A lot of colleges stress the importance of learning a foreign language, and for good reason; knowing more than one language not only gives you an extra skill to put on your résumé, but allows you to be able to communicate with multiple varieties of people. One language that is often overlooked, however, is American Sign Language. With the rise of the acceptance of deafness and Deaf culture in the United States, ASL’s popularity is ever growing.
As a note, the word “deaf” refers to people who have lost some or all of their hearing. And “Deaf” refers to those involved in the Deaf culture and values. You can be deaf without being Deaf and vice versa. That being said, here are some thoughts that college students have about learning — and the importance of — ASL.
Lauren Davis, University of Pittsburgh, Junior, Applied Developmental Psychology
“Hearing people should learn ASL first and foremost because it is a BEAUTIFUL language. Being able to express yourself visually opens up so many opportunities for deeper meaning and emotional expression in your statements. Every sentence looks like art. It also opens up the opportunity to be introduced to Deaf culture, which is such a beautiful culture with a rich history and vibrant present. As an added bonus, knowing ASL means you can have conversations in crowded, noisy rooms and be able to "hear" the whole thing! And, no one cares if you talk with your mouth full.”
A big problem in the Deaf community is being excluded from the hearing world simply because of a communication issue. Deaf people are not disabled or damaged and they most certainly do not to be “cured,” unless they personally choose to be. For that reason, if more people (both hearing and deaf) would learn ASL, even at a simple level, language and communication would be so much more accessible to Deaf people!
Tia Billig, Keuka College, Sophomore, American Sign Language-English Interpreting
“I am taught by deaf professors and at the end of every email my professor concludes with the quote, ‘The problem is not that the deaf students do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen.’ As a hearing culture we cannot be ignorant to those that simply only differ from us in the minute fact that they do not perceive sound. We are not ignorant to those who learn differently…eat differently…sleep differently. Therefore, we need not be ignorant to those who communicate differently than we do. I chose to learn ASL because I don’t believe that anybody should ever feel uncomfortable or that they do not belong in this world. I don’t ever want a deaf person to feel like they are incapable of ordering a meal, paying for gas or having a simple, daily conversation with anybody in their own language! I think it’s important…to make ASL just as accessible [as spoken languages].”
Deaf culture is — perhaps surprisingly — not exclusive to Deaf people; hearing people that know ASL and interact with Deaf people are welcome in the community! This also applies to hearing children of deaf adults (CODA) who sign with their parents; these children are considered Deaf as well. With the stigma that deafness is a disability, ASL is seen as a lesser language to most: not worthy of learning because it is not spoken. But that is simply not the case: visual language is very effective in communicating ideas and emotions.
Elizabeth Pindilli, University of Pittsburgh, Senior, History and Political Science
“ASL is a deeply beautiful language, it is so much more expressive than spoken English. Learning ASL is such a wonderful way to immerse yourself in a different culture. Deaf people have a close-knit and fascinating culture and by learning the language you can become a part of it. Learning ASL was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in college.”
It honestly does mean a lot to Deaf people when hearing people know ASL since they are able to communicate with ease. To make life easier (and more accessible) for Deaf people we don’t need to make them hear, hearing people simply need to listen. This is not at all different from other language barriers; learning other languages bridges the gap between cultures.
Paige Marecic, Pennsylvania State University, Sophomore, Bio-Behavioral Health
“I feel like I’d be helpful to the Deaf community if I learned ASL for my job that works with the public — I think it would come as a pleasant surprise for them to be able to sign what they want [to order] rather than have to write it down and risk that I don’t understand the order [or embarrass them] and need to ask further questions, making them feel even more isolated from the hearing world.”
Natalie Butko, Ohio University, Sophomore, Strategic Communication
“I took ASL so I can communicate with [different kinds of] people. I believe more people should learn ASL in an effort to bridge the gap that exists between Deaf culture and the hearing world.”
Deaf culture isn’t as foreign as a lot of people may think. Deaf people are all around us if you just take the time to look. They are like any other person; they are just deaf! It’s not like suddenly you will also become deaf if you communicate with a Deaf person. In fact, you’ll probably learn a lot about the culture in the process!
Kirstein Sharrow, University of Pittsburgh, Sophomore, Applied Developmental Psychology
“I’ve always been fascinated by ASL. One of my good friends from high school is hearing but has parents who are both Deaf. We grew up together, playing soccer, performing in choirs, concert band and musicals together. I often watched her sign with her parents and found the language to be absolutely captivating; it is a truly beautiful language. I’d ask her to teach me phrases… [which] led to my interest in ASL in college. Since learning ASL, my appreciation and understanding of the culture have deepened. I continue to become increasingly appreciative of such a beautiful language, culture and community.”
Deafness is not a disease. An illness. A deformity. Being deaf is something that Deaf people can all bond over and their culture is so rich because of this similarity. If you want to learn more about Deaf culture, you can visit StartASL or Deaf Linx. Alternatively, if you want to see how the world will be if Deaf culture is extinguished, you can watch “The End,” which is a wonderful view into the uncertain future for the Deaf community. By learning ASL and about Deaf culture, you are helping to ensure that d/Deaf people are respected and not wiped out from our society.
Lead Image Credit: Ashley Clark Fry via Youtube