A Brief Introduction to the Signing Community Concept

adreanaline   October 1, 2016 in ASL

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A Brief Introduction to the Signing Community Concept (English Version)
Adrean Clark and John Lee Clark

Nearly twenty years ago, we were undergraduate students at Gallaudet. Our arrival on campus immediately put us within a diverse student body. We wondered, What brought us all here?

It would have been easy to say that deafness had brought us together. Yet our deafness vanished once we were among our peers. We were at our most alive, fully human while conversing in American Sign Language. How did that happen?

Consider this contrast: Two people meet on the street. Both are totally deaf, but one of them speaks ASL while the other speaks only oral English. It would be a difficult and roundabout conversation. Suppose the oral deaf person was instead an ASL-speaking hearing person with Deaf parents. Of course, they would connect immediately, thanks to their shared language. This is what we experienced as Gallaudet students -- we connected with each other through our shared cultural-linguistic experiences. We experienced a signing community.

If our identity as Deaf people continually disappears in signing spaces, is it appropriate for the name "Deaf" to define our entire community? What if we looked at an ASL or a multilingual signing identity to define us as a people?

Whenever we asked others about this new signing community concept, they often reminded us that there cannot be a signing community without Deaf people at the core. That is true, especially considering our rich, centuries-old histories. However, sign language heritage also includes hearing people: our children, our relatives, and our adopted “Deaf-heart” friends. They are our allies, a part of our community. This opened up further questions about our community.

What would happen if Deaf peoples and their allies placed sign languages at the center of our identities and our communities? What sources of power would we gain by recognizing and shaping a multicultural-multilingual signing community? How would it change our interactions with one another, with non-signing communities and societies, and within our organizations, schools, and families?

Those questions have followed us for the last twenty years, and it’s a honor to now share them with the community. We look forward to your thoughts.

Feel free to comment or contact us at Link !

Special thanks to Alicia Lane-Outlaw for filming support!

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