Thursday, July 15, 2010

Where does Sign Language in a Spoken World of Language Fit?

          In a society of hearing and spoken language there are according to, 6800 spoken languages in the 200 countries of the world. So how about those who are hard of hearing of deaf? They have their own language called sign language. This language is considered a foreign language. Sign language is a visual language that is according to is comparable in complexity and expressiveness to spoken languages. They go on to say that ASL is capable of conveying subtle, complex, and abstract ideas. Sign language is different in every country. Unlike the similarities of English around the world, sign language that is signed around the world is not a universal language which causes a language barrier when a deaf person travels around the world. It would be beneficial if there were more commonalities in signed languages around the world so that people who use them would be better able to communicate and pass on information to each other.

         According to as of 1995 there were 440 million hard of hearing and deaf people in the world, they estimate that by 2015 there will be more than 700 million people. According to the National Center for Health Statistics 15% of the population is either hard of hearing or deaf in the United States alone. That accounts for 28 million American people. The break down is that a little more than 20 million people are hard of hearing (which has a range from mild to severely hearing impaired) and 8 million are profoundly deaf (which is hearing nothing at all). One may wonder if deaf people are having deaf children, however there is no real reason to worry. states that about 90 percent of deaf people are born to hearing parents, while only 10 percent of deaf children are born to deaf parents - the rest grow up in "hearing" families. Interestingly, 20 to 30 percent of hearing loss in children occurs during infancy or early childhood.

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           Another barrier that the deaf and hard of hearing have is their reading skills. According to the median reading level for an 18 year old is fourth grade. This makes reading difficult for someone who is hard of hearing or deaf. So how are they able to receive the same information that the hearing public receive? Now there are more sites that have VLOGS, which are video blogs that are done in sign and more and more information is out there for interested ones. There are many sites that one can Google to find them. However more needs to be done. We should have a Deaf channel. Cable carriers should consider having a channel so that the information is more mainstream for the deaf and they too can be more proactive with information in a timely manner.

          Deaf and hard of hearing people have many abilities and lead the same lives as hearing but it is just done in silence. It is important for the world to see how sign language fits in a spoken world is that it is a language that it is functional and living language. It is functional because people who use sign language both hearing and deaf are able to communicate effectively. As far as being a living language, that would be a language that any human currently uses. The Deaf or hard of hearing do not have the same abilities to learn other languages to communicate as they are spoken, therefore rely on signing concepts to relay their messages, feelings and any other thing that one would express in spoken word.

          Sadly the proposals to fix the barriers are not enough. There is at this time, interpreters that interpret messages for deaf people via TTY, VRS, texting, writing, and Vlogs, but one must remember time is needed to retain an interpreter, or other assistance for communicating with the deaf. Currently many stations use closed caption for their programming however this too poses it’s own problems. The problem with closed caption is that the deaf person is required to read the words while the program is on and much is lost while reading the information that is being said on the program. If the person looks at the actual program and the words go by they have either lost the meaning from the visual while reading the prompt or they lose out on what is being written by looking at the visual.

          Hearing people have also strongly suggested the deaf community to use cochlear implants, however they do not necessarily work. It is also important to remember that while hearing people believe that the silent world is a disability or being impaired, the deaf do not at any time feel this. They are a proud culture and the are in fact not impaired or disabled, they are capable and able to do and live the same as hearing people do. They have children, work in their careers, own homes, drive, and anything else they want to do but hear. There should be and need to be television programs that are designed for the deaf as we have television for the hearing in any language. There is a rise in people who are learning sign language and some programs as well as movies use sign language such as Sesame Street, but more is really needed.

          Bringing the deaf and hearing worlds together would help create a deaf friendly world where we can accommodate their needs rather than force them to change. For example one who is not able to walk, sidewalks have ramps so that one may get around and be independent. We do not try to change them but adapt our world to them so that they are able to live independent lives, therefore being a part of the walking world. The same should be done for the deaf. They too have their own culture and way of doing things there is no need to try and “change” them.

          How sign language would affect the democratization of information is simple. It would bring the deaf and the hearing worlds together. The deaf would have more freedom for employment, housing, as well as an education. They are not a defected culture of people rather they are just like any other culture. They have language, folklore, and community. If information such as current events throughout the world would be made available to the deaf community via television programming, they would receive their information faster and more effectively. The deaf community now have access to various newspapers, internet services that provide, vlogs, and social networking around the world that keep the deaf informed. If there were programs such as news done in sign language then the deaf community would have the information cutting out the middle man by interpreting the information or through closed caption. Therefore there would be a better system for the deaf people by the entire public of people.

          For power, peril and promise of the distribution, if we as a hearing society gather together and push forward more media communications as well as receiving an education in sign language and teaching our children sign we will be able to bring the hearing and silent worlds together. The hearing have the power, it is the silent world that is in peril and once more accommodations are made the promise is that our worlds will be one.

         Therefore I suggest that everyone should get involved and bring our hearing and silent worlds together. Doing so will assure that no one is left out of our communication highway.

By Christina Purpura, July Featured Member


  1. The deaf and hard of hearing world is made up of various people with different backgrounds, languages, communication modalities, educations, technology usages, and such. Not every person who is deaf or hard of hearing use sign language. A small percentage of deaf and hard of hearing people in America use pure American Sign Language.

    Not every deaf or hard of hearing person's world is 'silent'. We all hear and not hear in different ways. For example, I am completely deaf in my left ear and have a mild-moderate loss in my right ear (depending on the frequencies). I did not grow up using sign language. I was mainstreamed, wore hearing aids, and relied on lip reading and clear and understandable speech. There are others who have better hearing than I do who grew up using sign language, just as there are others who are profoundly deaf in both ears who do not use sign language.

    As you can see, it is not so simple.

    Yes, it would be nice if we all knew sign language. Sign language is a beautiful and useful language. But, for the average person it can take years to learn and use sign language correctly and comfortably.

    Because a small percentage uses sign language, how do we get everyone involved in learning sign language? I am having trouble convincing some families to use sign language with their deaf children. Even families who are willing to use sign language with their child have trouble finding the time and resources to learn and use sign language effectively and consistently. Remember, it can take the average person years to learn and use sign language comfortably. This means that the deaf child, if not in presence of fluent or native signers, will receive the brief and choppy version of sign language.

    Ay, like I said it is complicated.

    Elizabeth, (e from

  2. This is a very good point, deaf and hard of hearing perons don't only use sign langauge. However, I think this essay was focusing on those who do and pleading for a universal sign langauge. Those of us who hear perfectly face the langauge barrier when traveling to another country which makes communicating difficult. It's similar for those who use different types of sign language and it could be helped by creating a uniform langauge across the globe where it could facilitate communication for them. It's hard enough already to find someone who can sign in the first place, as Elizabeth pointed out.

  3. Hello Elizabeth!
    Thank you for your response.

    To answer a few of the things that you mentioned, It is true that not every person uses sign language who are deaf of hard of hearing. In America approximately half a million of Americans that are deaf or hard of hearing use ASL according to Compared to the 28 million American who are hard of hearing or deaf, that is really not many at all. The word “silent” was not literally, as every human alive has a “voice” in that they have something to say whatever it may be. However, when there are language barriers and one is not able to effectively communicate they are left out until there is a way that they are informed of the subject matter if they ever do.

    My husband who was born high tone deaf and is hard of hearing never learned sign language either and hearing aids did not help him at all. His parents said he had ears and needed to use what he had, but I have seen the struggle that he has had to go through as well as my many friends who are hard of hearing or deaf. I believe that it is important that communication should not have to be that way. Regardless whether one uses sign language or not there needs to be an effective bridge between the hearing and deaf or hard of hearing. I also know that reading lips is not a simple task either as many lip movements can be confused with other words, when one sports a mustache or has an accent. I do not know of many things that are simple in this world especially learning a new language. It is something that I as a hearing person work on all the time. I am learning ASL and I have signed for many years but more as “contact signing” than ASL. However I know through personal experience it has come in very handy. I have never had a bad experience with signing rather I have only been encouraged to continue learning. While it does take many years to learn ASL, it is not for a waste of time and if someone wants something bad enough they will work to get it.

    Your question about how do we get everyone involved in learning the language? I believe and my opinion is that people first need to get beyond “fixing” their deaf or hard of hearing children. Many hearing parents do not learn sign or attempt, but that can change once their perceptions of deaf and hard of hearing change. There needs to be more exposed to the language and it needs to be more mainstreamed such as on TV, then it will become more accepted. As I mentioned in my article there are shows such as Sesame Street, Blue’s Clue’s, CSI, and Law and Order to name a few that are bringing sing language to the sight of millions. I remember when my daughter was in kindergarten, she was learning French. While that was nice I think that sign language in the early grades for children is better. Baby Einstein sign language videos are also big now - a - days, and hearing people are seeing that their children when they do know sign are less fussy and can communicate more effective. The bottom line though is that we need more advocates that can educate the public to the importance of learning sign as well as somehow developing a more universal sign so that communication around the world is more effective.

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