A Language Worth Knowing
Described by the National Association of the Deaf as a “visual language”, sign language is the primary form of communication used by those who are deaf, hard of hearing and/or unable to communicate in America. Sign language is expressed through the shape, movement and placement of the hand, as well as facial expressions such as eyebrow movements and lip movements. It is predicted by the Communication Service for the Deaf that sign language is used by about one million people in the country, however, many who are loved ones of those deaf/hard of hearing, and people who work in fields that require sign language knowledge make it likely that more people know and are learning sign language now more than ever.
Tricia Garafolo is currently taking a sign language course at UNH due to an interest in learning more about the language. Tricia has known American Sign Language (ASL) since she was three years old due to her hearing impairment. Even though she doesn’t typically use sign language to communicate, she wanted to learn so that she could better communicate with others who are hard of hearing or deaf. UNH offers several American Sign Language courses you can learn more about here: https://catalog.unh.edu/undergraduate/course-descriptions/asl/.
ASL is just one form of sign language and has all the fundamental features of a language, with it’s own pronunciation rules, word formation, and word order. The National Institute on Deafness notes that similarly to how English is spoken in different parts of the nation, ASL has its own signing, pronunciation and slang depending on where one is from.
A modified form of sign language is baby sign. Hannah Lane is a Lead Child Development Specialist at Easterseals. Hannah works with those who are birth to three years old and noted baby signs are a version of sign language that is typically used when a child is having speech delays. At about a year and a half to two years old, babies may become frustrated that they are unable to communicate so their wants and needs are typically met through crying. Baby signs help ease some of the frustration the baby has and allows needs to be met in a way other than crying. Hannah said it would be helpful if there was more education surrounding the types of sign languages and some of the misconceptions that go along with them. “Some people think that if their baby learns baby signs, they will communicate in that way instead of learning words,” Hannah noted and added that babies can and will learn to use words even if they are communicating through baby signs. Once able to use words, they can begin to use words as their communication method. She said it is important to encourage family members that the baby sees often to learn baby signs so they are able to communicate as well.
In New Hampshire, the Northeast Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services offers in-home sign language programs in an effort to improve communication. You can learn more about NDHSS here, https://www.ndhhs.org/family-sign-language-program.
For those interested in meeting Santa virtually this holiday season, https://imsanta.org/, is a resource available for those of all abilities. Dan Greenleaf, NH’s representative on the society board said, “Santa is generally a big, jolly, and loud guy. As part of an effort to help children of all abilities embrace the season, the society holds specific ‘sensitive Santa’ training”. He noted that they work to communicate in different ways, including sign language. “While I couldn’t carry on a conversation, I know enough sign language to connect with them,” Dan said.
For many who are deaf and hard of hearing, wearing masks proves to be a challenge due to the inability to read lips and the sound of one’s voice while they are wearing a mask. National Public Radio (NPR) put out the following article about see-through masks that have been helpful for many, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/07/28/893071631/demand-surges-for-see-through-face-masks-as-pandemic-swells.
In our state, there is a lack of support and interpreters for people in the deaf and hard of hearing community. In order for people who are deaf and hard of hearing to thrive in the community, we need more workers who are dedicated to giving that support and/or becoming an interpreter. This field of work greatly improves people’s lives and helps improve the perceptions of people who are deaf and/or hard of hearing.
Some people have an interest in sign language without a family, friend, or colleague who is hard of hearing or deaf. The following apps are easy to download and in many cases free, The ASLapp, Baby Sign Language Dictionary, and ASL Fingerspelling. Utilizing tools such as sign language apps and participating in courses, even as just a hobby, helps to create a more inclusive society for those who are deaf, hard of hearing and/or unable to communicate.