Bridging Differences Through Sign Language


As people all around the globe are trying to be more inclusive and fighting discrimination of all forms hand-in-hand, accessibility is one of the top priorities. Giving access and privileges to the community of handicapped people with the same as what other people have is very important. Making a better world shouldn’t be just for a certain group of people, it should be for everybody so each day that passes, people are trying to find ways to blur the threshold that divides the people in terms of capabilities and disabilities and also looking for solutions in able to bridge differences and create a more understanding environment for everybody to make life easier and better for all. One of these solutions is sign language, which is a unique way of nonverbal communication that gives a way for handicapped people in terms of hearing and speech to express themselves to the people around them.

What is Sign Language?

Sign language is a form of nonverbal communication commonly used by people who are speech and hearing impaired. Just like the diversity of languages all around the globe, sign language also varies. Countries all throughout the world uses different kinds of sign languages that were designed to the country’s native tongue. Sign language is usually done with signs using hand and arm gestures and other movements that include facial expressions and body posture. Although sign language may seem like an unconventional way of communicating, studies show that this kind of expression might be older than speech. Sign language can be composed of small movements such as shrugs, eye movements, or as simple as pointing, but it can also require big and elaborate combination of coded movements for expressing more complicated and detailed thoughts. It is most commonly used by impaired people but everyone can use it as well and should be studied by all. Sign language comes in handy in moments where verbal communication cannot be performed, or when trying to converse with a person with a different language, and not only when having a conversation with speech and hearing-impaired people.

Sign language was used by the ancient people, for the more advanced communication language that what we are using today isn’t developed yet. People around the globe were trying to communicate with manual signals and body movements since their language differs but these signals is universal. It’s like a game of charades but it gets the message across and eliminates misunderstandings. For example, a person from another place would draw a circle in the sky with their finger to signify the sun, or someone would create hand movements towards their mouth to tell that they are hungry. Sign language had been around as humans are in this world, and is still is very useful in getting points and thoughts across. As of right now, there are more than 300 different versions of sign language being used in the world that differs from each country but the mostly used version is the ASL or the American Sign Language.

One of the most prominent personalities attached to sign language is Hellen Keller, an American icon, educator, and author that was born blind and deaf. She struggled when she was young due to her disabilities but because of the determination of the people around her to teach her how to communicate through sign language and because of her passion to express to the world what she can offer, she became one of the most famous people in history and is still being studied today. The use of sign language is so universal that not only people use it, animals also found a way to express themselves through the use of sign language like Koko, a gorilla who was trained to use sign language by Francine Patterson, a researcher psychologist.

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Benefits of learning sign language

For communicating and expressing

The most common reason why a lot of people are interested in learning sign language is to better communicate to the hearing and speech impaired people. People who have these disabilities in the world are five percent of the world population and over 400 million people are deaf or have an impairing hearing loss. This is a large number of people that should be understood, heard, and encouraged. As populations rise, this number also increases and making these people included in conversations is a large step in giving accessibility to all.

There are a lot of prejudice surrounding the disabled community and dismantling these discriminating values is important in shaping a better understanding world. Learning sign language is a good step in achieving this. By learning and teaching sign language, you are breaking barriers and bridging differences.

Improves your other senses

In many studies done, it is stated that learning sign language not only gives you another mode of communicating but also enhances your other senses. As sign language is considered a language itself, learning it makes you a bilingual and a bimodal. Using a visual medium to stimulate your brain enhances your ability to perceive visual cues better, also enhances your spatial awareness, visual sensitivity, and the ability to analyse a mental representation of something to accurately predict how that thing would look like if seen from a different angle. Having to rely on a different sense for expressing thoughts hones your peripheral vision which makes you more aware with your environment since it makes the people involved to engage in constant eye contact.

Learning sign language also makes you smarter according to studies because it can be similar to learning a new foreign language. Trying to learn a new language enhances and boosts your brain in cognitive function, deductive reasoning, improves your memory, and communication skills. Due to sign language not requiring a spoken language, it is easier to study and learn because it relies on movements that are mostly universal just like how waving your hand means you are trying to say hello.

Sign language is also beneficial to people with autism who are struggling with verbal communication, people who are dyslexic, and people who are suffering with other learning obstacles.

Useful in general

The use of sign language is limitless and very handy in moments were interacting verbally is impossible. Trying to have a private conversation while you are in a public place is hard but thanks to sign language, it is possible. Simple eye contacts and minimal hand gestures speaks a lot and conveys thoughts more conveniently. You can use it when the person you’re trying to talk to is far away to have an audible conversation. Sign languages can be used in different things, in a lot of ways, and for different reasons.

In our current situation with the pandemic, the world has seen the benefits of sign language. As face masks, face shields, and social distancing are being implemented and mandated, people are trying to be more careful in socializing. Sign language become handier as it does not require the people involved in opening their mouths and having a verbal conversation. It is easier to understand hand gestures and body movements when talking to a person behind a plastic barrier that makes your words inaudible just like in stores and cahiers.

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Sign language and the future

It had been around as long as human beings existed and will surely still be around for the future generations to use. Experiments and studies have shown that sign language is not only beneficial to people but to animals to. We’ve lived in a time when communication between human and animals are almost impossible but that barrier was broken by the help of sign language. Inclusiveness and accessibility should be part of designing our future. As we try to cultivate a better world, we must put our prejudice aside about disabilities and differences. Giving people with impairment a way to communicate, a way to express themselves, and a way to be part of the working society is a huge step in creating a more accepting environment.

As technologies are becoming more and more advanced, learning sign languages became easier and more accessible. There are apps that you can download on your phones or computers within seconds and you can already learn how to communicate with sign language. There are thousands of videos on social media sites that are also teaching sign language for free. As an individual, it is our duty to be a part of dismantling discrimination, so if you are wondering when is the right time to learn sing language, the answer is now.

Written by Rashid Mansan