Last week I dealt with Hearing, the good, the bad and the useless.
Now, I am going to focus on Sign Language, American Sign Language, which is what I use to communicate with.
Growing up, my most common word spoken was probably “What?” (I like to think that now it is not, but my wife might offer a different opinion). I did get by, but had a lot of problems, I would misunderstand or misinterpret what was said to me.
Once, my mom told me to get a bus at quarter past 5, which I missed by ten minutes because I figured “quarter past” 25 minutes, not 15! Needless to say, I got good exercise walking from that bus stop all the way down Mary Hill from Paula Place and Eastern to the barber shop on Shaughnessy Street just past Elgin street in Port Coquitlam. Long walk for a 9 year old!
Anyways, Sign Language, or American Sign Language, ASL for short, is what is used in Canada. It is a thriving language, dynamic, ever-changing, always improving (all those things mean the same thing) language of Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing people in USA and Canada.
One question that I am asked often is: “So all Deaf people use the same signs?” The answer I give is: if you go to Japan, can you understand the spoken language? No, ASL is not universal, different countries have their own Sign Language. Which is based on a common root sign language, and it most likely evolved with time, which makes it dynamic. I could go on about this, but its been done.
ASL and all the sign languages in the world are all visual languages that use: Hands, Fingers, Shoulders, Arms, Face, Neck, Body, and Facial Expressions. It is very animated!
I’ll come back to this in a minute.
I started to learn it when I was maybe 15 or so. My psychologist suggested I start to learn and recommended that I go to a deaf summer camp. I shunned learning ASL at that time. Just getting by, I was ignorant. I preferred to use my voice. I was loquacious, articulate, and loud! But times, they were a changin’!
Finally, frustration reared its ugly head. I was tired of not being able to understand others. “Others” being friends, I had none in high school.
In high school I was in a group of hard of hearing students, but I was in a “class” by myself because I never learned to art of lipreading. This was because I couldn’t see clearly the nuances of the mouth forming words, plus the facial expressions. The other kids in the group, no matter how bad their hearing was, were all skilled at lipreading, and thus were popular.
I, on the other hand, was not skilled, and not popular. I never felt “friendly” with those kids in the hard of hearing group, probably because I couldn’t lipread.
So, that was the push I needed to learn ASL. I took night school ASL classes. And I excelled!
I went and sought out other Deaf and Hard of Hearing clubs. I recall attending a Deaf New Years Eye party where I didn’t know anyone. I got drunk and still didn’t know anyone!
I must have stood out like a wart on a sore thumb going to Deaf events with “bookish” ASL! But I preserved! And learned more!
It wasn’t until I joined Vancouver’s small Deaf-Blind group that I started to feel connected and involved. I quickly became more fluent and faster at ASL. These were my first true friends. In Vancouver Deaf-Blind community, everyone knows my name, they are always glad I came!
It was this group who has enriched my life! I meet my wife through an organization that serves Deaf-Blind individuals. I’ve been teaching ASL for about as long as I’ve learned it!
I have, recently, stepped out of Deaf activities. Mainly because I cannot catch the fast ASL. And, sometimes, I feel that Deaf individuals will not slow down or sign clearer for me. (Luckily it is not the rare few who are like that).
With ASL, I have become skilled with the language, and am able to use it very good. Teaching it allows me to help others learn it, and thereby increasing my knowledge and competency.
With my ataxia, I am glad that I learned ASL at the time that I need to learn it. If I hadn’t mastered ASL, I feel my arm and hand coordination would be much worse than it is. The muscles I strengthened then, has preserved me now!
Teaching ASL to my kids is the next hurdle that I need to accomplish, with my wife’s help, this will be done! Especially my oldest boy, who has CAPOS as well. He is showing the same reluctance to learn, preferring to use his voice.
ASL has shaped my life!