We would love for you to make videos to reach a hearing loss audience, the media rep suggested. “Sure, that sounds good,” I replied, “assuming the videos would be captioned, of course.” “But wouldn’t you just sign in them?” she asked with some confusion. I stopped dead in my tracks in surprise. “Most people with hearing loss, myself included, don’t know sign language,” I explained, “particularly if we acquired our hearing issues later in life.” “I didn’t know that,” she said.
This was an intelligent, educated person working in media for a patient advocacy company. If she doesn’t know this basic fact about people with hearing loss, imagine the ignorance of the general public.
Sign language is a beautiful language that works well for people in the Deaf community, but as someone who developed hearing loss later in life, it is not a workable option for me, unless I wanted to change almost everything about my life. I prefer to augment my residual hearing with technology to remain firmly in the hearing world.
Even so, I have always been curious about sign language — ever since learning how to finger spell in grade school, well before my hearing issues began. A hearing loss friend and I took several sign language lessons a few years ago. It was fun, but also challenging.
American Sign Language (ASL) does not mirror spoken English in sentence construction which made it hard for us to translate our thoughts into this new visual way of communicating. Between lessons, we also lost a lot of what we had learned since we didn’t have any consistent practice partners. Eventually, we stopped the sessions.
At first, I shrugged off my experience with the media rep with a roll of my eyes and a chuckle, similar to the times when people have told me that I don’t look deaf, but upon further reflection, this mistake seemed different. The misperception that people with hearing loss generally know sign language could have serious ramifications for accessibility.
According to Wikipedia, there are 250,000 – 500,000 people using ASL today in the United States, including a number of children of deaf adults. This represents about 1% of the estimated 48 million people in the United States with hearing loss, meaning sign language is not the norm for the vast majority of people who have trouble hearing.
Much education about how to make things more accessible for people with hearing loss is needed. Sometimes, when people with hearing loss ask for accommodation at a hospital or museum, they are told that the only available option is a sign language interpreter. This should not be the case.
As people with hearing loss outside of the Deaf community, we must continue to raise awareness with legislators, leaders at cultural institutions, medical facilities, and schools as well as with the general public about the accessibility options that work best for us.
ATR: This is mirrored in the UK too, support for non-signing deaf and hard of hearing suffers considerably because no national set up exists except for sign users. So we all get 'you are deaf, so you must need sign langauge.' To be fair (and avoid pointless feedback and discrimination claims from the sign user), the issue is pretty basic, non-signers do not make demands of their need, at least they don't here in the UK 10m are more mute than any deaf are.
If they speak out they can get attacked for it, called whiners even with 'why not my access too?', and the root is the state inclusion process's or what passes for inclusion. It is defined as equal access but operates unequally because non-signers avoid confrontation and fear discrimination and anti-cultural claims going at them. They need to challenge the perceptions of BSL and who uses it, and the relentless labelling of people by those with a vested/financial interest in creating demand that isn't there.
There is a very adept cultural promotion and sign area worldwide that is very effective in misleading everyone about hearing loss awareness and need. ALL DEAF SIGN. Of course, they don't, they are a small minority made to look bigger via exceptional hype aidied by sign language saleability. Deaf lost control of sign to hearing years ago.
Deaf culture has altered inclusion definitions to suit their own way of doing things, and the state has accepted it without ensuring access is applied equally to all, because they are hit by anti-culture/human right claims too. E.G. if sign interpreters are a right then access MUST also include means others use as well, no prioritising. But, support and charity are already polarised and that in essence IS discrimination by any other name. Culture is the brick wall we all hit if we complain.
It can be solved very easily by 10m HoH saying enough is enough, using the same approaches the BSL/ASL deaf use in demanding rights and equality, that can force the state and systems to be truly inclusive it would help offset the equality abuses currently being accepted as a right by intimidation.