Nearly half a million people use American Sign Language (ASL) every day to communicate. This visual language was not created by a committee but evolved naturally, just as other languages do.
Communication through sign language is critical for individuals in the Deaf community who may not have other ways to easily communicate. When working with individuals who communicate using ASL, it is important to know some fundamentals about the language and the culture.
1. American Sign Language (ASL) is Only One Type of Sign Language
ASL is only one form of visual language. It is not the only method of communication for people in the Deaf community and it is not used by people across the world. In fact, the first country to introduce and use sign language was France, much of which ASL also uses.
It is not safe to assume that if you meet someone who is Deaf that they use ASL.
2. ASL is not a 1:1 Translation with English
One thing that tends to surprise hearing people is that ASL is not a direct English translation. Instead, it has its own grammar, syntax, and structure. It makes sense that because the language is not spoken or written that the language would be unique unto itself.
Additionally, there are some words in ASL that do not translate directly into American English. Deaf individuals may also create new or unique signs to represent someone’s name, just as with any other language.
3. The Deaf Community Has a Unique Culture
Many in the Deaf community do not see deafness as a disability, but instead, as a gift. It provides a different perspective on the world that hearing people do not have. Never assume that because someone is Deaf, they would rather be able to hear.
Deaf culture includes art, music, literary traditions, values, and more. It celebrates Deafness as Deaf Gain rather than Hearing Loss. When working with Deaf individuals, understanding that they have their own cultural background is crucial for avoiding faux pas or misunderstandings.
4. Not Everyone Who is Deaf Uses Sign Language
While it is true that many Deaf people use ASL or some form of sign language, not everyone prefers communication through sign language. Some prefer speech reading (lip reading) or other methods of communication.
One reasonable accommodation that a Deaf individual may request is a communication access real-time translation (CART) service. This type of service is especially useful in large format gatherings.
Communication through sign language is a useful tool for people in the Deaf community – and it is important for both private businesses and government agencies to accommodate for that when working with people who are part of this community.
Applied Development can provide ASL interpreter placement, CART services, and other reasonable accommodations services to ensure that your organization meets ADA requirements. If you have questions, please contact us today at 410.571.4016.