American Sign Language (ASL) plays an important role in facilitating communication within the deaf community and enabling them to communicate with others. However, did you know that ASL is growing in popularity as a second language around the world?
ASL is not a language limited to the hearing impaired and is growing in popularity with an estimated 2 million speakers in North America alone. It is the 3rd most commonly studied language in the United States after English and Spanish.
Here are the 3 top reasons why learning ASL is essential in the workplace:
1. Adapting to the Growing Popularity of ASL:
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reported that approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing. While not all hearing impaired people use sign language (some use lip-reading or printed text), individuals who communicate via sign language have an advantage for professional and personal opportunities and improved communication with their peers.
Individuals learning ASL as their second language are also inclined to benefits such as:
- The increase in phonological awareness
- Improved word recognition
(Melvin, S. The Effects of Learning American Sign Language on College Students’ Spatial Cognition, 2013).
Charles Miller, the author of ‘Transforming e-Assessment in American Sign Language’ , concluded that ASL is not only the most used sign language in the world but it is also the fourth most used language in the United States, right after English, Spanish and French (Charles, 2007).
In 2010, despite the study of foreign languages dropping significantly as a course for graduate schools throughout the United States, there was a 16% increase in the students learning ASL. Professors of ASL cited reasons such as a rise in acceptance of ASL as a university requirement and its effectiveness as employment qualifications for the rise (Source: New York Times).
2. ASL Across Industries – The New Must-Have Skill
The last 20-30 years have seen a huge change in terms of how society views hearing and speech disabilities, and with the approval of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, an increasing number of people are becoming part of the workforce (Supported Employment for People who are Deaf, 1999).
The rise in Deaf people joining the labor market has led to many institutions making their workspace more ‘disabled friendly’, either by employing interpreters or by training their employees in American Sign Language, thus empowering and providing more opportunities for their workforce.
The following industries represent a small but important fraction of the workplaces that are high in importance for ASL employee training:
Hospitality: Employees working in the hospitality industry engage with clients from diverse backgrounds on a daily basis. Effective communication is crucial to provide excellent service. Knowledge of ASL along with other popular hospitality languages will drastically enhance satisfaction among hearing-impaired clients.
Healthcare & Emergency Services: Proficiency in ASL is essential to enhance relationships between hearing impaired patients and healthcare professionals. Understanding patients’ needs and providing the best care is vital to their wellbeing.
Retail: Retail employees are required to answer queries, anticipate needs and build rapport with customers to effectively generate sales. Communication is key to ease the process and function profitably and create customer satisfaction. ASL and other Retail Languages can facilitate this process and help in delivering an awesome experience to its customers.
Education: More and more schools are accommodating students with special needs. However, apart from special needs establishments, most schools assign a teacher with the required training to support the students. While it is an excellent effort, the student is still disconnected from his or her peers as well as the subject teachers with the specialized knowledge. ASL training for teachers in schools will remove the communication barrier between hearing impaired students and their peers.
3. Small Gestures Create a Big Impact:
The Washington Post (February 2016) reported a story involving a ‘Good Samaritan’ that took the internet by storm; a Starbucks Barista learned Sign Language to easily communicate with a hearing-impaired customer.
Ibby Piracha, the customer, visited the café 2-3 times a week and engaged by typing out the order on his phone but was pleasantly surprised on one of his visits when the barista signed to him asking for his order. Ibby posted the story on social media to share information about the ‘Hearing Community Supporting the Deaf Community’ initiative.
The Lemon Tree Hotel Group in India experienced a pleasant change in their workforce after Rahul Pandit, the President and Executive Director of the company, began an initiative to hire Employees with Disability (EWD). To make the program more successful, the senior managers and many staff members were trained in Sign Language, to communicate with their disabled colleagues with ease (Reported by the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality, 2013).