Signing Abroad

By BRITTANY BOYKO 

When I first explain to people that I know American Sign Language (ASL) I get a few different responses from individuals whom have little contact with the Deaf community; the one I receive most frequently is

“So do you have a family member or a friend who is Deaf?

To which I respond

“Actually all of my friends who are Deaf I have encountered as a result of previous knowledge in American Sign Language.”

Now although this is not a rude comment I still have some qualms about a comment which so blatantly indicates how our society caters to the dominant Hearing centered culture and very much brushes off the Deaf population. Now do not get me wrong, this happens to more than just the Deaf community however my stretch experience specifically has to do with Deaf community, therefore I will speak to my own observations as a Hearing individual attempting to learn Deaf culture.

When an individual asks me about the other individuals who are Deaf that I must know they are embedding an assumption that the only reason for me to know Sign Language would be I must have grown up within the Deaf community. Often without even realizing it, individuals insinuate that I am a product of the Deaf community whereby I have been forced to communicated in Sign Language despite the fact I can hear. Often it is not assumed that I am simply an individual fascinated by the intricate visual expression of Sign Language and Deaf culture.

“That’s cool, you can communicate with all Deaf people.”

“Well actually… Sign Language is not a universal, there are multiple different signed languages.”   

Normally, I get a misconception like the one above pertaining to what Sign Language truly entails many people assume that there is one Sign Language which is universal, this is not the case. There are many languages in the world and many of them use their own distinct Sign Language which is often influenced by the spoken language. By this I mean that for example England often uses British Sign Language and in Germany one would come across German Sign Language. Whereas some languages do not even have a Sign Language developed to correlate with their spoken language. For my Peter Lougheed Stretch experience I am volunteering with The Connect Society in Edmonton, Alberta and also the Instituto Especial para Niños Ciegos y Sordos Mariana de Jesús in Quito, Ecuador in order to gain first-hand experience in my home community and abroad with Deaf individuals. Using the information I have gathered I will be creating a blog of tips and tricks for encountering the Deaf community abroad. I hope that it will be used by not only the Deaf community but also Hearing individuals as a resource for intercultural contact.

So maybe people can gain a little more understanding as too what to do when they encounter the Deaf community.

Stay tuned!

Brittany

If you have time please check out the video Deaf ideology by Marika Kovacs-Houlihan! 

TEDx Talks. (Publisher). (2015, November 10).  Deaf Ideology| Marika Kovacs-Houlihan| TEDxUWMilwaukee. Video retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLBw9nYI_Ks

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