Learning Description One


Sign Language
Name: Sue Sample
Title of Learning: Sign Language
Credits Requested: 4

My first exposure to deafness and to the methods used with the hearing impaired to achieve successful communication came about when I joined the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). As part of my new staff training, I completed Basic Communication I, a 40-hour classroom course in sign language provided by NTID. Additionally, I took 25 hours of Basic Communication II and completed 15 hours of programmed videotaped instruction in the self-instruction lab. The new staff training also included orientation programs on aspects of deafness and an overview of the resources for the deaf at NTID. Beyond this initial training, I participated in a 12-hour, cross-cultural workshop focusing on communication problems between deaf and hearing people.

The type of communication which I learned at NTID is known as “total communication.” This involves using every avenue of communication possible to enable the recipient to understand the message.

Specific areas of my knowledge about deafness include the psychosocial impact of deafness, the different communication needs of the deaf and the corresponding combinations of verbal/nonverbal communications possible with them and the variables which affect an individual’s ability to communicate. I came to understand that there is no typical deaf person because of many variables, including intelligence, personality, family/home life, age of onset of deafness, education, amount of residual hearing and listening, speech, reading and oral abilities.

My learning does have some limitations; for example, I do not have any knowledge of the medical causes of deafness, nor the treatments of deafness that exist, including the prescribing and functioning of hearing aid devices. However, I have learned about the methods of assessing a deaf student’s communication skills and potential, as based on determinations of the student’s internal language system. This is done through testing and “E” scores. “E” scores are “English” scores and are a combination of reading comprehension and written language scores. I also have learned to communicate via signing skills, such as dactylogy (or fingerspelling), linguistic features and core vocabulary of sign language and voice techniques, mime and body language, all of which are components of total communication. During the time that I worked with students on a daily basis, I built up a high level of vocabulary and receptive abilities. Since moving to an area of NTID with no student contact, my vocabulary has gone back to a survival level, but I have not found that my ability to communicate with the deaf has been seriously affected.

Through my experience, I have come to believe that of the factors which have an impact upon the deaf person’s ability to communicate, the most serious of all is the age at the onset of deafness. Prelingual deafness, impairment that occurs before the acquisition of language (about age 3), causes the most difficulties for communication. Some educators feel that the development of language concepts, the framework for learning to speak, read and write, must be developed in early childhood. If someone is cut off from language during the first several years of life, he may never succeed in developing language skills later. Because there is substantial preliminary evidence that this is true, a total communication approach is now being taken with very young hearing-impaired children. I continue to follow the reports on success in this area.

I found that mastery of sign language fluctuates for the hearing individual depending on the amount of interaction with deaf people and the need to communicate daily in sign language. Feeling at ease with the deaf and comfortable with the physical requirements of the total communication mode of sign language is similar to mastering the structure and grammar of any language. Once the rules are known, vocabulary is easily acquired.

Perhaps even more importantly, I have gained through this experience skills in communication in general, not only in communicating with the deaf. What I learned has carried over into oral presentation skills. Speaking effectively to any audience becomes much easier after experiencing total communication training. In reviewing the materials that I had from Basic Communication I, I found the following quotation in my notes: “It is not important how you communicate; it is only important that you do communicate.” Nothing could have taught me the truth of this statement better than my experience with total communication.

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