You Can Break the Communication Barrier

There is a way to break the communication barrier between hearing people and those who are deaf. The question is: Are you willing to learn?


The communication barrier is the most difficult obstacle faced by people who are deaf and deaf-blind. Too many deaf individuals are ignored by family, friends and the general community because they can't hear spoken words. It's a horrible feeling and represents one of the main reasons why people who are deaf reject family members and old friends.

Language is what brings society together. When a person cannot use the primary language, they live like a stranger in a strange land. Foreigners sometimes work hard to learn English so they can overcome this barrier. It's different for people who are deaf. We can't learn to hear. We need you to be the one to take action. Are you willing to try?

Here are some things you should know. There are two forms of sign language. One is known as Signed English. A person learns signs for words, but uses English grammar. They are basically speaking English with their hands.

There is nothing wrong with this method. It is often preferred by people who lost their hearing later in life. It is easier for hearing people to learn, as well. Just be aware that you are not speaking ASL. Some people say they know ASL, but they are really using Signed English.

ASL refers to American Signed Language. It is an actual language with its own grammar and rules. There's more to ASL than just learning signs. Many people might be surprised to learn that ASL is the third most common language used in the United States.

I'll give you a simple example of how ASL and English are different. In English, you would say, "I lost my keys at the library on Friday." In ASL, this would be signed, "Friday library keys me lose."

There's much more to it than changing the word order. Facial expression is crucial to understanding ASL. If I sign, "Dad angry," how do you know if I'm telling you that dad is angry, or if I'm asking you if he's angry? The movement of my eyebrows and look on my face is the answer.

Still, there's even more to ASL. Handshapes, movement and location are all important. ASL uses classifiers that allow the signer to almost act out a story. But there are rules about how classifiers can be used. There are even ASL signs that have no English translation.

Let's say you meet a deaf person, and you want them to communicate through reading and writing notes. This is often a big problem for deaf people who grew up speaking ASL. It's hard for hearing people to understand this. ASL is a visual language. You can't really write in ASL. For these people, ASL is their primary language. English is a foreign language to them. They might not be skilled enough to write English. This leads to miscommunication.

I've heard of hearing people complain because a deaf person won't write notes to them. Employees who work in medical offices or other businesses that are required by ADA to provide interpreters often express anger about this. Why should they have to pay for an interpreter when they could just write notes? Now you know why.

I'd love for more people to learn Signed English or ASL. It's so nice to go some place and run into a person who can sign. But I'm not telling you to make such a commitment. I'm suggesting something easier.

Everybody out there can and should learn to fingerspell. Family, friends, neighbors, teachers, employees... There's no excuse why you can't do it. You only have to learn 26 handshapes. That's not asking too much.

Get a book from the library. Look online for the sign language manual alphabet. Ask someone who is deaf to teach you the letters. It's easy. Just 26 handshapes, and the communication barrier is broken.

Alas, I should mention that it's not a perfect solution. People who are long-time ASL signers or weak in English might have problems understanding much of what you are trying to communicate with fingerspelling. Remember, you will spell in English. It can be challenging for some individuals who are deaf. Some people who are deaf-blind can read close range sign language but have trouble distinguishing certain letters of the manual alphabet.

Regardless, most deaf people can communicate with fingerspelling. Some, like me, only need you to fingerspell to them. They will reply on using their voice.

Don't tell me you can't speak my language. Don't say you are sorry and brush me off. Don't pretend I'm not there because I'm deaf.

You have the option. The choice is up to you. All you have to do is learn 26 letters. If you think that's too much to ask, then shame on you. I'm deaf. I'm human. I want to communicate. The rest is up to you.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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