“Sign language is universal”. This is a common misconception that people have about sign language. As we celebrate International Sign Language Day this September, let us unpack these common misconceptions and find out how we can better understand the Deaf community.
Misconception #1: Sign language is universal.
There are more than 300 different types of sign language around the world, and it differs from country to country, just like spoken languages. In Singapore, we use the Singapore Sign Language (SgSL), which is influenced by Shanghainese Sign Language, American Sign Language, Signing Exact English (SEE-II) and local signs.
Misconception #2: Sign language is the same as spoken language.
Sign language and spoken language differ in the way they convey information. Sign language relies heavily on gestures and facial expressions whereas spoken language uses the vocal signals and hearing organs to convey information.
Misconception #3: All the Deaf sign.
Not all Deaf use sign language. Sign language needs to be learned before the Deaf can use it. However, there are many other ways for the deaf to communicate beyond signing. It can be through simple gestures, writing, drawing, or typing. Some of them also use lip-reading to communicate.
Misconception #4: It is easy to lip-read.
One needs to learn how to lip-read. About 40 to 60 percent of spoken English is visible and many letters of the alphabet and words mouthed by the lips when speaking look very similar. People also speak at varying paces. If it is too fast, it would be near impossible to catch every single word. These can cause misunderstandings. The Deaf would need to rely on other facial cues or context to understand what is said.
Misconception #5: Hearing can be restored with hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Hearing aids are not like glasses that help to restore eyesight once you put them on. It depends on the type of hearing loss (sensorineural, conductive or mixed hearing loss) and the degree of hearing loss, which range from mild to profound deafness. These aids only help to amplify sounds and one needs to be trained in order to identify the sounds correctly. Moreover, the use of assistive technology is a personal choice.
The Deaf community is unique and independent, and there are many ways that we can communicate with the deaf – through sign language, speaking clearly (for oral Deaf), gesturing, writing, drawing, or typing. One just needs to ask these individuals on their preferred choice and exhibit a little more mindfulness and patience.
TOUCH Silent Club (TSC) aims to help every Deaf person integrate into the society and empower them to be independent individuals by offering guidance in the areas of education, vocation, recreation and social development. Besides organising social and recreational activities for the Deaf, we also provide job placement, job counselling and lifeskills training under the Work Assistance Programme. TSC also organises sign language courses for the public to raise awareness about the Deaf and promote integration.
For more information, please email [email protected].