Deborah Cochrane: Why are people so afraid of sign language?

Posted on March 23, 2016

It’s the ‘Dawn of a New-ish Era’, a time when people are moving away from old fashioned ideals and embracing diversity, liberalism is widespread and the young are our saviours.

So imagine my surprise when a University educated, 24 year old told me that her 75 year-old great uncle was ‘deaf and dumb’ and that she couldn’t be bothered learning sign language because ‘what’s the point if I will never use it?’ despite the fact that there is clearly a reason staring her in the face.

No, not me, but a family member. She doesn’t talk to him much because ‘I don’t understand him.’

Imagine the look on my face when when she said,  speaking of door-to-door fundraisers of a Deaf organisation, ‘Why would I give money to people who claim to work for a deaf organisation but can’t sign?’

I was so amazed at the sheer ignorance that spewed forth from her mouth that I had to remember myself and control the unspoken fury waiting to be unleashed from within.

I have had nothing but praise for the younger generation, breaking free of the chains that bound generations before them, embracing change and accepting others for who/what they are but to have my bubble well and truly burst, and, to realise that there were actually some who had those kind of thoughts in their heads, was a bit of an enormous shock.

I ‘assumed’ with the growing awareness of deafness that people were taking more notice of the importance of communication or are people just not making the
connection between disability and communication?

There have been large campaigns from organisations in recent years highlighting living with a hearing loss, great, but what about actual DEAFNESS?

We see ads on the telly for Mental Health illnesses and people no longer think ‘Eh! Lock them up!’

People are now more educated than ever before. We wander into stroke/heart disease charity shops and think ‘I can buy something AND help support the cause.’

We see trainee guide dog puppies misbehaving in the street and think ‘Aw! PUPPIES! Cute AND beneficial!’

People might go out of their way to avoid a blind person with a white stick in case of an embarrassing, physical accident, we’ve all done it, don’t deny it,  but that’s it. No-one avoids them like the plague in case they start doing weird things with their eyes.

These campaigns work, so why aren’t the ones for deafness working?  There have been billboard adverts splashed UK wide showing statistics of how many people have a hearing loss but what about DEAF people, people who use sign language as a way of communicating?

Why is this so alien when more parents are taking their babies to Baby Sign classes because it’s well known that teaching babies to sign boosts communication and social development?

WHY are people so afraid of sign language!

It’s a disappointing realisation, and a smack in the face, but, we must learn from this and consider new ways to educate the masses.

Support Sign Language as a way of communicating by encouraging friends and family to learn.

debDeborah Cochrane is a Belfast resident who immerses herself in literary, art and popular culture. She has worked at Deaf and hearing organisations and has firm opinions on both. When she’s not reading the likes of Diana Athill and watching Asian cinema she spends her time tending to her allotment and quilting.

The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

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