For this module, I made the decision to do something a little different. In the midst of this entire COVID-19 crisis, where I’m starting to feel a bit like the boy (err, girl) in the bubble, I’ve concluded that there is no better time to learn a new skill. Many people are already diving into improving cooking, writing, reading, doing some art, and while that’s all fine and dandy, I wanted to do something that could benefit me, as well as a large community of people around me. Now, I know what you might be thinking: “She’s just going to go pay for some groceries for people in need or go help the homeless people in her community. Or she’s going to go cough on everything in Wawa, ugh how disgustingly millennial of her.” BUT NO. As an immunocompromised person, I am not allowed to leave my house. In fact, I can’t even go get my mail. So take that, Facebook Karens! I’m living my best life out here; let me tell you. As the type of person that thrives off of human interaction (yes- even as an introvert), this adjustment has been a major buzzkill. I’ve been huddled in the confines of the four walls of my bedroom like a Hobbit, and quite honestly I feel like I’m in my own screwed up version of Dante’s Inferno (God, I am so dramatic). Anyways, back to my decision to kick my laziness to the curb and learn a useful skill. I’ve decided to attempt to learn American Sign Language.
Unbeknownst to many of us, we live our lives daily with a major barrier. In this, I am speaking of the barrier between hearing people, and those who are hard of hearing or deaf. While enduring one of my many self pity parties of the week, I came to the conclusion that our lives really aren’t that bad right now. Sure, we can’t see our friends or extended families, can’t enjoy many of the things that we used to take for granted, and hell, we can’t even go to work. That sucks. But then, I truly started thinking about deeper things; Imagine not being able to communicate with those you close to, to not be able to listen to your favorite music, or to not be able to watch your favorite show without subtitles. This is the harsh reality that many people around us face, and many of us don’t even know, and if we do, we don’t care nearly as much as we should. So with this in mind, I decided to start researching the deaf community and why it’s so important to learn sign language in the first place. According to an article on Smack Happy,
“ASL is the most valuable asset in regards to the Deaf Community. Not speaking (as in using no voice) is highly valued in this culture. Spoken English is technically useless to the Deaf. Even if they read lips, the understanding of English doesn’t really relate to ASL. If your ears do not work, why would you force them to hear? Although, some of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing choose other avenues to communicate with the hearing—ASL is regarded as the sole cultural norm for the Deaf.”
While this quote says a lot, I thought that the line in bold above was particularly interesting. It reminds me how my dad always says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Now while him saying this is out of complete stubbornness and dad-ism, I took it into a more philosophical context. Why do we look down on deaf people, or people with disabilities in general? Just because someone is different, does not mean they are broken. As a type one diabetic, this stuck with me. Even though they are two completely different types of disabilities, I can relate to being looked down on as a human being who simply just was born without a functioning organ… WHO CARES. We should embrace our differences and help those who have them.
Now, before I go on a tangent, let’s get back to the plan. After discovering a little bit about deaf culture and the norms of their own personal society, I decided to actually dive into the language. I already knew the alphabet, special thanks to my best friend forcing me to learn it in the seventh grade (for what reason, I will never know. We were weirdos, okay?). But before I dove headfirst into a pool of the never ending videos of expert signers doing their thing, followed by me crying in one of my four corners and giving up, I determined it would be best to come up with a clear schedule of what I would learn in my Four (or more) weeks of quarantine. This is what I came up with as a brief “lesson plan” of sorts:
- Week 1: Deaf Culture; Alphabet, and Basic Phrases Review
- Week 2: Days of the Week; More Basic Phrases
- Week 3: Colors/Clothing; Basic Conversation
- Week 4: Emotions/Feelings; Attempt to translate something basic
note: This is all very ambitious… I needed a guideline to help quell my fears. I will not be fluent in American Sign Language by the end of these four weeks by any means. This is a valiant effort and a documentation of my journey.
So, I decided to start with introductory words and phrases, with this video on Youtube. In it, the woman goes into 25 different phrases and words that are important to know in basic signing. Like any language, you start off with learning how to address yourself, say your name, etc. After watching this video a few times (almost every night before I went to bed, and maybe 3 times a day… no I’m not kidding, but there’s hope!), this is what I learned.
Basically what I discovered through my first few days of learning American Sign Language is that it’s going to be a challenge, but a rewarding one at that. Instead of shying away from conversations with someone I do not know how to communicate with, I can attempt to hold a conversation. American Sign Language, along with the other forms of sign language allows for a deeper, more meaningful level of conversation for someone that may be hard of hearing. This is incredibly important to me, especially as someone that loves to talk to people from all different walks of life. In saying all of this, I am incredibly excited not only to begin this journey, but to eventually put it to good use. Wish me luck!