Everyone Should Know ASL

Yes, Even You

Now that I am working in the human services field, I have learned a lot about communication. Communication is so much more than the words we speak. It’s the tone we use, it’s the way our hands move as we emphasize words, communication is even in the way we bunch and relax our shoulders while we are speaking. There is even an entire language out there where you never have to say a word. Specifically, I am referring to American Sign Language (ASL).

There are a lot of people who for a variety of reasons can’t/won’t choose to verbally communicate. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have ideas worth hearing, or that they are just now unable to communicate their needs.

Learning signs at work was an unexpected but delightful surprise to come out of working with people who have disabilities. It has caused me to broaden the way I see verbal and nonverbal communication. One of the learners I work with simply prefers using ASL over using a device to communicate. I have learned common signs such as, “off”,” help”, and “leave”. The more I sign the more I believe that everyone should learn sign language.

It has become something that I use in my everyday life. I use it to let a friend know I am ready to leave without having to shout it across the room. You can sign under a desk to “whisper” to your friend while your professor is lecturing. Most importantly, it allows people who are hard of hearing, or deaf to be more easily involved in the conversation.

The National Institute of Health has a branch specifically dedicated to Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. They report “One in eight people in the United States (13 percent, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations”. These numbers continue to increase as people age and over time lose their hearing. “Nearly 25 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older have disabling hearing loss”.

Imagine how much better we would be able to communicate with our grandparents if they knew ASL. That would open more opportunities for that particular population to be involved with their community.
Everyone should know ASL. Even if you don’t know the whole language, knowing how to introduce yourself, knowing some basic vocab words, and your alphabet will open you up to a whole new world of possibilities and will serve you well as you age.

There are a ton of online resources for you to learn if you’re interested. There are a ton of blogs, videos, websites, books, and even puzzles for you to learn. I have found, learning is easy for me to do on the job, and seeing others sign is a great way to learn.

Learning signs is so practical. It is easy to pick up the basics and yet so few people see the value in learning it. Even at NDSU, there is no sign language category included in the languages department. I believe that it should be taught in every classroom, and in every school in America. It should, at the very least, be offered. There are over 23,000 high schools in America and today, only 1000 of them teach signs. That’s about 4% of schools. Furthermore, only 40 universities offer sign language degrees and courses.
Since I have an interest in sign language and a desire to learn, I tried to take classes here but, as I mentioned earlier, NDSU doesn’t seem to offer any sign classes as a part of the course catalog.

A lot of people who don’t seem interested in learning sign language have the rebuttal of, “Why can’t deaf people just get implants, why do I have to learn a whole language?”

First of all, having cochlear implants doesn’t mean that you suddenly have perfect hearing again, these are tools that can help, but a lot of people report that having cochlear implants or a hearing aid makes sounds slightly robotic or like they are coming through a radio.

Furthermore, having cochlear implants is a literal surgical procedure, and having both hearing aids and/or cochlear implants can be very expensive. Not everyone who is deaf necessarily wants to have a hearing aid. Some simply prefer signs. Those of us who have good hearing should be careful of assuming what it’s like to be someone who is in that situation. We should furthermore refrain from making judgments on what we would want to do or prefer to do if we have never been in that situation before.

Regardless of whether you are deaf or mute, whether you are nonverbal, or whether you want to learn to communicate with your friends over club music, there is no drawback to learning signs. It would have such fantastic long-term benefits for this country and we would be much better served if we went through life asking ourselves what we could do to better love other people, instead of asking what other people could be doing to make our lives easier.

Leave a Reply