America is a melting pot of different cultures, languages, and people; it is one of the most unique aspects of this country, and also the most fascinating because, even with vast differences, we are able to function as a whole. A key part of this is the ability to effectively communicate with one another. Can you imagine if such a core component of society was unavailable to you? Take it from Helen Keller, “Blindness cuts people off from things; deafness cuts people off from people.” According to Hopkins, many Americans are either deaf or hard of hearing, and experience this feeling Keller describes; in many ways, they are treated like foreigners in their own country. American Sign Language (ASL) is the bridge over this communication barrier; with it, we can explore new relationships and experiences, reach a more whole society, and improve work environments.
Deafness is defined as disabling hearing loss of 40 decibels or more(WHO.int) and according to Hopkins, approximately 12.7%, or 30 million Americans meet this criteria. That's 30 million people you might never get the chance to know. By learning ASL, you create the opportunity to not only form new relationships with people who you would otherwise have extreme difficulty communicating with, but also to preserve the relationships you already have. For example, as people age, their hearing declines; in fact, approximately 31% of people age 40-59 experience extreme hearing loss(NHIS). From personal experience with my grandfather, I know how frustrating, and at times even impossible a simple conversation with him can be because of his hearing difficulties. Imagine the ease of a conversation if we could just sign to one another.
There are few reasons not to learn ASL; certain physical impairments, however, can actually make it impossible. If you are blind, or do not have both hands fully intact, the ability to read or form signs is virtually impossible. Arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome, and other joint problems can also inhibit the ability to sign. This writer has carpel tunnel syndrome and know the pain simple actions like typing, signing, and especially writing by hand can cause. Much like any other impairment, deafness is a part of an individual; just like we cannot learn to feel no pain when using some of our finer motor skills, they cannot learn to hear; these things are not learned.