Deaf Awareness Month 2021
September is Deaf Awareness Month, a time to celebrate the rich cultural history of the Deaf community, and continue the work of advocating for the rights of Deaf people everywhere.
Since Deaf Awareness Month is about sharing knowledge and resources we thought we’d develop a list to answer one of the most popular deaf-related questions on the internet: where can I learn sign language?
But first a few fun facts!
- Sign language is not universal. Why not? Because sign languages develop naturally out in communities, the same way spoken languages do. Sign languages aren’t artificially created, nor are they gifts given to deaf people by hearing ones—they’re fully-realized, complex languages with their own grammars, syntaxes, and vocabularies.
- In North America, the primary sign language used is American Sign Language (ASL).
- There is an International Sign language that was artificially created (by Deaf people) to communicate worldwide, in situations like the United Nations—think Esperanto.
- According to the World Federation of the Deaf there are more than 200 signed languages used worldwide!
- Since signed languages are created by Deaf people, they are not related to the spoken languages used in the same areas. For example, ASL and British Sign Language (BSL) are very different, even though many people in American and the UK use the same spoken language, English.
- When learning sign language, you should always seek out a Deaf teacher.
Why should my sign language teacher be Deaf?
Signed languages are the heart of Deaf culture and community. Deaf people are the experts on their language, so they should be the ones consulted, and paid, for the work of teaching. Historically, Deaf people have been stigmatized and oppressed by hearing society for their use of sign language, so for hearing teachers to take Deaf jobs and profit from teaching sign is a form of cultural appropriation.
How do I find a Deaf teacher or Deaf-made app?
We’ve got you covered! Here are some of our favorite online resources:
The ASL App: Created by the Deaf-owned company Ink & Salt, this app has free and paywalled content to help you learn to sign.
ASL Connect: Run by Gallaudet University, ASL Connect offers free introductory vocabulary videos, as well as paid virtual courses.
ASL at Home: Deaf-made curriculum designed with families of deaf and hard-of hearing children in mind.
The ASL Lab: For more advanced students, Deaf actor Justin Jackerson breaks down ASL history and etymology on Instagram.
The ASL Shop: Deaf teacher with a large following teaching basic signs on Instagram
Dawn Sign Press: Print and video resources for purchase from a Deaf-run press
Life Print: This organization runs a free ASL video dictionary, as well as an active community Facebook group.
The Sign Language Center: This New York-based ASL teaching hub offers virtual as well as in-person classes in Manhattan.
Signed With Heart: Deaf signer teaching ASL vocabulary on Instagram and YouTube, now also offering low-cost courses.
For the Kids
ASLIZED: Storytelling and read-along videos in ASL
My Baby Fingers: This Deaf-hearing team offers a variety of classes for kids and families, including ASL immersion, story time, sign and stretch Yoga classes, and music-based classes. There are some free video resources on their site, too.
Hands Land: An ASL-based educational program created by Deaf performers.
RMDS YouTube: Immersive storytelling from Rocky Mountain Deaf School.
Signed Stories: Animated storybooks signed by a fluent narrator, available in ASL and BSL.
Looking for local, in-person classes?
Connect with the nearest Hands and Voices chapter or Deaf school for community resources. Or if you have a deaf or hard-of-hearing child, you can contact your state to help find a Deaf mentor for your family.