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Deaf People And Sign Language

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1893 words Published: 17th May 2017

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In 2002 approximately 1,000,000 people over five years of age were functionally Deaf in the United States (Gallaudet Research Institute). Used by the Deaf and hearing impaired, American Sign Language (ASL) has its own culture, grammar rules, syntax, and is used to communicate with one another and express themselves. Despite popular belief there is not one “universal” sign language. There are more than seventy different recognized signed languages used in the world (“Myths & Facts”). Next to English and Spanish, “American Sign Language is the third most widely used language in the United States” (“Facts About Deafness”). Due to the increased use of the language the Deaf community has changed of the years and allowed the Deaf to adapt to a hearing world. Deafness should be welcomed and embraced as a way of life.

It is thought to have been believed that Fray Pedro Ponce de Leon (1529-1584) a Spanish monk was the first to have taught Deaf students by representing objects with signs (Deafness). The first official written down form of sign is though to have to been founded in the sixteenth century by,

… Geronimo Cardano, a physician of Padua, in northern Italy, proclaimed that Deaf people could be taught to understand written combinations of symbols by associating them with the thing they represented. The first book on teaching sign language to Deaf people that contained the manual alphabet was published in 1620 by Juan Pablo de Bonet (History of Sign Language).

Over 100 years after the first sign language book was published the first school for the Deaf, Virginia School for the Deaf, opened in the 1780s; however, it closed only a year after opening (Oldest School for the Deaf in the US). 37 years later the second and “oldest permanent” school for the Deaf (The American School for the Deaf (ASD)) in North America was founded and opened in Hartford, Connecticut by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, Laurent Clerc (1785-1869), and Mason F. Cogswell (1761-1830) in 1817. (“Message from the Executive Director”). Soon After, “Schools opened in New York in 1818, in Pennsylvania in 1820, Kentucky in 1823, Ohio in 1827, Virginia in 1838, and Indiana in 1843. Within forty years of the opening of the Hartford school, twenty had been established altogether, and, by the turn of the century, more than fifty. (Through Deaf Eyes . Deaf Life . The Formation of a Community | PBS).

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The American School for the Deaf is still open and running; however, “Over 80% of school aged children are being educated in the public school system” (“Various Statistics”). Over 16 million people in the United States are hard of hearing or are “profoundly” Deaf ( “Deafness”). Out of these numbers only seven percent of kids were born into hearing families. Out of 1,000 births two or three children will be born Deaf or hard of hearing (“Deaf About Deafness”). This creates challenges for the parents of Deaf children. How do they communicate to their children? How will their children fit in? How will they learn? What will become of their children? Some will tell parents to look into cochlear implants and hearing aids, granted the family can afford them. Others will suggest the parents learn sign language. What ever the family decides it will bring about different challenges. One of the most important things parents need to no it that Deafness is rarely genetic. Most Deaf people have hearing parents and will give birth to hearing children (“Myths & Facts”). Though being Deaf can cause challenges in one’s life, science and today’s technology has made many advances in how the Deaf can live with less difficulty.

One of the must obvious adaption’s the Deaf have is Sign Language. Though it is not the same everywhere, sign has allowed Deaf to communicate with the world. One can not live without some type of communication or humanity would not function properly. American Sign Language is primarily used in North America and Canada and is thought to have been derived from French Sign Language (“American Sign Language”). One might wonder what happens when the Deaf go out into public, how will they communicate with hearing people? Sometimes the Deaf will have an interpreter come with them for they can communicate with those who do not know American Sign Language. Being an interpreter has become much harder than in the previous years. “As of June 30, 2009, all hearing candidates for [EIPA (educator interpretation performance assessment) (Interview)] certification must have at least an associate’s degree, in any field, in order to take the performance exams. This requirement is expected to increase to a bachelor’s degree by 2012” (“Becoming An Interpreter For The Deaf”). Salary outlook on Sign interpreters depends on experience and educational outlook. After passing the EIPA test one usually applies to a school district. During these five years one can take special classes for specific fields of signing (e.g. nursing or law). During this time interpreters can charge 60 dollars per hour with a minimum of two hours. After getting a degree in specialty signing one can charge 100 dollars per hour with a minimum of two hours. With constant learning, the job of an interpret is constant but very satisfying (interview).

One example of this may be nursing or interpretation for theater. Most of the time the Deaf can not attend theater events for obvious reasons, they can not hear the actors! Some theaters may bring in sign interpreters for a number of shows for the Deaf can experience live theater. This also benefits the company, bring in extra business.

Other companies are also trying to increase business by creating Deaf friendly ‘deals’. One example is cell phone offering texting only plans for the Deaf. Why pay for calls if you have no use for them? This works out for both parties, the cell phone companies earn business and the Deaf get instant communication. One might wonder how the Deaf can use landline phones. A device called teletypewriter allows the Deaf to use landline phones and “call” hearing or other Deaf people. “… When hooked up to a phone or analog jack, allows for the typing of messages back and forth between text telephones. Anybody can call in to a TTY phone (presumably to a hard of hearing or Deaf person)” (“Need to know what a TTY is”). One might wonder how the Deaf know when the phone is ringing. Today’s technology has given the Deaf a hand up on this.

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Today the Deaf and Hard of Hearing can now set up a light system in their house to alert them to when something, the phone is one example, is going off. “…smoke detectors, phones and alarm clocks can all be converted to feature deaf-friendly flashing lights or very loud alarms, and even vibrating mechanisms that shake the bed or buzz in the occupant’s pocket” (“Sound and Fury – Deaf Culture – Living with Deafness”). Another way technology has helped the Deaf is in TV. Obviously they can not hear the TV, or may have difficulty in doing so. Since 1972 TV shows have been available with closed captioning allowing the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to watch TV by reading what the actors are saying by means of text on the TV screen (“Sound and Fury – Deaf Culture – Living with Deafness”). Usually the deaf can not go to the movies, but “new technologies” are in development that allow the deaf to have “special panels” to allow them to read captions during normal movie viewings. One example of this is WGBH’s “Rear-Window Captioning System” (Sound and Fury – Deaf Culture – Living with Deafness). These technological advances have made life just a little bit easier for the deaf to live comfortably.

Technology may be helping the Deaf but is also causing controversy. The cochlear implant was first introduced in the early 1980s and allows the deaf to hear. In simplest form cochlear implant’s attach to the head by the use of a magnet and send electronic messages to the nerves in the inner ear (“Cochlear Implants”). Though normally welcomed by the hearing, the deaf do not approve of the surgery. Most deaf people view Cochlear Implants as “robbing” the deaf of their personality and that they do not need to be “fixed.” Also the implants have been noted to be “destroying” deaf culture. (“How Do Deaf People Feel About Cochlear Implants”)

Most don’t see the Deaf as having a culture, but they do and it has it own rules, guidelines and rules for acceptance. The Dictionary of American Sign Language by William Stokoe, Carl Croneberg, and Dorothy Casterline was the first to bring the though of the deaf having their own culture (“Deaf Culture”). In Deaf culture there are rules of behavior one needs to follow in order to fit in, including: eye contact, facial and body expression, and a number of other things. If one doesn’t follow them, or breaks these rules they can be seen as “rude.” (“Deaf Culture”) The Deaf have many differences in what they deem as “rude” and this also goes to hearing culture too.

One example of this is how they great one another. While hearing normally shake hands when being introduced a lot of deaf people hug. This may come across as strange to the hearing but it’s quite normal in their community. Another thing wild accepted in the Deaf community is being ‘straightforward’. Hearing people tend to dance around problems or beat around the bush; however, the Deaf are very blunt or straightforward (“Some Differences between Deaf and Hearing Worlds.”) They do not see this as being blunt; this is just part of their culture. If one plans on being part of the Deaf community they must be prepared for this, and be prepaid to do the same. The Deaf expect this and it is not considered “rude.” Another thing those who are in entering the Deaf community must expect is how the Deaf use time, known as “Deaf time.” Before technology allowed deaf people to communicate easier the deaf would spend long periods of time together, and goodbyes were longer. This still holds true to this day. While hearing people usually have quick goodbyes the deaf are considered to have “long good-byes” (“Some Insight on the Differences between Hearing and Deaf Culture”).

The Deaf have come far in a short amount of time; they’ve developed a language, a culture, and found many adaptations to the hearing world. They’ve got their own way of living, and have overcome many obstacles. Knowing American Sign Language and being part of the Deaf Community is rewarding and has changed the world as a whole. It has given a voice to those who do not hear, and has opened a new world to those who have inspired to be part of it. Deafness is not a handicap, just a different way people live and should be embraced.


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