Sign Language: Why It’s Handy

By Skylar Mostoller, G10

In a world where 5% of the 7,000,000,000 people living on this planet are deaf or hard of hearing, it’s not very much the social norm to learn ways to communicate with them effectively. Not everyone is willing to put pen to paper just to talk to them, and not everyone with a hearing disability is eager to have to write down everything that they say.

Sure, there’s some that have good enough hearing or took classes to be able to speak to others, but not everyone has the luxury to do that. Just in the US, only 10% of deaf people are taught oral communication, and even then it’s a struggle to enunciate enough for those of hearing to understand.

Sign language is a better alternative to these situations. Typically, someone who is deaf or hard of hearing has a way to communicate through gesticulation or just motioning to the objects around them to get their point across, but the gestures aren’t as random as you might think.

Sign Language, the language of hands, is used worldwide to help those who are disabled to be able to communicate in a non-verbal way. With a combination of movements, you’re able to say just what you think within seconds and it is faster than pulling out a sheet of paper and pen or playing charades for five minutes just to get a point across.

Sadly, not everyone learns sign language due to time constraints, or ignorance to the fact that learning this might help someone in the future. In fact, most of the parents of deaf children don’t learn. With 90% of the deaf population having two hearing parents, 88% of them don’t know any form of sign language.

This is due to the lack of people willing to teach the language, the lack of people wanting to learn the language, the lack of representation in the media, and the fact that there is still discrimination against the disabled to this day.

Adding on to this, sign language isn’t taught at many schools as a basic part of the curriculum – not even if it’s optional. Many schools might not have the budget for it, and there isn’t a large amount of professional sign language translators that’s available to teach classes. 

But, learning sign language has many benefits for both yourself and others. For one, as previously stated, you can communicate to those who have hearing impairments or understand people who aren’t comfortable or can’t speak. Doing this also opens a gateway to making more people open-minded to the idea of learning.

An addition to this is that the more people there are that learn, the more people who feel confident in learning. I mean, not everyone’s going to feel confident with learning something that helps their disability when no one else knows it. 

More representation is always welcome when it comes to these situations. Take Starbucks for example. Starbucks opened a new cafe in Washington state completely staffed with people who are hearing impaired and are able to fluently communicate in sign language to the customers. Not only that, but if you pull up to their drive-through, you can ask for an interpreter and their camera pops on to sign to you and vice versa.

Not only that, but shows and movies are adding in deaf representation to their products. TV series like “Switched at Birth” and “This Close”, as well as two new documentaries on Netflix are openly showing what it’s like to be deaf or hard of hearing and the day-to-day lives of deaf people.  

With more representation comes more curiosity and possible motivation towards learning sign language, which can help with the learning of the subject and the spread of awareness of why it’s important for sign language to be an option to learn.

Cover image courtesy of Alisa Wismer.

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