When I tell people I’m currently taking American Sign Language 101, they sometimes fail to realize that it is a foreign language. Some have even asked, “Why are you taking that?” assuming I will not have any use for it unless I become deaf or have friends who are deaf.
However, this course has taught me a great deal about the deaf community that I believe we should all realize.
The greatest personal realization came yesterday, as I was watching the documentary “For a Deaf Son.”
In this 1994 film, a hearing family is struggling to understand and decide upon the best educational plan for its deaf son. Should he be taught American Sign Language or should he be working solely to try to grasp his limited speaking abilities?
This movie, to say the least, is very moving. Watching the young, deaf son, Tommy, cry and scream to his parents without being able to communicate further, is heart wrenching. Watching the parents trying to teach him to speak, and struggling to accept his deafness, is even worse.
I am proud to say our society has reached new heights compared to decades ago. Today, the deaf community is acknowledged as its own, and ASL is accepted as a language.
However, some ignorance still lies.
We live in a society that, although it has progressed a great deal, is still quick to judge. I believe that when we see someone who is different from us, many people may either judge them and make assumptions, or avoid them altogether. It will take time for this to disintegrate, but it’s important to try to learn about the deaf community before making judgments.
It’s important to understand what my ASL class has taught me and that the deaf do not ask for your pity; they are proud of who they are. It’s important to understand that ASL is not simply an easy class that will serve no use. It is an entire language, with grammar and sentence structure. And although you may not find yourself within the deaf community on a daily basis, it could happen. Would you want to feel like Tommy, like you cannot communicate no matter how hard you try, just because you were never taught?
I think it could truly be beneficial to learn even a small amount of ASL. We are in college to prepare for our futures in every way possible. As we don’t know what the future holds, and we don’t know who we will encounter, I believe this skill is worth gaining, and I hope those who are reading this article will feel the same way and perhaps be inspired to learn a little ASL as well.
After conducting some research, I found the sad news that Tommy died at the age of 15 in 2003. But according to www.apps.collegeboard.com, a $1,500 scholarship is awarded to Texas students with disabilities who are seeking higher education.
Tommy’s name lives on through not only this, but the lesson his family has taught the world as well. As easy as it might be to judge, it’s important to be open-minded about those around us. It’s important to learn what we can about different cultures, and understand that the deaf have a culture of their own.