Communication and accessibility are basic human rights.
Will you join me in the fight for equality?
Will you join me in the fight for equality?
I often get asked why I started learning ASL in the first place and what there is about it that makes me stick with it. I have shared some of that information in my post called "My ASL Story", but I wanted to dig a little deeper into the reasons that I have such a deep love for ASL and Deaf culture. I actually came up with 10 reasons, but with the descriptions of each reason added in, it seemed it may make for a too lengthy post. So, I decided I will do a series. I'll start with 5 reasons, and then, in my next post, I'll share 5 more! For now, here's 5 reasons, in no particular order (with the exception of the first one), why I love ASL and Deaf culture:
1. ASL helped me have a closer relationship with my cousin.
The whole reason I started learning ASL 6 years ago was to communicate better with my cousin. She has been Hard of Hearing (HOH) since birth. I live in New York and she lives in Virginia, so we don’t see each other as often as we would like. But, as we’ve gotten older, we’ve been able to have a stronger relationship thanks to technology. She was the person who exposed me to sign language. I don’t remember ever seeing sign language until I was an adult. I was just fascinated with the way it looked and how it seemed to really increase her ability to communicate. So, I asked her if it would be easier for us to communicate if I learned ASL. She said yes. And, an ASL enthusiast was born! At that time, I thought I’d only being using ASL to communicate with my cousin. I had no idea about Deaf culture and I didn’t realize the complexity of ASL. I was still under the impression that ASL was just a visualization of English, when it is actually its own complete and complex language, which is totally separate from English. Learning all of these things little by little sparked my curiosity more and more and I desperately wanted to learn more about this new world I was slowly discovering.
2. I have had the opportunity to make many new, amazing friends!
I love meeting new people and socializing with them. Getting involved in the Deaf community has enabled me to make many new friends, both Deaf and hearing, and talk with them about many different topics. When talking to a Deaf person, I have the privilege of talking to someone who is inherently part of this culture. Whether they grew up using ASL and being immersed in Deaf culture, or they grew up oral and discovered the Deaf community later in life, this community, and the language that comes along with it, is their birthright. They can share experiences with me and help me empathize with them on a level that a hearing person never could.
When talking to other hearing people involved in Deaf culture, I enjoy exchanging stories about how we become involved in the Deaf community. Common reasons include having a Deaf family member or friend, coming across Deaf people in their workplace and wanting to communicate with them, love for the language, wanting to pursue a career that involves using ASL, etc. As two hearing people, we are both part of a community that is not our own. We are the minority, and we are often able to have conversations about how to be a part of the Deaf community in the best possible way, which means respecting cultural appropriation. That is, acknowledging and respecting the fact that ASL belongs to Deaf people and respecting their cultural and linguistic wishes.
3. Deaf culture encourages deeper relationships than hearing culture.
In the hearing world, we typically just introduce ourselves with our name. It’s often considered rude to ask multiple questions when you first meet someone. However, the Deaf world is quite different. A typical introduction consists of your name, your age, where you’re from/ where you live, what you do (your job, what you go to school for, etc), and your connection to the Deaf community if you’re hearing (Deaf family members, CODA, interpreter, student, etc.) There may even be things I’m missing! In my experience, people seem to be more genuinely interested in getting to know each other in the Deaf community than in the hearing community.
4. ASL helps me express my emotions
I am, by nature, a very expressive person. But English can often be a very reserved language. Using a lot of facial expressions or movements when you speak is often seen as “weird”, “annoying”, or some other negative trait. But, in ASL, facial expressions and movements are critical. It’s impossible to understand the language without them! Your facial expression and body movements can change the entire meaning of what you’re signing. In Deaf culture, the more expressive you are, the better! I often feel more free to express myself and get my point across in ASL.
5. ASL is a much blunter language than English. People say what’s on their minds!
In the hearing world, we use the “sandwich approach” to offer criticism to others. We’ll say something positive, then gently insert our criticism, then say something else positive. The Deaf world is much blunter; people tend to keep it short and sweet! This is often mistaken for rudeness by outsiders, but is accepted as normal by the Deaf community and typically is not offensive. Although it can be intimidating upon first engaging with the community, it can really make things a lot simpler once you get used to it. I’m not saying you can’t be rude in ASL, because you absolutely can. It just looks different than rudeness in the hearing world.