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Should I learn ASL?

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Hello all, 

The reason I searched for and am making this thread is because I am considering taking up studying ASL. I am going to graduate from college in May with my degree in psychology, hoping to get into community outreach work. I am wondering if learning ASL would help me professionally as well as personally. I currently reside in a small mountain town in Maryland, but am planning to move to the Washington D.C. or Baltimore area by end of summer. I know there are great benefits to knowing ASL, one of which being able to interact with members of the deaf community. But as most of you must know, learning any language is a major investment in time and resources. I honestly can't remember the last time I encountered someone who was deaf or used ASL as their primary form of communication. My sister works in a busy retail establishment in downtown D.C., and she told me that she cannot remember a single instance where she encountered someone who used ASL to communicate. Would it be useful for me to know this language? I'm sorry if this post sounds utilitarian, but I want to ascertain how useful this will be for me. It's not as if one can invest in and learn a language overnight and I honestly don't want to waste my time.  

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I work in a hospital in PA.  I started learning ASL because I had interacted with patients who were Deaf.  The Deaf community in general seems to have a very negative perception of the medical community because no one knows how to sign.  And we are usually so busy following rules about HIPAA and confidentiality that we ignore the communication needs of patients. 

I am of the opinion that it can be a great help.  I started learning because the patients that I had were treated very poorly by their medical providers and I didn't want to be the type of person who was capable of doing something and chose not to because it was easier for me. 

So, yes.  There is a need for providers who are sign capable.  Frankly though, unless you are intending to go on to become certified, there will be no need for you to use it in a professional capacity.  It seems unethical to interpret for your own work unless you are certified.  That does not mean that you can't still say hi, how are you, how are the wife and kids.  Which is a good thing no matter what. 

My suggestion to you would be to go to DC/Baltimore.  See what it's like there.  Get a sense for the community in which you will be working.  Look at other providers in your area and see if there is a need for a provider who signs.  If there is, then great.  Take it up.  Learn until you can get certified, and be that person for the Deaf community in your area.  If not, learn it casually and at least be able to a good conversation with a Deaf person. 

DC/Baltimore has a larger population of Deaf people due to the fact that Gallaudet University is located there.  But DC/Baltimore also has a much larger population in general.  So you'll likely not meet as many Deaf people even though there are larger numbers there.

I think it would be a benefit to analyze your motivations.  What is your end goal?  What do you want to do with ASL? Do you just want to be an ally for the Deaf community?  Do you want to be a provider in ASL?  Do you just want to be able to be friendly and communicate with someone in their language?  I think the answer to those questions will guide you better.

As for learning ASL.  That's gonna be a long process.  Some people pick it up quickly.  I've been learning for less than a year.  I've taken 2 ASL classes.  I study online videos.  I've been told by interpreters and other Deaf people that I'm signing much better than a person learning for a year should be.  Some people learn more slowly.  And it depends on how much time and effort you're willing to commit.  I study ASL at least 30-60 minutes a day.  I've heard people say that it takes 10 years of frequent interaction with Deaf people to become fluent.  So realize that if you want to learn this, it's going to be a long road. 

But good luck.  You'll decide what's best for you.  Hope my rambling helps you a little.




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