The World Federation of the Deaf celebrates September 23rd as the International Day of Sign Languages. The organization promotes sign language among deaf communities, governments and public gatherings to recognize and promote sign language as an essential human right.
American Sign Language is a non-spoken language with the same linguistic properties as spoken languages. ASL is expressed by movements of the hands and face. The earlier a child is exposed to and begins to acquire language, the better that child’s language, cognitive and social development will become. Newborns are tested for hearing before they leave the hospital.
More than 90 percent of deaf children have hearing parents. Most users of ASL learn language from ASL teachers, not their parents. For those who are not deaf or hearing impaired our exposure to sign language usually comes when government officials hold press conferences and a sign language interpreter presents ASL for the audience. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that state and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public communicate effectively with people with communication disabilities. This is particularly critical when information relayed pertains to public safety.
For the hearing impaired, sign language is a language whereas closed captions repeats spoken dialog. ASL users report that captions distract from the program and often do not accurately follow the actual dialog. Detail and nuance are captured with sign language that cannot be expressed with sub-titles. For the pre-lingual deaf, sign language is their first language and they may not follow captions as well as sign language. For the post-lingual deaf, they may not be as familiar with sign language and they benefit more from closed captions. In order to effectively communicate with the hearing impaired, both mediums should be used.