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American Sign Language, Explained

American Sign Language, Explained.

As many as 15% of American adults have at least some trouble hearing. American Sign Language (ASL) uses hand movements and facial expressions to communicate in the place of spoken language. 

It is the primary language for people in the U.S. who are Deaf or hard of hearing (HOH), but it is also used in other situations in a broader signing community. For example, parents use sign language with hearing babies who cannot speak yet, and nonverbal people who can hear but cannot talk can use sign language to communicate.


The Signing Community

People who are Deaf or HOH make up the majority of the signing community in the U.S. The prevalence of hearing loss that impacts daily life and your ability to communicate (disabling hearing loss) increases with age:

  • 1 in 50 adults ages 45 to 54
  • 1 in 12 adults ages 55 to 64
  • 1 in 4 adults ages 65 to 74
  • Half of adults ages 75 and older

Hearing loss can be congenital (something you have from birth) or the result of prolonged exposure to things that damage your hearing. For example, people who work in jobs with a lot of exposure to loud noises — like concerts or construction sites — are at high risk of hearing loss. Hearing loss can also be genetic, but about 9 out of 10 Deaf children are born to two hearing parents, and two Deaf parents can give birth to hearing children.


ASL Grammar and Linguistic Properties

Like any language, ASL has its own grammar and linguistic properties that make it unique. Some people mistakenly believe that ASL is exactly the same as English, but it is not. It has its own:

  • Pronunciations
  • Word formations
  • Word orders
  • Signals for different types of discussion, such as questions or expressions with emphasis

ASL is also not used throughout the world. Each country and region has its own sign language. Some of the signs may be similar, but people from another country that use sign language would not necessarily be able to communicate well with someone who speaks ASL. 


ASL and the Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires covered entities to provide services to help someone with a communication disability to communicate with, get information from, and convey information to the covered entity. This includes people who are Deaf and HOH. A “covered entity” includes:

  • State or local government services
  • Businesses and nonprofits that serve the public, including healthcare facilities and insurance providers
  • Employers with 15 or more employees, who must provide reasonable accommodation to employees with a disability

Even if you do not fall under these categories, offering interpreters for someone who is Deaf or HOH is good for business. It provides a better experience for the people who want or need your products and services.


Communication Tools

The ADA specifies that these entities must provide auxiliary aids and services for communication. For someone who is Deaf or HOH this can include:

  • Qualified interpreter
  • Qualified notetaker
  • Oral interpreter
  • Real-time captions
  • Written materials

The two forms of interpreting that work best for Deaf and HOH individuals are:

  • Video remote interpreting — This allows an interpreter to provide real-time communication via video with a patient or client. Since it can be done remotely, it is more flexible and readily available than on-site interpreting services. All you need is a high-speed internet connection and a device with video and audio capabilities (computer, tablet, or smartphone).
  • On-site interpreting — An on-site interpreter is physically in the same room as the patient or client, which has the benefit of allowing the interpreter to see nonverbal communication like body language or other environmental cues that can improve understanding. It is also the best option for certain populations who might not be able to use video interpreting tools effectively, such as young children or someone with cognitive impairment.

Find Out How GLOBO Can Help With Your ASL Needs

GLOBO is working to eliminate language barriers so everyone can have equal access to essential services like healthcare, banking, government resources, and insurance. Learn how we can help your organization or company improve language access for the millions of people who are Deaf and HOH with qualified ASL interpreters.

Schedule a demo to see our language services in action.


Additional Resources