Sign Language: a necessity

With the latest press conferences about the coronavirus, there is one thing that came into the attention of society as well: sign language. Every day we communicate with our words, but the media lately made a lot of people realise that sign language is actually really important. Nina Brom tells us more about this topic.

Sign language is all around us. Just not always as extensively as in the deaf community. In our daily lives we show a finger when we are annoyed and show a different finger when we think someone did well. Here in the Netherlands there are more than a million people that are either deaf or hard of hearing. Many of those people use sign language but not a lot of people know what it means to use sign and the amazing community that surrounds it. Many people think many things, but not all of it is true. Here is a small introduction to deaf people and sign language.

Firstly, sign language is not a universal language, there is NGT (Nederlandse Gebarentaal) here in the Netherlands, the USA has ASL (American Sign language) and most other countries have one or more sign languages that are used.  In the Netherlands, there are five general dialects. These originated in the five schools for deaf children. There was little interaction between schools and every place had its own signs. Now NGT is mostly standardised and the dialects have a smaller impact on sign in general. Sign language gives an opportunity to communicate when a spoken language is harder to understand or too difficult to speak.

Something else that people get wrong is how speech does not equal intelligence. Some deaf people speak, some do not. As hearing people, we usually judge based on how someone speaks and if someone has an accent because they are deaf, we assume they are not capable with anything else. This happens so much and should really change. There are smart and stupid people, with deaf and with hearing people. Deaf people are usually so much more perceptive since they rely on visual cues to see what is going on and to see how people are feeling. 

In recent times more and more films and series are made where deaf people are included and where sign language is used. For example, ‘Switched at Birth’, where a lot of deaf people were cast. Also, movies like ‘A Quiet Place’ have brought more visibility to sign language, and rightfully so. Sign language is amazing to watch and even more fun to use. It is important to represent people, so they have someone to look up to. The last month or so has proven again that we need to erase our bias and look at people for who they are, not for what they have or look like.

Sign language is a necessity for many people. Yet so little is known outside the community. There are many families on YouTube as well that try to show their life and how sign language works for them. If you are interested, search for them and support them. Or watch a series or film that gives insight in the deaf community and sign language. There are many things to watch and enjoy, while learning something new at the same time.

Author: Nina Brom

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