American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual language used by many members of the Deaf community in the United States and Canada. While ASL is a language in its own right, it is not a universal language. American Sign Language is also specific to the Deaf community.
As the National Association of the Deaf has pointed out, many hearing people have taken it upon themselves to teach ASL to others, with only limited proficiency and without regard for the harm that this can cause to the Deaf signing community.
There are several reasons why hearing people should leave the teaching of American Sign Language to Deaf people. Here are a few reasons:
Deaf-Friendly Reason #1
Hearing people teaching ASL is problematic because it is not their language. The Deaf community considers ASL as their language, which has a strong connection to their cultural identity. Deaf people have developed this language over generations, and it represents an essential part of their history and heritage.
When hearing people attempt to teach ASL, they are taking ownership of something that is not theirs to claim. This can be deeply offensive to members of the Deaf community and can contribute to a continued sense of erasure and marginalization.
Deaf-Friendly Reason #2
Hearing people teaching ASL are often profiting off of it whether it is visibility, fame or even monetary. Many hearing people charge money to teach ASL classes. This is particularly concerning because it reinforces the power dynamic between hearing and Deaf people. By profiting off of ASL, hearing people are further exploiting the Deaf community and using their language for personal gain.
Deaf-Friendly Reason #3
Hearing people who teach ASL can often make mistakes and teach incorrect signs. This is because ASL is a complex language with its own grammar and syntax, and it is not simply a direct translation of English. American Sign Language is a living language that is always evolving. If you are not a member of the Deaf community, chances are you are not on trend with the signs used for certain vocabulary. In addition, when hearing people who are not fluent in ASL teach signs that are incorrect or outdated, it creates confusion and frustration for members of the Deaf community who rely on ASL for communication.
One solution is for hearing people to recognize that ASL is not their language to teach. Instead, they can support the Deaf community by amplifying their work and advocating for their rights. Hearing people can take the time to educate themselves about ASL and Deaf culture. Then, they can work to build authentic relationships with Deaf people.
If you’re a hearing person that wants to learn ASL, seek out classes and resources that are taught by Deaf people. This can ensure that they are learning the language in a way that is respectful and accurate. By supporting Deaf-led organizations and businesses, hearing people can help to shift the power dynamic in favor of the Deaf community.
In conclusion, hearing people teaching ASL can cause harm to the Deaf community by appropriating their language, profiting off of it, and teaching incorrect signs. It is important for hearing people to recognize the cultural significance of ASL and work to support the Deaf community in a respectful and collaborative way. By doing so, we can create a more inclusive and equitable society for all.
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