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The Importance of American Sign Language

Updated: Apr 1

The Beginning

One of the most precious things in life is when people from different backgrounds can come together and relate. Growing up in South Florida, I was never exposed to much diversity. Not in regards to race or gender, but a lack of diversity in the sense that everyone acted according to the same standard. I have always had a soft spot for people who felt on the outside, those who felt different. This passion for inclusion started at an elementary age when I started volunteering at Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center. Here, people from all ages with disabilities develop their verbal, cognitive, and motor skills through the use of Hippotherapy (horse assisted therapy). As a volunteer, I was mainly responsible for preparing the horses for lessons and their general upkeep as well as assisting in lessons with patients. Over time I began to develop close relationships with the riders. One child I could not get as close to due to communication problems. This negatively affected me because I felt like I was excluding that child from making memories with the fun and crazy volunteer (me). This child was fully deaf. I took it upon myself to learn the American Sign Language Alphabet and how sign “Hi, how are you?” I will never forget when I first signed to that child. He knew that I had spent the time which made him feel valued and important.

High School

This love for inclusion blossomed when I became a student at Oxbridge Academy high school, they offered sign language! Finally, I was able to expand my knowledge and learn from a fully deaf individual. We learned communication skills and structure, as well as a lot about deaf culture. In my second year, a summer service trip was being offered for only twelve students and I knew I had to go. The trip consisted of going to the Dominican Republic with Starkey, a hearing aid company, and providing people with the ability to hear again with free hearing aids. When we got to the site, the line for hearing aids was never ending…it would be three days of service.

The People

Spanish Sign Language is different than American Sign Language, yet there is are many similarities due to the structure of signing what things physically look like. I met all different types of people on this trip, and they all had the same happy reaction to my ability to communicate with them. One little girl I put hearing aids in had never heard before. She got an infection when she was a baby that led to her losing her hearing. She kept looking at me and you could tell she was very shy and scared. As soon as I activated her hearing aids, she reacted in a complete 180. Immediately, she stood up and charged at me with a hug. Her mother started speaking to her daughter and then got so choked up and started sobbing. She could not stop hugging me, and she told the Spanish translator that this was the first time her daughter heard her voice. Hearing is something most of us take for granted; I got to see life after life change with just a little bit of my help. Sign language has built me the bridge of understanding and appreciating how lucky I am. I believe sign language is a skill that everyone should learn, imagine being used to no one understanding you or assuming you are less than due to your inability to verbally communicate.

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