Pros and Cons of Sign

January 2, 2007

Pros and Cons of Sign Language

As an oral, late-deafened adult I have discovered there are some very real pros and cons of knowing sign language. I don’t like to “look back” with regret about choices made, as I believe that even bad choices spawned growth and taught me valuable life lessons. As useful as sign language has been for me, however, there are times I wish I had never learned ASL.

I believe that there is an incredible gulf between those who view themselves as culturally Deaf, and those who are oral deaf, or late-deafened. Reading endless stories and viewpoints about the recent Gallaudet turmoil, has in many ways defined those groups, if by no other means, as a result of vehement opposition and disagreements. I’m reasonably certain I would be defined as not being “deaf enough”.

Pros: I first learned a “handful of signs” at a youth camp when I was sixteen. It wasn’t really ASL, as I simply learned a few signs to accompany “campy” type of songs. In college, however, I made a Deaf friend and as the university offered sign language courses, I decided to learn. Since then I have taken numerous courses and been involved in certificate workshops, etc.

So when I do come in contact with a culturally Deaf person, I can communicate with relative ease. Unfortunately, I do not know any Deaf at work, church, nor are there any Deaf in my neighborhood. My receptive skills are “hurting” because of this, and I’ve been trying some new things as I simply do not get to use ASL as a language very often. Teaching ASL is one thing, but using it daily with someone who uses ASL as their primary language is another!

ASL comes in handy at home. My daughter is fluent, and my son – well he tries really hard. My husband cannot sign very well, (he claims manual dyslexia) but has amazing receptive skills. He “reads” sign better than he can “speak” sign. So if I’m giving my ears a rest, or if it’s late at night after I’ve already hopped in the shower and dressed for bed, ASL is a godsend!

Cons: Prior to using the phone more after my CI activation, I would use IP Relay. Whenever I made doctor’s appointments, I was always asked if I wanted an interpreter present, or if the doctor’s office needed to schedule “Deaf Talk”. I would explain that I didn’t need an interpreter, that I was oral. Do you know how hard it is to explain that you are deaf enough to use Relay, but not so “deaf” you need an interpreter?

In shopping, if you explain that you “missed that, and could you repeat it?”, horrified cashiers retort that they don’t know sign language. It’s tough explaining to the same cashier you had last week that you don’t need her to sign. (Just to speak without the wad of gum in her mouth big enough to choke a horse!)

When I looked into an online graduate course this past year, I had to investigate as to whether the required “on site” classes would provide CART. It took forever to explain that I didn’t need to schedule classes where an interpreter could be hired. I wanted CART, not an interpreter!

Friends with the best intentions have given advice to me when I grumbled about a difficult time at a training I attended. They asked why I didn’t ask for an interpreter. I am not Deaf, I’m deaf! I don’t want or need an interpreter. I just ask that the speaker use the microphone all the time. Please repeat the questions asked by those not using a microphone.

I’m sure every late-deafened adult has been in a situation where the assumption is made that because you have a hearing loss, you know sign. When the vast majority of those with hearing loss do not use sign and communicate orally, why is this still the assumption by those with normal hearing?

Yes, I know sign. But I have made the choice to associate myself with oral late-deafened adults. I wish our population did a better job of communicating what their needs are.

I went to hear a decision voted on at the FCC recently. Going through security, I explained to the guard prior to walking through the metal detector that I was late-deafened and pointed to my CI. (I always get a huge buzz walking through that thing, and wanted to make sure that if he said something, he knew I wasn’t going to hear it). He asked if I needed an interpreter and picked up his radio. I waved and said, “No, no! I don’t need an interpreter, just be sure to get my attention if you ask me something.” After walking through he asked to see my cell phone and to demonstrate that it worked. (Not sure what that had to do with security, but I complied). While showing him the phone he asked, “So you don’t sign?”

“Well, I do know sign but don’t use it to communicate. This CI keeps me communicating the same way I did when I was born into this “hearing” world” His confused look told me he didn’t “get” why I do not choose sign to communicate.

So although I am many times grateful I know sign, I have had a couple of weeks where I wish I did not. Pros and cons – I suppose it’s healthy to remember there are both in most things we experience.

Denise Portis
©2007 Hearing Loss Diary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s