Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and the Need for Sign Language

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and the Need for Sign Language

Many schools and parents teach their babies and young children American Sign Language (ASL). This practice is rooted in studies that show a clear advantage to expanding children’s communication abilities and styles. These studies suggest significant improvements in children’s lives in and out of the classroom, such as:  

 +12 IQ point advantages   

Accelerated emotional development  

Lower frustration levels  

Improves child-parent bonding

Improves attentiveness to social gestures of others as well as of themselves  

Earlier reading and more extensive reading vocabulary  

Better grades in school.  

Several of these developmental assets are significantly a result of bilingualism. Although, explicitly learning Sign Language has many benefits for young children of all abilities. Knowing a visual language helps with coordination, understanding cues associated with body language, and learning the emotions conveyed by other’s faces.

Some may say it is ironic to encourage hearing children to learn ASL while at the same time, we tell our deaf children to learn to speak. Why can’t deaf children learn to talk? This idea lacks an understanding of how powerful an effect communicating in their primary language can have for deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children.  

This is not to say knowing English is not of benefit to deaf children. Just as the help of native English speakers learning, for example, Spanish. In this instance, we learn by seeing and hearing the Spanish words. The point is, when you are deaf, you cannot hear the language. Therefore, your primary language should be the one you can feel free to express yourself. One in which you can see, take in and understand without interference. If one cannot hear the language, one must be able to visualize the language. This idea is not solely words on paper, but a language geared for the eyes, Sign Language.   

The takeaway: Though ASL is something we encourage in those who do not need the language, we need to encourage and empower those who need the language.   

Next week we will discuss why English (either in written or spoken form) poses a challenge for DHH. 

Explaining Deaf Culture and its Rich History

Explaining Deaf Culture and its Rich History

Deaf Culture is the collection of cultural beliefs, practices, language, history, literature, and shared institutions of deaf communities that use sign language as a primary means of communication. These complex factors greatly impact how people experience the world. In the United States, more than 19 million deaf individuals use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. Many experts argue that the lack of awareness of deafness in American society contributes largely to the misunderstanding of the deaf and their experiences.  

By the early twentieth century, American Sign Language became a popular language. ASL appears in all walks of life including teachers, doctors, lawyers, and government workers. Though efforts are made in incorporating individuals of varying capabilities into all areas of American society, it is crucial for hearing individuals to familiarize themselves with Deaf Culture to better understand their community. 

Gallaudet, founded over 100 years ago, was the first institution to offer special courses for deaf students. The Gallaudet curriculum is steeped in the history and culture of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals. Many deaf students attend Gallaudet to get a fulfilling and extensive education. Gallaudet also teaches hearing individuals in courses for learning, translating, and interpreting ASL. 

For students who learn ASL from a young age, their experiences in American Sign Language extend beyond the classroom. Beginners start to understand the significance of facial expressions, hand movements, and body movements that signify different spoken and written words. ASL literature and signed dialogues expand the life experiences of deaf people, teaching them how to communicate with others.

In recent years, many developments in science and technology have helped to further develop the understanding deafness. Neurological and neurobiological research suggests that there are differences between the brains of deaf people and those of hearing people. This has led to the development of new methods of diagnosing neurological conditions in the deaf. The advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 has added another layer of legal protection for the deaf. Work in education and advocacy resulted in programs and policies that promote equal treatment of the deaf in employment settings. However, there are still many gaps in the field of medical services and compensation for the deaf. The lack of accessible health care and services for the deaf remains a pressing issue. 

The use of sign language as a secondary language to communicate with the deaf is not widespread in the United States. The few universities that offer courses on this subject do not require students to learn or use sign language. Efforts are underway to provide access to the Internet and make sign language available in schools. The challenge will persist as hearing individuals continue to educate themselves on the lives, culture, and hardships of the Deaf community. 

How to Make a Workplace Accessible to Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Individuals

How to Make a Workplace Accessible to Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Individuals

  1. Adjust your meeting rooms. 

Does your meeting room have rows of chairs, making it difficult to make eye contact? A rounded seating arrangement is more conducive for the deaf as they can see other’s faces. This format enables them to read lips if they wish, see and interpret the tone in which the person is speaking, and know who is talking. This small change can help reduce misunderstandings. 

  1. Set up a Video Relay Service (VRS) device. 

A VRS device is a device used to enable a deaf person to make and receive phone calls through an interpreter. This innovation allows a deaf person to contact suppliers, clients or make any call required within their workspace.   

  1. Supply an Interpreter. 

It may seem acceptable to work around having an interpreter by writing notes. This practice can cause many misunderstandings as English is not the native language of the Deaf. Providing an interpreter is essential for the work and the growth of deaf employees. These additional services will help increase the ease with which deaf employees can find information or communicate with co-workers. 

Making the workplace an accessible space for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals is an ongoing challenge and necessity for many employers. It is essential to have a well-developed strategy for ensuring that the workplace is easily adaptable to the specific needs of workers. One way to achieve this goal is through the development of a workplace accessibility plan, which should include policies, procedures, and guidelines for training and customizing workstations. While most organizations have policies in place for providing access to information in situations where such communication may be critical, they often fall short when it comes to providing reasonable accommodation for workers of all abilities. Thus, it is imperative to implement a comprehensive plan that considers deaf and hard-of-hearing employees’ unique needs. 

It is crucial to train employees on how to make a workplace accessible to disabled individuals. Training should include how to handle emergencies, use ASL, and use electronic or mechanical devices. Employees who do not know how to make a workspace accessible may not perform on a team properly. It is also vital that managers provide cultural training and information to their employees to understand their team members and how to respect and encourage them. If your business offers deaf-accessible products or services, promote them! 

Why Business Owners Should Know About the Americans with Disabilities Act

Why Business Owners Should Know About the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that U.S. Congress enacted and signed into law in July of 1990 and has since expanded. The Act protects individuals with disabilities who work and seek employment within the United States.

The Act’s purpose is to ensure that ALL employees companies are provided with reasonable accommodation to perform their jobs. For instance, companies may require at least one translator (or interpreter) to translate English into Sing Language and vice versa. An interpreter is especially critical in specific fields such as engineering or medicine because of the specialized nature of the information needed. If an employee or client cannot comprehend communications, they will have a hard time understanding crucial information involved in the workplace. These misunderstandings can mean someone’s life in medical settings and someone’s future on legal grounds.

The ADA ensures that individuals with disabilities are given the same opportunity for employment as other individuals. Any individual with a disability who experiences discrimination can use the ADA law for protection in court.

What are some of the steps that a business owner can take to ensure that they comply with the ADA? Business organizations must register with the Department of Labor. Once they become registered, they are required to undergo many tests and monitoring procedures to ensure compliance. Managers and employees should also begin by undergoing cultural competency training and awareness presentations.

Cultural Mediation – How Can Open Communication Benefit the Workplace?

Cultural Mediation – How Can Open Communication Benefit the Workplace?

Cultural mediation is a concept developed to help deaf people experiencing communication problems within their work communities. Cultural mediation involves cultural experts facilitating conversation and learning between the deaf or hard-of-hearing and hearing communities. These discussions work to build an environment that encourages a dialogue between the two groups. The goal is to foster better understanding between the two through careful communication to build trust and respect. Cultural mediators also help participants understand and appreciate a new language or culture, especially where a lack of consistent verbal communication restricts this. 

Cultural mediation is a process of interaction that builds a bridge, rather than a divide, between two (or more) sides of a relationship. Cultural mediation assumes that all people have unique and valuable cultural values and experiences. If those qualities and ideas are appreciated and respected by others, a healthy relationship built on mutual respect can form between people from all backgrounds. Cultural mediation can occur in an office setting or group setting. It has been successful for all types of relationships. 

In an instance of a deaf or hard-of-hearing person, cultural mediators help the person who uses ASL to communicate to connect with a person who uses English to communicate. Cultural mediation can help to overcome communication barriers that can affect the ability to engage in meaningful interactions. For example, a cultural mediator can make messages clear if there are specific requests to communicate. In addition, cultural mediators are skilled at getting two people on the same page, which is especially important if the issues at hand are at work. 

Cultural mediation techniques can also be helpful when one party feels as though they are being talked down to or judged based on their culture. These issues may arise in areas such as language or behaviors. To provide a positive mediation experience, it is essential that the person with the deaf person can participate in the mediation. If a person cannot participate in cultural mediation, the relationship is less likely to thrive. The difference between the deaf and the hearing is a language difference, not a status inequality. 

Some examples of cultural misunderstandings that can take place between the two parties are: 

  1. Lack of eye contact can be regarded as rude in the deaf community and would be the equivalent of plugging your ears when someone is speaking to you. 
  2. Looking at the interpreter/mediator instead of the deaf individual can cause feelings of exclusion. 
  3. A deaf individual who stomps the ground or turns off and on lights to get someone’s attention may be considered inappropriate in the workplace when it is very acceptable and common practice in the Deaf community.  

Mediation can allow for a safer work environment and more job satisfaction for all parties. When a conflict or concern arises between employees of varying cultures or companies, mediation can help eliminate the dispute and focus on a communal business goal. The goal of cultural mediation is to create a sense of unity and understanding between all parties so that everyone can serve on the team and work towards a common goal. As a result, a business is more likely to create a positive workplace culture that will benefit everyone.