Most the students in my ASL class hear well. Realizing how small the Deaf population is, it seems another language might be a better choice for them. Like Spanish. Working with the public, I could use Spanish almost daily. It’s extremely rare when a Deaf patron shows up needing help, and in most cases writing will suffice. It’s not that I don’t want hearing people to take ASL, I just wonder why they do it. My ASL class isn’t geared toward interpreting. I don’t expect many of them will get much use out of it after they’re finished. So I find it interesting to see classrooms full of hearing people learning ASL. Whenever I get the chance, I ask the other students why they decided to take it.
Usually their answers are: 1) I saw someone performing ASL to music and I thought it was beautiful. 2) I know someone who is Deaf- relative, neighbor, co-worker. . . 3) I needed the credits, and I was curious.
However puzzling it may be to find classes full of hearing people taking ASL, I have been equally mystified by the lack of interest in ASL by my hard-of-hearing and late-deafened peers. It almost seems the more hearing they lose, the less interested they become in a visual form of communication. We cling to the spoken word while collecting more and more technical gadgets to help us communicate in English. I am no exception.
Aside from my hearing aids and standard captioned TV’s, I have stockpiled a large collection of audio equipment– amplifiers, FM systems, loops, wires and the many different sized batteries for each piece. These all help with communication in various challenging hearing situations. I have asked many other hard-of-hearing/late-deafened people if they’ve ever considered taking ASL to help with communication. The majority have not. They have lots of different reasons. Some of their reasons make sense.
Among the worst reasons for not taking ASL I’ve heard were: 1) I will never be fluent in ASL, so why bother 2) I’m not Deaf and ASL is for Deaf people. OK– my answer to number one is why bother trying anything new if you’re not sure you’ll master it? And is it that important to be perfect at everything? My answer to number two is– if you are lip reading with hearing aids and you own a whole bunch of equipment to help you hear in different situations because your aids alone can’t do it, face the fact you are DEAF. It doesn’t matter if you can talk.
However, there are some good reasons for not taking ASL. For example, many have looked into taking classes only to find there weren’t any near home, or at a reasonable time that didn’t conflict with work schedules. The late-deafened, after all, are not typical college students. We are usually working people with established careers. Usually we can’t attend community college classes on weekdays from 10-11am. I myself had to rearrange my work schedule in order to take the classes I’m in now at 5:45pm two nights a week. Normally I don’t get off work early enough to make the commute to college. It wasn’t easy to change my schedule.
Next, many have mentioned the classes in their area were taught for those interested in interpreting. Interpreting classes sometimes require oral give and take. Hard-of-hearing and late-deafened often people do not learn well in oral ASL classes. Luckily all the classes I’ve taken were taught by deaf people who did not allow voices in class.
Further, most of us aren’t interested in a grade or doing tons of written assignments and powerpoint projects in order to learn a language. There is a way aroung this if you audit your classes, which will free you from having to do any homework. That way you can concentrate only on learning the language without having to jump through all the extra assignment hoops. This has worked pretty well for me. The main thing is having a teacher agreeable to giving permission with each new level. Since mine knows my situation, she’s fine with the arrangement.
Another common reason not to take ASL is that hearing people, including most our relatives and friends, don’t use ASL. True enough! I need others to speak ASL to me. If they can’t or won’t learn ASL, how will I benefit by learning ASL alone? I have been working hard with my husband to get him to fingerspell, and it’s finally paying off. When I don’t understand a word, he can spell it. That helps a LOT.
This past week we were taking a tour through a noisy lapidary shop. I asked my dad’s friend what kind of rock he was polishing. He said the name of it, then kept on talking. I could not read his lips well, as he wasn’t facing me. I didn’t want to interrupt to ask a second time, so I fingerspelled my guess to my husband “J-A-D-E?” He nodded his hand in the “yes” sign. This is exactly how I had envisioned using ASL with my family before beginning with the classes. Not as our first language, but just for clarification purposes when needed. It worked perfectly. I didn’t have to interrupt, but could verify the name of the rock with my husband without bothering others.
The last reason some give for not learning ASL is they simply aren’t interested. Maybe they hear well enough with their aids or cochlear implants. I understand ASL isn’t for everyone. I DO! However, I personally don’t hear that well with my hearing aids and I benefit when people can fill in the blanks with a sign here and there. I love it when people talk and sign at the same time. Also I don’t like to wear my aids all the time because my molds are uncomfortable. ASL is helpful to me. The freedom it has given me is unmatched by any technical devices on the market.
I realize not everyone wants or needs ASL, which is why I so appreciate those who have gone to the extra effort to learn a few signs and the alphabet. It means the world to me.