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How Do Individuals Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing Communicate?

Published on July 10, 2018 by Victor Collazo

Victor-ASL-Interpreter (1)

In addition to running CyraCom’s ASL Center. Victor Collazo is a student of Deaf culture. Victor is a nationally certified, professional American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. He holds a Master-level National Interpreter Certification, and has more than ten years' experience interpreting for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. 

Over the years, Victor has provided CyraCom and our clients with valuable insights into the nuances of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Here, he dispels a popular myth: that those who are deaf share a common language:

Not all Deaf people communicate in American Sign Language.

Estimates of ASL users vary from 100,000 to 2 million in the United States, and many adults who become deaf late in life never learn ASL. As a result, when ASL interpreters first meet a patient, they pay close attention to assess which methods the deaf or hard-of-hearing person uses to communicate. These include:

1. American Sign Language

ASL is the official language of the deaf and hard of hearing community in the United States. Like any verbal language, ASL has its own grammar and syntax. All US interpreters for the deaf are trained in ASL.

2. Signed English

English Sign Language (ESL) is a derivative or adaptation of ASL. Standard ASL uses a grammar and syntax all its own, which can be quite different from spoken English. ESL uses the same signs as ASL but reorders them to comport with conventional English grammatical rules. ESL is primarily used to help deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals learn English.

3. Rochester Method

Coined by Zenas Westervelt, a deaf educator from the New York School for the Deaf in Rochester, this method was designed to replace sign language and encourage English-only communication through manual spelling. Practitioners of the Rochester Method use hand signs to spell every word in English, one letter at a time. For a time, teachers and students were restricted to using the Rochester Method to communicate. But by the 1960s, most schools had abandoned it; teachers and students alike refused to use it due to its tedious and time-consuming nature.

4. Home Signs

Most deaf children aren’t born to deaf people – more than 90% are raised by hearing parents. Many of those hearing parents – as many as 88% of hearing parents with one deaf child – never learn ASL. To communicate, these families often invent “home signs” – representations which naturally differ from family to family. These signs often prove incomprehensible to those who understand ASL, demonstrating the importance of deaf children receiving language acquisition training during early childhood development.

Now that you’re familiar with various ways deaf and hard-of-hearing patients may communicate, check out Victor’s full presentation on working with the community and the role of video interpretation:

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