Imagine if you couldn't hear. You would have to use sign
language or lip-reading. You wouldn't be able to hear music, talking,
animals or anything for that matter. Well, more than one million people don't have to imagine they have a hearing disability. That's something they have to cope with every single day.
American Sign Language (ASL) is a language that involves using your hands, body and face.
ASL, just like all other languages, has levels of complexity. There are complicated grammar rules and sentence structures to remember. Not only do people who are deaf learn sign
language, but some of them also learn how to lip-read and talk even though they can't hear! Most people learn ASL when they are very young. Sometimes, when they're only two or three years old.
There are different ways for people with hearing disabilities to communicate. Some people with hearing disabilities only use sign
language. Others may
lip-read and speak as well as use sign language.
What About Schools?
Today, teachers and public speakers use ASL a lot. But it hasn't always been that way. Some feel that it's a great thing for
children with hearing disabilities but of course, some do not. For decades,
some educators for the deaf known as the Orals hated American Sign Language. They forbid their students to use it, even if their students were not fluent in lip-reading or talking. The history of ASL is a rough
one, but in the end, people with hearing disabilities now have the choice of using ASL or the oral method.
Until the middle of the seventeen hundreds, there was no one standard of communication for people with hearing disabilities in Europe. Only the wealthy cities had methods of sign language and all of those were different. This became an issue when people tried to travel to another city and communicate with the people there. Each city had their own method of sign language.
In 1775, a French priest named Charles Michel started the first deaf school in Europe. Many children from all different countries came to this new
school. The problem was that all of them knew different sign languages. So Charles created an official French sign language.
But one group of educators called Orals believed that children with hearing disabilities should not use any form of sign
language or go to schools just for children with hearing disabilities. These teachers believed that the children should learn how to
lip-read and talk so they would fit in better with people who could hear. Children with hearing disabilities were forbidden to use any signs, even if
they had no idea how to lip-read. They were stuck not being able to communicate at all. Many children learned the Oral way, so they could function in societies with people who could hear.
What about the people who didn't believe in the Oral method? Well, for more than sixty years, ASL had to exist underground, afraid that these Orals would stop them. When children
with hearing disabilities could not go to these underground schools and were at Oral schools, they
secretly signed to each other. They signed to each other in hallways,
bathrooms and behind the teachers' backs. And for the students who had parents who didn't believe in the Oral method either, they signed at home.
Years later, a man named William Stokoe brought back ASL with other people who didn't believe in the Oral method. It took almost a century for him to convince anyone that they should have the choice of lip-reading or sign language. And it worked.
Today, most children with hearing disabilities do not go to special schools. The teachers in these schools (containing children with and without hearing disabilities) stand before the
class and talk and sign at the same time. This is called total speech. Not only do teachers do
this but a lot of public speakers do too.
Today children with hearing disabilities can usually lip-read, talk and use ASL. So there's more than one way to communicate if you have a hearing disability. Below is the sign language alphabet.
Greene, Laura, and Eva
Barash Dicker. Sign Language. New York, New York: Franklin Watts, 1981.
Kent, Deborah. American Sign Language. New York, New York: Franklin Watts, 2003.
Copyrighted clip art images of people signing and hand signal from "Microsoft Office Online" <http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/default.aspx?lc=en-us&cag=1> (October-March, 2004-2005).
Clip art only available to licensed
users for non-commercial purposes.
Chart containing sign language
alphabet created by page author, Maggie.
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