01 May 2011

Blogging Against Disablism Day - ASL

Penelope Stowe of the Ubuntu Accessibility Team told me about Blogging Against Disablism Day. Disablism and ableism have the same meaning and are more regional than anything else. They refer to the underlying assumptions about what "everyone" can do. I live not far from Gallaudet University, the only accredited liberal arts university for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, so I actually come across people signing with some frequency.

When I first started signing, the friend who was teaching me (whom I met through the LoCo even!) would simcomm, and I learned from that. Now she usually doesn't speak at all when I'm around. She can safely assume I'll get enough context clues to learn whatever signs she uses that I didn't already know. I'm really happy about having achieved that level of fluency.

Last year, I used simcomm to give my presentation at Ohio LinuxFest. Mel Chua (Red Hat) and Bryen Yunashko (openSUSE) were both there. One is Hard of Hearing; the other is Deaf. I used a lot of ASL that weekend, not just for my own communication, but also as an interpreter for those giving directions. A few other hearing people even came up to me and started signing, since they saw me signing with Mel.

Maybe some day I'll be a certified interpreter. Right now, I can interpret in a pinch, but it's not pretty and doesn't have very good grammar. The trouble with simcomming so much is I have very little practice with using ASL-word-order. I intend to take an actual class to try to fix that.

I'm happy to see OLF has welcomed requests for assistance from disabled* attendees and speakers. I suspect I don't see many Hard of Hearing or Deaf people at conferences because they can usually safely assume there will be no accommodations, meanwhile there are no accommodations because organisers can usually safely assume there will be no HoH/Deaf people.

I don't know much about technological accessibility for those with hearing impairments. I do know Mel has complained that she has no way of knowing her system bell is on until her coworkers get upset at how loud it is. I know another friend complained that media players often now have the volume capped so that they are less likely to induce hearing loss but are unusable if you already have hearing loss. A Cowon D2 turned out to be loud enough for her to hear. I know videos without captions or podcasts without transcripts are a problem. I don't know what else though.

* Vocab note: A person has an impairment. Society's treatment of that impairment is what disables the person.


Anonymous said...

I was reading about a friend going to this (http://www.mcgill.ca/tcpsych/training/advanced/2011/). transcultural psychology --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-cultural_psychiatry -- the idea that the society you live in can define you has disabled and treat you differently regardless of your abilities, mostly due to them not wanting or knowing how to adapt.

Catherine said...

Hi, Mackenzie!

Thanks for your post! I got a couple hundred words into ASL at one point, but then I quit and everything fell out of my brain. I can hardly imagine getting my skill to the point of signing at presenation speed, though.

I despair of recruiting enough ASL interpreters to cover small events like PyOhio. Being a geek, I can't help but daydream of technological solutions.

Have any conferences tried realtime "closed captioning"? What if a text-to-speech program or a volunteer typist provided a live text transcript? It could be scrolled across the presenter's own screen. It seems doable... do you know any reason why it hasn't been done?

Mackenzie said...


There are services for the live captioning (it's called CART), and it's something that Moose from OLF has discussed with someone who does that for a living, but I don't know if it'll be happening this year or not (hasn't been finalised yet).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I wish more people would learn ASL, not just for Deaf and HoH people, though that is the main reason, but also for other people w/disabilities who use ASL due to communication disabilities.

I'm hearing, and had many friends who were Deaf or interpreters. Fortunately for me, I learned enough ASL to be conversant (though definitely not fluent).

Then, my disabilities became much worse, and for 2-3 years, I couldn't speak most of the time. I was so lucky I knew ASL. But suddenly the world was divided between the few people who could understand me and the rest, who couldn't.

It was a real lesson for me. Now, most of the time my voice works, but I feel great gratitude and fondness for ASL and for the people who made it possible for me to communicate some of the time when I couldn't voice.

Mackenzie said...

Oh good point! And actually, what's interesting to me is that the sign for "deaf" and "mute" and "deaf-mute" are all the same--touching mouth and ear. I have one friend who uses fingerspelling to assist when people have trouble with his speech impediment.

Rolandixor said...

that was pretty cool :)

Rolandixor said...

that was pretty cool :)