Is ASL the 3rd or 4th Most Used Language in USA?

I often hear that American Sign Language (ASL) is the "third most common language in the United States".

I find this hard to believe when I encounter other languages on a daily basis far more than ASL. I hardly ever see others use ASL when I am out and about, unless I am near a school for the deaf or a community of signers. If I am not with my friends who sign or if I am not looking for signers, I will maybe meet one or two people who actually use ASL or some sort of sign language, within an entire year. Also, I encounter more people using other forms of sign language other than ASL (SEE, PSE, more English like signing).

I doubt the claim that ASL is the third or fourth most used language in the United States. I have to wonder why there are many people stating that ASL is the third or fourth most common language without thinking about where this information came from.

The only information I could find on this is from Gallaudet's Library's FAQ (2004 online source). Here is an excerpt from this site:

American Sign Language (ASL) is commonly said to be "the fourth most-used language in the United States" (alternatively phrased as "the third most-used non-English language in the U.S."). This claim has been around since the early 1970s. We have seen an assertion that this comes from research done for the Bilingual Courts Act of 1974, which supposedly established that ASL was the fourth most-used language in the U.S. However, we have been unable to locate this research, or any citation to it, for verification.

And another excerpt:

In any case, the relative rankings of languages decades ago are not necessarily the same as the rankings after the beginning of the 21st Century. Harlan Lane, Robert Hoffmeister, and Ben Bahan say, in A journey into the deaf-world (San Diego, Calif.: DawnSignPress, 1996, p.42):

ASL is the language of a sizeable minority. Estimates range from 500,000 to two million speakers in the U.S. alone; there are also many speakers in Canada. Compared to data from the Census Bureau, which counts other language minorities, ASL is the leading minority language in the U.S. after the "big four": Spanish, Italian, German, and French.

In other words, according to Lane, Hoffmeister and Bahan, ASL is currently the sixth most-used language in the U.S., or the fifth most-used non-English language in the U.S. Read More . . .

On this website, they provide information from the Census Bureau and other sources. If we were to learn that 2,000,000 Americans use ASL, it would fall behind Spanish and Chinese, making it the third most used language, according to the information collected from the Census Bureau in 2000. However, if it is more likely that 500,000 people in the United States are ASL users, then it would be the twelfth most used language falling behind Portuguese. Unfortunately, the Census Bureau did not include ASL when they surveyed languages. Yet, an almanac using this information from the Census Bureau repeats the common idea that ASL "is the fourth most used language in the United States today." (Gallaudet Library FAQ, 2004).

There seems to be a lot of confusion and lack of information about how many people actually use ASL in the United States.

Is there any new information about this?

I would be interested to know just how many people are currently using ASL in the United States. If it is as commonly used as Chinese and Spanish, why am I not seeing more ASL users? I encounter more Spanish and Chinese languages in a week than ASL or signed languages in a year.

It does not really matter if we ever find out how many people actually use ASL or signed languages. But, it would be nice to see more people sign.

What do you think? Any information about this?



Phone Interviews: What Do You Do?

You have been asked to conduct a phone interview about an available position with a company you would love to work for! But. . . you have a hearing loss and you are nervous and unsure about how you will perform over the phone.

What do you do? How do you handle this?

Of course it depends on your type of hearing loss, your personality, and how you typically communicate with others using the phone.

In the past, I will let the person doing the phone interview know that I have a hearing loss. I have been lucky to have people understand and ask if there is anything they can do to help (if there is no way we can do an interview in person or via webcam). I thought the phone interviews I did went well. There were a few times I had to ask the interviewers to repeat themselves, which was not an issue, because they understood that I have a problem with hearing.

But, I think now with the neck loop and phone captioning system, it should be a lot easier to deal with phone interviews, but I will still tell the person on the phone that I have a hearing loss. I think letting others know is very important. And if they don't understand and are unwilling to accommodate you, then you probably would not want to work for them anyway.


Waiting for the Elevator Makes Me Anxious

Photograph from Flickr, by Jeff Tabaco

While some people may have anxiety about being trapped on an elevator, sometimes I have anxiety about waiting for an elevator by myself.

I noticed, while at the HLAA Convention in DC, that I have this anxiety. I never really noticed it before. It has been a while since I was required to take the elevator several times a day, as I went back and forth to my room and the events being held at the hotel.

When there are several elevators, on both sides of the foyer (like in the picture above), it is hard for me to know which one will open if I can't see all of them, because I have trouble hearing the high pitch 'ding.' Sometimes I can hear it, but I worry that I will not hear it and will miss the elevator. I know I can't hear the doors opening, unless I was concentrating super hard. Listening for the little 'ding' sound and perhaps the door opening is stressful. Me constantly looking around at the elevators, looking for the light to come on and to see which one will open is annoying.

What I usually end up doing is wait at the end of the hall of elevators, so that I am able to see all of them. This way I don't have to look around for the light and doors opening.

Anyone else feel the same? Or is it just me?


*By the way, I will be writing about my experiences at the HLAA Convention when I get back home from visiting my family in Virginia. I still have not fully recovered from all of the excitement. You can read about my experiences at the HLAA Convention blog.

The Soup Pokes Fun at a Scene from 'Switched At Birth'

E!'s The Soup played a clip from ABC's 'Switched At Birth' Season 1, Episode 1, and pointed out its silliness. I did not really notice this part, before. Watching it again, it is hard not to laugh at it. The scene in question is around time marker, 15:10 or 15 minutes into the show.

In this scene, Daphne's biological father takes her to her home, in what some people may call the 'wrong side of the tracks'. As he pulls up to her house you can hear the sirens of an ambulance and various noises. Then when they say goodbye and she walks away to her house, he yells after her that she forgot her sweater, and of course she did not respond, being that she is deaf. Then suddenly as it dawns on him that she is deaf, he starts to hear and notice certain sounds. First, an ice cream truck goes by (even though it is in the middle of the night) playing its musical jingle, then you hear a helicopter flying overhead, then a dog barking, and then a train. Everything sounded super loud. Why was there an ice cream truck driving by in the middle of the night? Is this typical?

Don't forget that tonight is 'Switched At Birth', playing at 9:00 p.m./8:00 p.m. central on ABC Family. I am looking forward to it. 


Most Likely a Language Issue Not Cognitive

Sometimes I will have to explain to some people that being deaf or hard of hearing is not a cognitive issue, that is of course if the deaf or hard of hearing person understands language and has access to fluent and consistent language like everyone else. I don't necessarily think that deaf and hard of hearing people think or learn differently from everyone else. If they are taught in a language that they understand and have equal and full access to, learning should not be a problem. I don't think many deaf and hard of hearing children struggle with reading because of cognitive problems, but because of lack of exposure to sounds and perhaps language (if spoken language is clearly not working or a visual system or sign language is not used with them or used inconsistently). Think about it, how is the average profoundly deaf child supposed to learn language, if their family and teachers are unable to effectively communicate with this child? Then how is a child suppose to learn and do well in school with little understanding of language?

Some of the deaf and hard of hearing students I work with struggle in academics. Some have learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities, some lack motivation, and some have difficult personal lives, making it hard for them to do well in school. Plenty of their hearing peers struggle with academics for a variety of reasons as well. From what I have seen and experienced, the deaf and hard of hearing students usually struggle more than their typically hearing peers due to accommodation issues and lack of understanding from their teachers.

For the deaf and hard of hearing students who are bright, highly motivated, have not been diagnosed as having a learning disorder, or come from stable families, it seems as if the lack of exposure to consistent natural language, during their early years (0-5 years or older), plays a big role in how they do in school or in learning certain academic subjects.

If you do not have the luxury of consistently and naturally picking up ongoing conversations around you from day one, you are going to struggle with learning language later in life. Language is important. If you do not understand language or do not have strong language skills, taking in new information and understanding what is being said or read is going to be a task. For example, if you do not know the names for each season (fall, winter, spring, and summer) and the meaning of each, you will have a difficult time answering reading comprehension questions from a reading passage about the four seasons. If you do not understand how past tense works in the English language, you will have a hard time writing a short essay in English about what you did during summer or what you did last night. If you do not know how past tense works in American Sign Language, you are going to have a hard time understanding someone explaining to you what they did last week in ASL.

I had a student who struggled with understanding how to answer basic questions in English such as "What did you do last night?" She had trouble with language due to her significant hearing loss (which was not properly diagnosed until much later in life) and other reasons (family, background, education, mother does not speak or understand English, etc.). But, it was obvious to me that she was an extremely bright and talented child. She just lacked language skills. I thought that her difficulties with academics was probably not due to problems with cognition. I thought that all she had to do was improve her language skills and catch up with her same aged peers in language. If she understood the language, she was able to answer the questions correctly without any problems. So, I decided to treat her more like an ESL student. The more her language skills improved, the better she became at academics in all areas. In addition, it helped with her self esteem and social skills because she was able to communicate with her friends better.

Another student I worked with did not improve academically until he was exposed to sign language and started learning it in kindergarten. He became more confident and better behaved in class once he finally had a way to communicate his thoughts. He began to understand much of what was being taught to him. And because he did so well with sign language and was finally able to express himself coherently, we learned that he had a clever sense of humor and that he was extremely intelligent.

Of course, I can only speculate that some of my students' problems with academics is a language issue, not cognitive. But, it makes the most sense to me at the moment.

I am always surprised at how some people never consider language being the issue and that being deaf or hard of hearing is not the reason why so many seem to have cognitive issues. I think it makes a tremendous difference with how they are able to effectively access and understand language.

If everyone knew sign language and were fluent in it, I believe we would not be having much of the problems we presently experience in deaf education. If everyone knew sign language along with spoken language, deaf and hard of hearing students would not necessarily have to be referred to special education. If teachers, family members, neighbors, celebrities, and everyone else know and use sign language consistently and fluently, I think many of the problems we face in deaf education would dissipate.

However, I do not think that, given the fact that presently not everyone uses and know sign language, simply asking each family to learn and use sign language and expecting them to do so would solve the problem. Now, if everyone in the entire world uses sign language, this would not be an issue. However, keep in mind, when advocating for families to use ASL or sign language with their deaf child, where these families are located, their socio-economic status, what kind of lives they lead, their commitment to learning sign language and to try to use it consistently, and the resources and support they have access to. I would totally understand why some parents would want to look at other options, other than sign language, particularly if they live in a rural area where no one signs, where there are no schools for the deaf, and no signing deaf people. Other methods can work too. It just depends on the child and his or her situation.

Until everyone learns to sign, educating deaf and hard of hearing children will continue to be a challenging and daunting task. 


Check Out Incredible Short Film "My Song"

I just watched My Song by C & B Films for BSLBT, directed by William Mager and written by Charlie Swinbourne. Big thanks to bloggers Amy Cohen Efron and Tina for sharing this film on their blogs. 

It is a coming of age story touching on identity issues, which most deaf and hard of hearing people can relate to, including myself. I absolutely loved it. It is a well made film. Absolutely brilliant. The acting was excellent, it was not maudlin, and it did a great job depicting a person trying to find her place as a deaf person new to sign language. It even brought some tears to my eyes. 

I encourage you to check it out. It is just under 25 minutes long.

(via billster 1977)


Is There a Link Between Hearing Loss and Dementia?

Someone sent me a link to an article from Johns Hopkins Medicine discussing the possibility of hearing loss being linked to dementia. For some reason, it seems as if seniors with hearing loss are more likely to suffer from dementia. The article states that no one is for sure whether hearing loss is associated with dementia or if hearing loss somehow causes dementia.

But, if there is a link between the two it could possibly be because of two reasons. One, those who develop hearing loss as they get older tend to be more socially isolated and less active. Two, perhaps "the strain of decoding sounds over the years may overwhelm the brains of people with hearing loss, leaving them more vulnerable to dementia" (2nd paragraph of article), which I find interesting.

If they do find that hearing loss is associated with dementia, it seems as if it would be for those who later developed hearing loss as they hit their senior years. I think that those who have always had hearing loss (from birth, from earlier years) would be less likely to develop dementia, being that their brain is accustomed to the way it hears and process sounds, and because they are accustomed to having a hearing loss, by the time they are seniors it should not interfere with how they have always socially interacted with others and lead their lives.

I would think that if there is a connection between the two, there would be more people willing to wear hearing aids or utilize hearing technology to combat symptoms of dementia. Appropriate hearing aids should help seniors continue to be active and social and to try to carry on with their lives as usual. In addition, I think they should be offered free counseling and guidance from hearing loss experts and be encouraged to join hearing loss support groups and organizations such as HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America).

By the way, I heard that seniors are often misdiagnosed as having dementia due to undiagnosed hearing loss. Apparently, many of the symptoms of developing a hearing loss are similar to symptoms of dementia (confusion, change of personality, disorientation, inattention, etc.).


Link to article:

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