American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural language that serves as the predominant communication source for Deaf communities in the United States and most of Anglophone Canada. It is expressed by movements of the hands and face and is essential with not only those who are deaf, but those who experience partial loss of hearing or use hearing aids as support. According to WHO, The World Health Organization, around 466 million people worldwide have hearing loss, 34 million being children. It is also estimated that by 2050, over 900 million people will have hearing loss.
Hearing loss can result from genetic causes, complications at birth, certain infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, the use of drugs, exposure to excessive noise, and ageing. “Hard of Hearing” refers to people with hearing loss ranging from mild to severe. People who are hard of hearing communicate through spoken language and benefit from various forms of aid. “Deaf” refers to people who have very little to no hearing, who often use Sign Language for communication.
Throughout my middle and high school experience, the academic requirement of passing a foreign language course was crucial to attend the following year. From 6th-12th grade, many languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, and German were offered. While this allowed students to further explore other cultures and expand their communication skills, American Sign Language was not an option. The only time I was offered this possibility was when I attended a magnet school my 9th grade year, and in University.
There are a variety of reasons why learning American Sign Language is important, especially as our population continues to evolve and grow:
American Sign Language is one of the most widely used languages in the United States, as well as fourth-most studied in American Universities. 35 states have recognized ASL as a modern language, expanding this to many universities who now offer ASL courses. There are approximately 250,000-500,000 American and Canadians who are deaf or hard of hearing. Being proficient in ASL allows you to communicate with individuals who are hearing, hard of hearing, or deaf. This helps improve the quality of family communication and being inclusive to individuals who experience this.
ASL is rooted in the deaf community and culture. Learning American Sign Language promotes awareness and cultural sensitivity to those who are deaf and hard of hearing. This will help create acceptance and understanding among others who might not comprehend its importance. This will also help expand those in professions of bilingual hearing interpretation, which has a great need to increase the availability of qualified ASL interpreters.
The Beauty of American Sign Language:
Many of us are drawn to a variety of languages and cultures for the way they move us and create the opportunity to enrich our learning. American Sign language is known for being unique and a language that is seen rather than heard, with its own rules and linguistic structure.
Resources to practice and learn American Sign Language for free:
These are some applications and websites that have continued to help me better my ASL. Practicing at least one hour a day can really make a difference in not only your community, but in spreading awareness and inclusion.
Applications for iPhone and Android Users:
ASL American Sign Language
YouTubers such as Sign with Heart, and TakeLessons
WHO.INC (World Health Organization)