Sign Language and the Workplace

by Paul Fugate
(Auburn Hills, MI, USA)

Sign language in the workplace is becoming more prevalent as the number of people increases who are hearing impaired, or are completely deaf. Being able to use sign language to communicate and to interact with a deaf co-worker is essential for establishing a positive working climate, and for building a strong rapport. It is equally vital for people to learn sign language who work in environments such as restaurants, hospitals, and retail businesses. In fact, it is not unusual, nor is it strange, to encounter people who cannot hear in every social setting imaginable.

Visualize the reaction a deaf person would have if he/she walked into your establishing to make a purchase, or to request help. You, or one of your employees, greet this customer in sign language by saying, “Hello. How are you?” Or, “Hello, can I help you?” How do you think this deaf customer will react? How good does it feel to this employee that he or she can sign enough to help this customer by communicating in their language? You do not need to be proficient at sign language to help a customer who is deaf. You can simply learn some basic signs and sentences in order to help out this person, especially if the signs are related to your area of employment/interest.

If you wanted to become an interpreter for the deaf, you would need to enroll in an interpreting program at a local college, or university. However, in today’s world, you have the opportunity to learn some basic phrases and words in sign language online, that would allow you to complete a sale, or to assist a deaf person. The World Wide Web has a vast amount of knowledge for people to learn American Sign Language. Some of the websites have themed lessons for people like you to learn what is needed. Some websites have a large video dictionary to customize to your liking. You now have the ability to select certain words that pertain to your workplace and to the deaf people you help/encounter on a daily basis.

The Deaf community is relatively small and cohesive. The moment you sign with your deaf patrons, the word of your interaction with them will spread like wildfire among the community. Deaf people seek out businesses and retailers that attempt to make a concerted effort to interact with them. Again, you don’t have to be proficient at sign language to ask a deaf person if he or she needs assistance. Having a basic understanding of sign language and deaf culture will go a long way. And if they ask, “Oh, do you know sign language,” you can simply reply, “A little bit.”

When looking online for a good sign language website, the following things should be considered:

Are the lessons themed, instead of a list of words?
1. Does the site offer ASL grammar and practice?
2. Are there retention exercises to help with memorization?
3. Can you review lessons if needed?
4. Is the site available 24/7?
5. Are the videos clear and large enough to see?

These are important criteria to have for your sign language learning. You want to seek out websites that has all of the above features. If it doesn’t, you may want to check out additional websites that will.

Regardless of your job status, the learning of sign language will be beneficial, rewarding, and worthwhile. After all, you may not even have a job, but you have a friend (or friends) who are deaf. Now you can communicate with them better and more effectively. How powerful is that? Have fun with signing and meet people from a diverse cultural background, especially the Deaf community. There, you will meet some tremendous people just waiting to communicate with you.


Written by: Paul Fugate, http://www.ASLdeafined.com

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