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American Sign Language:  Signing with something in one hand


By Janessa Gonsalves

Attendance at a Deaf Event

The deaf event that I attended was an Ice Cream social at Ben and Jerry's ice cream at the Arden fair mall. The first thing that I noticed was that there were so many people there, many deaf and many not. All ages were present from grandparents to infants and everyone seemed to really be having a good time.  Except for the ten or so of us students that came together, everyone else was really relaxed and enjoying each others company. The longer I was there the more relaxed I felt. I think a large part of my hesitation was the fear that I would sign wrong or backwards, but after awhile I began to really try and see what the people around me were generally talking about. In many cases people were just catching up with friends, asking things about each others families, health, jobs, and life in general. Two guys actually approached our timid group; one was named Artey and the other one I simply cannot remember.  They were both extremely nice and a little baffled by our timidness.  He encouraged us to go around and say hi and introduce ourselves to him, teasing us that he wouldn't bite our hands off if we got the sign wrong. I learned from him that he was married and had two kids whom I believe were also deaf. We asked if he had a hearing aid and he said no that he didn't need one and really didn't like them. I thought that made sense.

            One thing that I really watched for the whole night was how people signed when they were holding things in their hands. All semester when I have been practicing I noticed that I have nothing in my hands, but when I am actually speaking normally I have all kinds of things in my hands. So, I really have been curious to see how the deaf work around holding something and signing at the same time. Especially considering how we were at an ice cream social, I thought it must be extremely hard to sign with an ice cream cone in ones hand. Anyway, I discovered that first off if you are holding something in one hand you simply turn most signs into one handed signs, therefore still getting the use of one hand while signing. For others who were holding smaller items like keys, the object was simply moved into the sign. One such gentleman was holding his keys in one hand and holding onto a baby stroller with another. But the lack of a free hand didn't seem to impede his signing. He simply incorporated the keys into the sign by holding them to his palm with his thumb. Other than that he continued to sign just like everyone else except without the use of his thumb.

            Another thing that interested me, was a woman who was busy chit chatting away with a friend. One of the women had a baby and the baby began crying. Not being able to see the child as the stroller was in front of her, and not being able to hear her child crying I wondered how the situation would play out. After about thirty seconds however, the other woman whom the mother had been talking to noticed the child's crying, as the child was facing her, and notified the mother that her child was crying. Later on this same mother was attempting to get through the crowd and she was struggling to make room for herself and the stroller and communicate that she needed to pass, but everyone around her was hearing and busy talking to each other. This time, another deaf person on the other side of the crowd came to her rescue by walking through the crowd towards her and thus making a way through the crowd for her stroller and herself.

            I found it remarkable how little things like holding something in your hand or not being able to get through a crowd by saying excuse me are probably everyday situations that the deaf have to put up with and learn how to go around. I noticed the whole night that those who were deaf really relied on each other for what was going on around them out of their direct eyesight. The deaf community appears to be a very close knit community and while that is a little intimidating it is also a very encouraging thing. Just think how nice it would be if we talkies had such a warm and welcoming community that really took care of each other. Even having someone open a door for you when your hands are too full to open it can seem like such a remarkable thing for those of us who rarely encounter this kind of friendly atmosphere. Overall I had a very nice time, and hopefully if I ever go again I will be a little bit braver and actually talk to someone.


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