Making Stronger Communities with Sign Language Accessibility

By Sara Porcaro | Jan 19, 2022
American Sign Language, Internship, Interpreter, ASL, Deaf, DHOH, Rhode Island, Disabilities
Jennifer at Home

The things that make up any culture across the world are things we might take for granted. Food we eat, music we listen to, stories we tell and the languages we use to tell them, are all examples--and language, especially, acts as a sort of linchpin holding it all together. That's why the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHOH) Department at Perspectives is so important. For DHOH individuals we serve, and for our greater community, we strive to provide access to a cornerstone of Deaf culture: American Sign Language (ASL).
As Joanne Cripps writes, "language and culture are inseparable," and for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in the USA, ASL is that language, carrying with it one of the many foundations of Deaf culture: clear communication and expression. Without access to communication, one loses their autonomy, their access to quality services in larger society, and their ability to make major decisions about their lives, as they can't communicate their needs or goals with others around them. For Deaf people, who communicate through a language different from spoken English, this means relying on interpreters at events and appointments, and where there are no interpreters or ASL signers available, it often means being left in the dark.
"Where I lived before, no one signed, and while I can read lips, I couldn't really talk to anyone there," signs Jennifer, who now receives supports in a fully ASL-friendly home with Perspectives. "I like to chat in my language [ASL], and it was frustrating not being able to express myself or understand what hearing people were saying."
Jennifer moved into her ASL-based home a few years ago, which is fitted with accommodations like flashing cameras and lights to know when someone is calling on video phone or ringing the doorbell. Since then, Jennifer has been able to improve her signing and work towards realizing her goals with professionals who understand her language. She's made new friends, boosted her confidence, and been able to take charge of her day-to-day life as she plans her future. Joining her each day are professionals like DSP Mentor Dottie Griffith, who is also Deaf, standing by her as an advocate both in her home life and in the community.
"I want to be there for [the people I support] and make sure they get to have all these great experiences in their community."
"When I was growing up, there wasn't nearly so much access to ASL as there is now," signs Dottie, "and it led to a lot of problems. Even today, I have to do a lot of educating when we go out to eat or shop. But I want the people I support to have that access to language; I want to be there for them and make sure they get to have all these great experiences in their community."
And of course, when access to language is limited, it makes it easy to feel isolated from others, especially since so many people in mainstream social spaces don't know ASL. But the DHOH professionals at Perspectives are dedicated to ensuring that everyone has access to communication, and the ASL classes Perspectives offer, hosted by Deaf teachers who are fluent both in ASL and Deaf culture, mean that anyone can learn. Some of Jennifer's friends, like Bayley, have started to learn ASL to make their time together all the more enjoyable with open conversation--and there's nothing better than knowing one's friends are making an effort to connect with them in the language they know best.
"I'm doing so much better now," Jennifer signs, "and I'm really looking forward to everything I've got planned. I'm happy here, and I'm hoping to keep getting more independent."
Of course, there's still a lot of work to be done in creating more ASL-friendly spaces. With times ever changing, Perspectives stays working to see that the world continues to move towards including everyone. And from ASL interpreting on live announcements, like the COVID-19 briefings from the Rhode Island government, to private businesses like Starbucks opening up entire cafés staffed by baristas fluent in ASL, it's clear that changes are more and more being made to create more access to language for all.
Interested in learning ASL or joining our team? Follow Perspectives to see when our ASL class schedules open for registration and check out our Careers page!


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