Capital D for Deaf. Rather than a disability or disease, deafness is simply a difference in human experience. As any culture, there is a particular language involved and for the Deaf community that is American Sign Language (ASL). The language entails signs made with the hands combined with facial expressions and body posture.
Canada is behind on connecting the Deaf with the hearing, as the United States has already embedded ASL into high schools where students can get a credit for taking the language. In Toronto, a similar program has just begun but for it to spread will take some time.
David Wiesblatt, CEO of Skyhands ASL Services and President of London’s Deaf Community, explains everyone needs to know at least ASL basics. “It opens your eyes to other cultures. Don’t limit yourself with what’s in front of you—my work, my school, English—same, same, same all over again. Open your doors, open your eyes. It’s like taking French or Spanish, and ASL it’s a new one with a new perspective.”
Within the Deaf community, communication can be troubling because not all members know ASL. For example, Sol Fried has a cochlear implant, which helps him to hear and speak. He was brought up to learn to speak and to hear through auditory verbal therapy, instead of being immersed in sign language culture and society.
Sol Fried shares, “I was interested in Deaf culture and sign language especially as I grew older. I felt I was missing out on the social life because I am neither Deaf or hearing. I got the cochlear implant when I was 15-years-old because I woke up one morning and the hearing aids no longer worked.”
Fried had to choose between getting the implant or learning ASL; however, he was not brought up learning sign language, so his family and friends did not know it and thus he chose the implant.
Fried is now a registered psychotherapist because he believes there is a difference between hearing and listening, in which he is honoured to be able to listen to people’s stories to provide support.
Speaking of support, the first thing to do if a child is deaf is to learn ASL. “That child has a window of opportunity and it’s closing. They can have a hearing aid or cochlear implant, that’s fine, but the most important is ASL first because language will not wait for you. You need to find out if you can communicate with that deaf child. It’s a fact, you can learn to sign before you can speak so it’s important to develop that language. In the future, parents may decide they want the child to speak and that’s fine but then you still have signing as a foundation. Don’t strip that away from a deaf person never, ever,” notes David Wiesblatt, CEO of Skyhands ASL Services.
Fanshawe Student Xavier Chevrette is hard-of-hearing with ASL as his first language. He uses hearing aids and an implant, but only about 30% of what someone is saying translates for him which is why having ASL is a huge benefit for him. “Deaf and hard-of-hearing people need visual cues to be able to know what’s going on,” shares Chevrette.
With about 1,000 Deaf people in London, the goal is to improve socialization between the Deaf and the hearing to make our community and events more inclusive for everyone. If you’re interested in learning ASL as a culture and language, Skyhands ASL Services offers classes in a number of cities throughout Southwestern Ontario. To reach Skyhands, call (519) 914-0235 or text/FaceTime (519) 319-9770, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The video below has transcribed subtitles, use the settings option to activate them.