Accessibility For All: The Importance Of Sign Language In Everyday Life

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Sign language increases accessibility, though the pandemic has brought some unique challenges for Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons

By Madi Jones

Arbiter Online

Over 5% of the world’s population is Deaf or hard of hearing, according to the World Health Organization. Many people believe those who are deaf and hard of hearing deserve equal access to communication, a higher quality of life and that ASL should be accessible to everyone in everyday life.  

Part of this inclusivity is the capitalization of the word ‘Deaf’ when referring to the Deaf and hard of hearing community. This small detail helps to familiarize others with Deaf culture and normalize how people refer to the Deaf and hard of hearing community, according to the Deaf Counseling Center.

Claire Oberg, senior elementary education and special education major, has always been interested in Deaf culture and American Sign Language (ASL), which is why she decided to minor in ASL during her sophomore year. Oberg is currently student teaching and sometimes uses sign language to communicate with her students. 

“I use [ASL] when I’m teaching, specifically in special education with non-verbal students and students with different disabilities. It’s helpful to have a signed language that I can teach them or provide communication,” Oberg said.

ASL has given Oberg a greater appreciation for Deaf culture and given her more opportunities to communicate with others. 

“[ASL] is very enjoyable to learn on a personal level. You also get opened up to this whole other community and different ways of communicating,” Oberg said. “I feel like you become a more effective communicator because of those non-verbal cues of facial features and how to be aware of what people want out of a conversation.”

While Deaf culture supports individuals who are deaf, it also gives access to information about the world such as the ability to drive, travel, work and play an active role in society, according to the National Deaf Education Center.

In a world that relies mostly on spoken languages, Deaf culture and ASL can open doors for everyone. With changes to everyday life, such as masks and Zoom, it can be difficult for the Deaf community to interact with people how they usually would.

The Importance of Learning ASL

Davina Snow, Boise State ASL lecturer and section head, believes ASL can be beneficial and helpful for everyone in everyday life. According to Snow, being bilingual or trilingual helps strengthen the brain and is great for when people are far away, like social distancing requires.

“You can use ASL through windows, in a loud room such as a dance floor or a workplace where machinery is used, underwater, during movies, or where you need to be quiet and more,” Snow said.  

Snow understands that not everyone is an auditory learner, someone who depends on listening and speaking as a way of learning, and ASL can be an alternative way of communication.

“It’s important to be able to connect with people who communicate visually and/or nonverbally. Not everyone — even if you are hearing — are auditory learners. There are so many who are visual learners. If you use some ASL, it would benefit everyone,” Snow said.

Snow also explains that people other than those who are deaf or hard of hearing use ASL to communicate. People with disabilities, like down syndrome or autism, may struggle with auditory or verbal communication. By using ASL, they can effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings to others. 

Communication through Zoom and Masks

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people have used Zoom as a way to communicate, including those who are deaf and hard of hearing. According to Nelson, teaching over Zoom has complications.