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  • Writer's pictureCODA UK & IRELAND

Why is Sign Language so important?

I have been using British Sign Language (BSL) to talk to my parents and their friends my whole life. I never thought it was anything special- it sometimes felt like effort and frankly I found it rather annoying that people would ask me how to swear in sign language. But as I grew up, I had a serious change in perspective. My previous mindset probably came from growing up with a lot of adults who didn’t see the value of sign language. They insisted that deaf people should learn how to lip read rather than use sign language. And while there are definitely many benefits of being able to lip read, I didn’t agree with that logic but I never said anything in retaliation. As a child, it frustrated me that I had to interpret everything at family gatherings (as no one could understand them) and stick with my parents the whole time rather than play with the other kids. I hated being taken out of school/uni to interpret for them for various meetings. I just desperately wished that my parents could communicate with others and didn’t need me to do so. As I got older, I really started to see just how important sign language was. I became immensely proud of it and even started running classes to teach people at work. I also completed my level 2 qualification in BSL- which was a huge turning point in my own understanding of the language. I started to see it as a depiction of the deaf culture- it was at the heart of the community and something that deaf people are immensely proud of. Sign language was more than about using your hands- it is about your body language and facial expression. It’s about taking the other person on the journey with you as you tell a story through multiple forms. Using sign language allows a deaf person to be part of the conversation, rather than forcing them to the periphery of a group with no clue as to what anyone is saying. Even when a deaf person can lip read, keeping up with a group conversation is extremely difficult and they are easily left out. I absolutely hate it when I am not part of the group conversation but imagine that happening every time you are in a setting with only hearing people. The social isolation that some deaf people can face leads to struggles with depression and anxiety. By even one person in the group using sign language to explain what is going on, it can make a significant difference to make them feel included. Even if you don’t know a deaf person or are unable to pick up a whole new language, learning just a few words can make such a huge difference. My friends have started to learn a few sentences and it makes my mum SO SO HAPPY when she can communicate with them (a lot of love for these people). It can make such a difference to a deaf person when someone takes a little time out to respond in sign language or even simply says thank you in sign. Sign language is also super convenient for talking on a busy train or in a loud nightclub and very few people will understand what you are saying. It is also useful for those who cannot speak or have learning difficulties (although they use Makaton). So today or tomorrow, take a little time out to learn a few phrases- I even left you a little link to help you get started 😊

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