ASL and high Five Day April 15, 2021

Everyone knows that is tax day except for this year. I thought I would celebrate a holiday that is close to my heart.

ASL or American Sign Language is the natural language of the deaf population. It is used by 250,000 to 5000,000 people in the United States and Canada. Numbers vary due to the health surveys using self reporting on the deaf and hard of hearing population.

Approximately 2 to 4 percent of the population falls into this catagory. Of the group, 50 percent is over the age of 65.

So why don’t we see nore people using sign lanquage. Many deaf children have been given cochlear implants by hearing parents. They hope their children will be able to mingle in a hearing world. Many states are considered oral rather than signing. The schools emphasis is on lip reading and oral speech.

As a former speech pathologist, I prefered a multi approach to language.

I had a cousin, David, that became deaf after a high fever as a toddler. I learned ASL and was able to communicate with him. No one in the family bothered to learn sign language.

I used signs with severely and trainable mentally impaired adults. They were able to use signs to communicate their needs. With the pressure to communicate lessened, many started to pair signs with speech.

Gallaudet University is the only higher learning institution that uses ASL exclusively. Many deaf see the use of ASL as a way of preserving their culture.

As a person who is hard of hearing I will use all tools in my toolbox to communicate.

The High Five day is to salute all deaf persons for the right to choose their own form of communication, isn’t that the American way?

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Hand Signals

I sit quietly, the only sound is the hum of the Oxygen concentrator beside the bed. I gently hold Helen’s hand. Her hand is cool, soft to the touch. It rests limp in my hand. I study the hand veined with blue lines and wrinkles. I turn the hand palm up to trace the long life line extending past the wrist. The hand is rough with dry skin. I reach for hand cream and rub some into her palms.

On my first visit, Helen grabbed my offered hand with a fierce strength. Her grip was painful. I talked and sang to her until she drifted into a light slumber and her grip relaxed. I felt my hand was the lifeline anchoring Helen into this world.

On the next visit, I held a hand that lost it’s strength. When I squeezed a light squeeze was felt in return. The strength increased as the time for her Morphine drew near. After receiving the drug, she rested and released my hand.

Another day, the hands were gesturing and Helen laughed and chatted with her deceased sister. She was showing how her to fix soft boiled eggs. Her eyes were open but it was not this world she saw.

Yesterday the hands were hot to the touch. When I attempted to hold one, she pulled back and grimaced in pain. Only the Morphine released her to allow a light slumber.

Now I hold a cooling hand with no muscle tone or movement. I squeeze but there is no response. I gently place the hand under the blanket and rise to give Helen a last kiss on the forehead. I whisper,”I love you, go in peace.” I leave the room, knowing this is the last goodby.

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