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"Signing with physical limitations"


-----Original Message-----
From: █████████████████
Sent: Sat, Mar 27 8:00 pm
Subject: learning to sign

Good morning,

I was shown your videos from my new foster placement of a deaf teen. I am trying to learn to sign, and as it is a minor passion of mine I have been picking it up rather quick. I am having one problem and I am hoping that you can point me in the right direction. In August, I really tore up my hand. I was in a pedal bike crash and I tore all the major ligaments in my hand to some degree. I did not have use of my pinky for 6 weeks and didn't have use of my middle finger until Christmas. Should I be concerned that I can't bring my hand into the perfect position, or just do the best I can? For example, with the letter e, I can not bring my thumb to the palm of my hand or my fingers on my (used to be) main hand. I do try to use my left hand for as much as I can, but I am struggling with some that need both hands.

Thanks for your time, I really have learned a lot from your videos so far, I am only on lesson 2, and they are great.

[Name removed for privacy]





Hello _____!

Signing with physical limitations is common in the Deaf Community.

Many of us have physical limitations of one kind or another especially as we get older and arthritic.

So we sign using smaller movements, we sign lower, we switch hands, we choose versions of signs that are easier to do, we sign one handed, we use hand heaters, we gently stretch, we use wrist and other braces, we add context or mouth movements, and we figure out which brand of pain-reliving rub has a smell and texture we can get used to.

It is okay to switch hand dominancy in ASL if you are consistent about it.  If you are going to switch which hand you mainly sign with then go ahead and switch but be consistent about it and make that your actual new dominant hand for signing. Don't bounce back and forth between hands. Pick one and stick with it to the reasonable extent that your physical abilities allow.

My youngest daughter was born without second and third knuckles in her fingers.

So she just does the best she can and gets on with life.

That applies to the rest of us: We just muddle through and do the best we can with what we've got.

Our real friends will still be our friends.

Those who are not patient enough to take the time to figure out our signing probably were not a good fit for us in the first place.

Warm regards,
- Dr. Bill
William G. Vicars Ed.D.



Dear Dr. Bill,
Thank you so much for make all your material available for free for self study. I am learning (or at least trying to learn) ASL for fun and am really enjoying your lessons. I am starting to practice finger spelling but I ran into a surprise for me: for the letter W I cannot keep my three middle finger straight while holding down the pinkie and the thumb. The 3 middle fingers end up like a claw and they will not straighten up any further. I think something in my ring finger ligament will not allow me to fingerspell "W" properly (my dad also has issues with his ring finger ligament) so I was wondering if there is an alternate way of spelling the letter W? If there is not an alternate finger spell, would ASL speakers understand if I finger spell the W with British "accent" (using BSL)?
Diego P.

Dear Diego,
There is not an "alternate" version of "W" that would be less distracting than a clawed version of "W."  Any alternate approach would end up being more distracting than just going ahead and using your somewhat misshapen "W."

Some ASL signers do recognize the British 2-handed Alphabet. Or perhaps I should say they can start at "A" and work their way through to "Z" (but not necessarily recognize whole words fingerspelled quickly in the two handed British alphabet.).  However I don't see the BSL alphabet as being a feasible / alternate fingerspelling approach for ASL-based communication.

You may wish to spend a few minutes each day stretching your "W."  Suppose you are standing in line at the grocery store or watching a video -- you could stretch your fingers during that time. Stretching may or may not "work" but I suppose the only way you'll know is if you try.

On another but related topic: Those of us in the Deaf community are generally quite a bit more accepting of physical deformities than the mainstream Hearing community. So while you may be bothered by your "W" we generally are not.


Dr. Bill

Sorry this is kind of a weird question, but I have trouble spelling/signing some words because my hand are too 'tight.' ex. my 'Y' or 'yellow' or 'play' or 'still' sign are lame because I can't put my pinky all the way up without bringing the ring finger part of the way. Is this a common thing? And would you happen to know of any exercises where I could improve this flexibility. Again I know you re busy so if you cannot answer this question I completely understand. Thank you for the lessons.
- Eddie

No, a misshapen "Y" is not a overly "common" thing but it occurs often enough that it is not that big a deal for most everyday ASL communication.  You might perhaps not want to plan on a career in interpreting -- but for chatting with Deaf people at a pizza social you should be just fine.

I'm not a medical doctor and thus if I  had an attorney my attorney would tell me to tell you to check with a medical professional who specializes in hands before engaging in any self therapy.  So, sure, if you have the money or medical insurance I encourage you to see a specialist.

As far as "exercises" to improve your "Y" -- yes, there are things you can do. Your ring finger is probably jutting out because the ligaments and/or sinews between it and the pinkie are not limber enough and the muscles in your ring finger are not strong enough.

I'll share what has worked for me in the past:

Using your non-dominant hand, gently and slowly stretch the pinkie finger of your dominant hand backwards while holding the dominant hand ring finger down will help limber up that area of your hand. 

Try putting your dominant hand flat on a table, now lift it up about an inch off the table and bend your ring finger at the large knuckle so that the fingerprint pad is touching the table.  Now push the hand down while trying to hold the hand up with just the ring finger (almost as if you are trying to do a push up using only your ring finger).  That will help build the right muscle. Eventually it is likely that you will be able to form the letter "Y" correctly.  But even if you are not able to do so, it is not "that" big of a deal.

- Dr. Bill


Also see: Non-Vanilla-Deaf

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