by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A man explained:
I lost my hearing when I was 26. I even tried a cochlear implant, but I’m still deaf. I need to learn sign, but since I don’t have a job, I have very limited income. I need a free way, let me repeat “free” way to learn sign so I can at least join the deaf community and get friends, a job, a life worth living again! I’ve found schools but all are talking about fees. I can’t pay fees without a job. I can’t get a job without knowing sign. Please help me.
I’m not sure why you think you need to learn to sign in order to get a job. Very few, if any, people on the job know how to sign so they wouldn’t be able to communicate with you anyway.
Since you had hearing to age 26, I assume you have good speech skills and people understand you well. Therefore, all you need to do is be able to understand them. You can do this by speechreading (lip reading) them, having them gesture where appropriate, and have them write down whatever you still miss.
Depending on the job, your boss/coworkers can email you or instant message or text you and you reply back. You don’t need hearing to communicate this way. Thus, there are many things you can do in order to communicate without learning sign.
Now, I’m certainly not against learning to sign—as long as you have people that can sign back to you—family, friends, coworkers, etc.
There are several sources of free signing classes. The most likely is a church near you that has a deaf ministry. Very often they offer free signing classes.
Another source of free signing classes are agencies that work with deaf people. In my county, the Lutheran Social services run a “deaf center” and offer sign language classes. When I took ASL classes there, if you were deaf or hard of hearing, you could attend free.
A third option is to find a deaf person that is willing to teach you some sign. Become friends with them. That is what my daughter did to help her improve her signing. Some deaf people are wonderful and willing to help you when they see you really want to learn to sign.
Another option, if you can prove that learning sign will help you get a job, is the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (or whatever name they go under in your state). They may fund signing classes for you.
So there are some free, live hands-on ways to learn signing.
In addition to these, some agencies that work with deaf people have signing videos that you can borrow—either VCR tapes or CDs or DVDs.
Then, too, your library may have some signing CDs or DVDs in their collection, or if you ask, may be willing to get some for you.
Also, you can find good on-line signing websites. There are a number of these.
Here is two such websites: http://www.lifeprint.com
Here’s a good one to learn/practice fingerspelling.
These should get you started.
Just be aware that to become fluent in signing, it will take you several years of constant work. It is learning a new language and that takes lots of time and practice.