Why I Don’t Know Sign Language

Why I Don’t Know Sign Language

There have been countless moments growing up when I would tell someone that I have hearing loss, and then they would excitedly say, “do you know how to sign as well?”

Every time, my response would be an awkward, “…well, actually no.”

Each time I said no, I would get this lingering thought – I have hearing loss. Shouldn’t I know how to sign?

I used to work at a retail store when I was younger, and one time I was helping a customer who was deaf. He had an interpreter with him that was translating for us, when all of a sudden, the customer started signing excitedly to me. He had noticed my cochlear implant and thought that I could sign too.

That was one moment when I felt terrible for not knowing how to sign. It was also then that I really felt the divide between being a part of the hearing community and a part of the deaf/Deaf community.

I was born into a hearing family and was completely immersed into the hearing lifestyle. I went to hearing schools, had hearing friends, and I had only met a small handful of people with hearing loss (two of them were in their 80s).

I actually didn’t have any friends with hearing loss until last year when I became more in touch with people in the deaf and hard of hearing community (you know who you are!).

Because I was fully immersed in mainstream culture, there was really no reason or need for me to learn sign language – other than for the sake of interest.  

Just like learning other languages, I was briefly interested in learning sign language. I learned a couple of phrases back when I was in school. I didn’t have to apply the language afterwards, so naturally, my interest fizzled out and I stopped.

Learning sign language is just like learning any other language. You need to constantly apply yourself in learning it or you will lose it. Other than that brief stint of interest back when I was in school, I didn’t pick up learning sign language again…until last week.

I had the opportunity to coordinate sign language classes for my work in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). I got in touch with Canadian Hearing Services, and had the pleasure of connecting with the sign language instructor, who was Deaf and fully immersed in the Deaf community.

He did a presentation that gave an overview of the Deaf community and their values, as well as taught us some handy phrases in sign language!

That workshop ended with me being just like every other hearing participant in the audience, enamored and left with a huge respect for the Deaf community and their culture.

I’ve long realized that due to my upbringing and the values I’ve developed as a result of that upbringing, I am not a part of the Deaf community. I was brought up in the hearing world, and with the help of my cochlear implant, I’m able to get by with just minor bumps in the road.

However, after seeing a more in-depth demonstration on Deaf culture and sign language, I learned how to be accommodating and understanding to a Deaf person as they would for me, as someone not knowing their language.

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