Deaf-Centered Topics

When you learn to sign, you fight loneliness

This is not a post for the deaf community. This is not a post for parents of the deaf, or interpreters, or anyone already involved with us, though you may agree with I have to say here and it may apply to you.

This is really a post for (just about) every hearing person in the world and why I feel strongly that you should learn to sign FOR YOURSELF. I write this because I don’t think most people plan for the future of their ability to hear.

You’re hearing right now, perhaps with perfect hearing, and you aren’t thinking about the day that may come when you’re older and your hearing begins to go. Sometimes, sometimes it goes completely, and leaves you unprepared. Sometimes it goes, and leaves you lonely, isolated, and possibly bitter.

I don’t want that for you. I don’t want that for anyone.

You think: well, I’ll just get a hearing aid. I’ll get one of those cochlear implants. I’ll get some kind of cool technology. They’ll cure deafness by then. If you bother to think of this at all, those are some of the things you may think. Note that I use the word “may” because I know there are those who are more prepared for this possibility.

I want to ask you right now: do you really want to hinge all of your hopes on one idea? Do you really want to put all your eggs in one basket?

SL-optionI’ve lost count of how many Senior Citizens have told me how they have become withdrawn after losing their hearing late in life. They spent their lives hearing, never giving much thought to the possibility of losing it one day. They got hearing aids at first, and felt reassured. Then the hearing aids, almost inevitably, one day no longer worked. Suddenly there is the realization: how do I communicate?

And you may think: Well. It’s a pain, but I could write back and forth.

You could. But let me tell you, from my own experience: far too many people are impatient about writing notes back and forth. Far too many. I deal with this all the time. It is rare to come across a person willing to write notes with you, let alone have a conversation on paper with you.

Truth be told, one of the aspects of the internet that I genuinely love is how it removes a lot of barriers, because we’re all typing back and forth. We do it in e-mails, chat rooms, Facebook, and so on. And then there’s phones, and TEXTing! yes, I love these options.

They don’t replace face-to-face communication. They cannot. You (probably) do not want to be spending your later years texting your life partner in the same room.

Hearing aids break. Cochlear implants break or are upgraded, making yours potentially obsolete. Repairs and replacements are expensive. Right now, I don’t personally know of any insurance companies that cover hearing aids, and it’s an ordeal to replace a cochlear implant or the processor.

You likely will have your hands when you’re older and hopefully you’ll be able to use them for communication. This is why I think you should learn to sign, starting today. One phrase at a time until something clicks inside and you accept this language as one that you’ll continue to use. One that you’ll maintain by interacting with us, the deaf community, so that you never forget.

And here you think: well, I could learn to sign when I’m older.

It’s not impossible. It’s just difficult. The older we get, the more difficult it is. Now is the time, right now, while it is somewhat easier.

If it is hard to learn, it is hard to learn. But you can do it, if you want to do it.
If you don’t know where the deaf socials are, find out. What you don’t practice, you forget.

Let Sign Language be there for you when you are older. You can still get your hearing aids, your cochlear implants, your whatever-you-like, but let sign language be one of your resources. It is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give to yourself, because you are fighting isolation. You are fighting the potential for becoming withdrawn, lonely, or bitter.

Use it when you go out to a restaurant and you want a more private conversation. Use it when you’re at a concert and it’s so loud that you can’t hear your friends. Use it when you’re across a crowded room and you’re trying to tell your spouse that you’re stuck talking to someone who’s making you insane and you want her to rescue you. Use it when you’re trying to communicate with your partner when the kids are in the room and you don’t want them to hear that you’re going to watch The Walking Dead later tonight. Just use it whenever you have the opportunity, and yes, use it to communicate with deaf people.

You are embracing another avenue for communication that can be far more accessible than you ever thought.

I’ll add, on a somewhat selfish note, that the more of you that learn sign language when you really don’t have to learn it will be making the world more accessible for those of us that are already deaf.

Please consider it. One phrase a day and seek out people to practice with, and you will be rewarded.

Then one day, if you do happen to become deaf, then you’ll be able to use your ability to communicate with others. Hopefully you’ll have gotten your family to join you in this goal, and you will not feel isolated. You will not withdraw from others, but engage in meaningful conversations through the use of sign language.

Stop saying you sign badly
I can’t always lip-read you, and please stop shouting
I’m not ignoring you, I’m deaf

By J. Parrish Lewis

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

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