An Open Letter to The Students Who Don’t Sign

Look, I get it. I grew up oral, in a hearing family that doesn’t sign which makes me use strictly spoken English at home. In fact, I actually prefer to use spoken English since I am already accustomed to the language. I didn’t start using ASL until I was in the sixth grade when I moved to a new school that had a deaf program. My signing wasn’t the best due to the fact that I used Signed Exact English (SEE). However, I made a real effort to communicate with my peers. When I arrived at Gallaudet at the age of nineteen, I walked into a whole new world and I was overwhelmed with the culture shock. Even though my signing was poor, I made the effort to communicate with my deaf peers. But there was something I didn’t realize: I was being hurtful to the Deaf Community when I chose to use spoken English rather than use Sign Language.

This realization made a big impact on me. I never understood the importance of sign language, but after five years of being at Gallaudet University, my signing has improved so much due to learning from my deaf peers. They exposed me to the things that I was doing wrong and helped me improve.

I understand that using your voice makes you feel comfortable. Believe me, my voice is what I grew up with, but when you enter a space that isn’t yours, you need to respect it. Gallaudet University prides itself on being an accessible university for everyone which is why people get upset when some students, teachers, or visitors use their voice only and not make the effort to sign with others. Let me remind you of something, this is a Deaf campus. This one of the very few places deaf people can call home, thanks to being able to communicate with everyone they meet. Signing is very important when you’re on Gallaudet’s campus so everyone can understand what you are saying. This prevents mishaps and miscommunication to occur.
If you only know a little bit of ASL, or are very rusty or very slow when you sign, that is perfectly okay. If you make the effort to include everyone in your conversation, it makes a huge difference. There are many students on campus who are willing to teach you how to improve your signing which is what happened to me. It’s the effort that counts for the deaf community, but if you’re speaking in a public space or even trying to be sneaky about it, it’s rude and very discriminatory.

In your private time or you are off-campus, you can speak whenever you please. But if you plan on coming to Gallaudet or even visiting, please have some respect for the culture around you. Turn your voice off and take some ASL classes before coming. Don’t be afraid to use the little sign you know as the effort is what makes all the difference. Besides, having your peers teach you proper ASL is one of the best ways to learn and make some amazing friends on this beautiful and historical campus.

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2 Responses to “An Open Letter to The Students Who Don’t Sign”

  1. Gina
    December 19, 2017 at 9:03 PM #

    When I was at Gallaudet in the late 70’s and early 80’s, many of us who are hard of hearing, tend to use our voice often whether it is while signing or not and we never had anyone object to it. Seems Gallaudet is different today. Many hard of hearing have deaf families, like mine who are culturally deaf. I would be upset if someone told me I can’t use my voice on campus. 😉

    • Rebecca Clayton
      December 19, 2017 at 9:30 PM #

      Hello Gina,

      Thank you for your comment and incite on my article! I understand where you care coming from and in fact, I do encourage hard of hearing students to use their voices (as a CI user with a loud voice, I’m always talking about something haha) but my issue is when students or anyone come onto this campus and not use ASL at all.

      I’m perfectly okay with SimCom personally as many are comfortable with both. It’s more about those kids who walk onto this campus and not use ASL at all, discriminating and putting up barriers around their deaf peers. There are many times I go out on campus and not have my CIs on so it’s very frustrating when people voice to me and not use ASL at the same time. That is more what I am upset about.

      I am all for deaf voices (even though I have gotten told to not use mine) but for me, as long as you sign with your voice, I’m a happy camper 🙂

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