities both hearing and deaf students will have in their daily life if sign language was more a part of students’ agendas. The deaf would no longer be excluded from conversations, and instead, more relationships would form between the deaf and hearing communities. Those hasty generalizations about the Deaf community would come to a halt. It is because of these vast opportunities that instead of avoiding situations that we are unfamiliar with, we should bridge the gap between these communities.  

American Sign Language needs to be acknowledged in the hearing world. If you learned one sign a day, that is seven signs a week, thirty signs in a month and 365 signs in a year. Now imagine, instead of learning only one a dayif you learned ten every day. With these ten signs a day you start a conversation with me. From that conversation, you teach your family. You and your family are out to dinner and you see someone struggling to communicate through the server’s oblivious behavior and you help mesh the Deaf and hearing worlds into one. Envision what you could do with American Sign Language.