ASL Is Not A Fad

ASL is not a fad. Fingerspelling is not in vogue. A language is not something to fetishize, especially when it is being denied to a whole population of children who need it. American Sign Language is the only language that is fully accessible to deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. This does not mean that it’s a nice option. It does not mean that it’s a fun tool. It means that it is an absolute necessity for proper brain development.

If you, as a professional, are actively denying DHH children contact with their only accessible language, then you cannot promote ASL on the internet. If you are passively allowing someone else to deny that child access to ASL, you cannot promote ASL on the internet. If you subscribe to a mindset or a theory that deprives DHH children of an accessible language, then you cannot promote ASL on the internet.

To make an analogy, imagine you work with Spanish-speaking children who are forced to stop using their native language in favor of English. You do not speak Spanish and you don’t believe they should either. Every time they are caught speaking Spanish with each other, you punish them. You give them detention and take away their recess. Then, during your prep period, you make fun inspirational posters in Spanish and hand them out to your colleagues.

Or, to put it more poignantly, imagine you work with children who are starving. Children who are emaciated, completely deprived of nutrition. Yet you take out your lunch and eat it in front of them. “Mmmm, this is such a good sandwich,” you rave, offering your colleague a bite.

The act of promoting a language that you do not speak for personal gain is not only cultural appropriation, but it is a blatant dismissal of our professional obligation to cultural sensitivity. The act of creating fun handouts in a language while you purposefully withhold said language from children who need it is dishonest.

Thousands of DHH children suffer irreparable cognitive and linguistic deficits as a result of being denied access to American Sign Language during their critical language-learning years. This significantly impacts not only their academic achievement but their mental health, social-emotional development, and overall quality of life. If you are not actively advocating for a deaf child’s right to early access to ASL, then you do not have the right to promote the language on the internet for your own gain. ASL is not something you use to increase your social media followers. It is not a passing craze or a fun infatuation. It is a language that is being withheld from the children who need it most.

So before you make a cute handout or poster with fingerspelling from ASL, ask yourself if you are contributing to language deprivation. If your answer is anything other than a resounding no, then drop your project and do your part to advocate for language access for deaf and hard of hearing children.