Tag Archive for: American Sign Language
Did you know? September is Deaf Awareness Month! Launched in 1958 by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), the initiative celebrates the history, cultures, and communities of deaf people around the world. It corresponds with the International Week of Deaf People and the International Day of Sign Languages.
International Week of Deaf People 2021 (September 20th – 26th)
While the entire month is dedicated to recognizing deaf people and their contributions, the International Week of Deaf People is of particular importance. The week, which commemorates the first World Congress of the WDF, focuses on the triumphs of deaf people and the challenges they still face.
This year, events will be hosted worldwide from Monday, September 20th to Sunday, September 26th. Daily themes include:
- Cherishing Deaf History – Monday, September 20th
- Sustainable Deaf Leadership –Tuesday, September 21st
- Sign Languages for All Deaf Learners – Wednesday, September 22nd
- We Sign for Human Rights – Thursday, September 23rd (This is also International Day of Sign Languages).
- Intersectional Deaf Communities – Friday, September 24th
- Deaf Culture and Arts – Saturday, September 25th
- Human Rights in Times of Crisis – Sunday, September 26th
All members of the worldwide deaf community are welcome to participate, including families of the deaf, sign language interpreters, and members of human rights and disability rights organizations.
How You Can Support Deaf Communities
If there are no events near you, there are still plenty of ways you can get involved and support your local deaf community. Below are just eight possibilities:
- Start learning sign language. (You can sign up for free lessons here).
- Share information about sign language families, including Black American and indigenous
- Follow Deaf YouTube creators and share their content on social media. Don’t forget to include #IWDP and #IDSL in your posts.
- Support deaf-owned businesses.
- Advocate for deaf accessibility in your community.
- Advocate for the use of Certified Deaf Interpreters at work or within your community.
- Volunteer at a nonprofit that assists the deaf or advocates for disability rights.
- Contact your representatives to advocate for the rights of deaf people.
Bonus: If you know someone who is deaf, ask them about their experiences. Simply being willing to listen and learn about the deaf experience can go a long way to bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds.
How are you planning to celebrate Deaf Awareness Month? Let us know in the comments!
American Sign Language (ASL) has a complicated history in the U.S. Prior to 1817, hearing families of deaf children relied on informal signs to communicate. That changed for some when Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet opened the American School for the Deaf that same year. Adopting the methods of the National Institute for Deaf Children of Paris, he helped create a formal signing system for deaf students. But deaf African American children were excluded from receiving an education.
The Origin of Black American Sign Language (BASL)
While white children could learn ASL as early as 1817, it wasn’t until after the Civil War that African American children could do the same. In 1869, the North Carolina School for the Negro Deaf and Blind opened to serve the community. However, due to segregation, the students began learning a distinct form of ASL that would one day be known as Black American Sign Language.
Although school segregation was ruled unlawful in 1954, many schools in the American South remained largely segregated into the 1970s. That meant deaf African American students who lived in the region continued learning BASL.
Today, deaf African American students attend integrated schools and learn to use ASL in formal settings. Yet many still prefer to use BASL among family, friends, and within their community.
How BASL Differs From ASL
The two languages are mutually intelligible, but BASL has a few distinct features. These include using:
- Larger signing spaces, which means signs are produced further away from the body.
- Two-handed variants of signs.
- More facial expressions.
- African American slang.
- More repetition.
To see for yourself, check out this two-minute video with Charmay, the 22-year-old deaf TikToker who went viral.
Interpreting for BASL
In some settings, an ASL interpreter with a background in BASL can more accurately interpret between sign language and English. That’s because an understanding of the cultural differences and nuances of BASL helps ensure no information is lost. Church services and Hip-hop concerts are just two types of events where BASL interpreting makes all the difference.
Preserving BASL for Future Generations
Unfortunately, BASL hasn’t always received the respect and recognition it deserves. Even today, ASL is often considered the standard for deaf signers.
As Carolyn McCaskill, a professor at Gallaudet University told ABC News, “White is right—that’s what I thought. That was what was prevalent.” A deaf sign language user herself, she wants to change that perception. McCaskill has already written a book titled The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL and is the founding director of Gallaudet’s Center for Black Deaf students.
Organizations such as the North Carolina Black Deaf Advocates (NCBDA) have also developed programming that fosters and protects BASL as well as members of the community.
So, what can you do to help it alive? By spreading the world about BASL and its unique culture, we can all help debunk the myth that it’s an inferior form of sign language!
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