February 28, 2021

Sign Language as a Survival Skill, by B.R.

When I see and read all manner of survival books, magazines, online articles, I’ve noticed a major issue important to me that is never talked about at all, for the most part. What is this issue? In any survival situation how do the healthy, hale members of any society or culture communicate treat and work with our handicapped people/family members? For this article, I will concentrate on the deaf/hard-of-hearing citizens of our own country.

As a being profoundly deaf man since the age of four, I have experienced numerous good and bad situations throughout my life. Sometimes the situations were truly laughingly funny, other times would be really disgustingly bigoted or idiotic. Historically speaking, every culture that has arisen on the average does not look upon its handicapped members with beneficial eyes due to the perception that such people are less capable of work, of thinking, need more help or time to teach them that could be used to better effort elsewhere.

Since the 1880s, American society in general is one that has consistently on the average looked at and treated deaf people as having little to contribute to society at large. Why is that? Communication is the reason, our entire world is based upon, every tool and technology created came about because humans by sound, our voices, the words we pronounce as we speak. We speak what we hear, it takes very little time to say papa correctly when a baby hears its parents or adults gently correct the child’s pronouncing the word. As we grow up, we are constantly learning the proper rules of grammar and speech (word) pronunciation.

What about the deaf or the hard-of-hearing people? When anyone loses the ability to hear the spoken words, how can they say words correctly, learn the correct rules of English grammar when they simply cannot hear the voiced sounds. Do you try to force them to speak (orally) so that they can fit into a society dependent upon sound or would you be willing to learn another language that truly benefits them and adds another important skill to your list of abilities important to surviving? It has been true for a very long time that when hearing members of our society hear deaf/hard-of-hearing people unable to correctly say words spoken to them, they are then seen as less capable, less smart, less dependable, it is seen as so much easier to ignore them, to not hire them, their capabilities and skills in favor of people who can hear and understand the spoken sounds of speech.

In general, the deaf population of this country can be broadly divided into two groups, those who are truly deaf and those who are truly hard-of-hearing. For the most part people who are hard-of-hearing have usually lost their hearing later in life from various causes, they almost always retain their ability to understand spoken speech as well as being able to speak well themselves. They might speak at a higher pitch/tone of voice but still easily understandable. Hence such people will have less trouble living and working in a society dependent on sound as a mode of communication.

This article will focus on the other group, namely those individuals who test in the profound or severe hearing loss range of the hearing spectrum. Such people may either be born with or lose their hearing ability when very young, of course even adults can lose their hearing totally later in life (think soldiers enduring artillery fire or people exposed to long-term loud noises). The very inability to hear spoken word sounds means that when they’re taught grammar they will speak with a pronounced accent, in an unusual, squeaky, or high-pitched voices that make them appear weird, funny-sounding, in short a possible problem that ordinary people either will make fun of or ignore so as to not have to be faced dealing with.

ASL is Practical

So, what is the solution? Use sign language. On the surface, this appears to be just one extra problem for any group of people using voice communication, be they survivalists, family group, what-not gathering of people. Sign language in various forms has been around for thousands of years, from the ancient Egyptians to the Romans to the Renaissance period up to today’s world. Oftentimes signs could be and was mixed in with spoken speech to maximize understanding between two individuals, tribes, nations, etc. The Indian tribes of northern America are a case in point. True sign language has evolved over time from one area to another to the point where they have actually become true languages, each with their rules of grammar, the same as spoken languages have their own rules of grammar as well.

For example, American Sign Language or ASL for short, had its beginnings in Renaissance Spain, with the language knowledge brought then to Paris, France, which contained a sizable population of deaf/hard-of-hearing people speaking their own local French signs which was then mixed together with the Spanish signs and then brought to America in the 18th century where the signs were further modified with local American signs, all the while being codified with grammar rules from long-term practice and usage. Many language scientists, audiologists and deaf educators for a long period refused to accept that American signs was an actual language until serious scholarly research in the 1960s put that question to rest.

Since that time acceptance of the deaf and sign language has increased, many parents like to teach signs to their babies and toddlers but will still resist teaching to their older children as they grow up. It is a myth that sign language will hinder spoken speech. There are still many people and medical personnel who perpetrate such obsolete thinking in favor of oral (speech) training only. Today American Sign Language (ASL) is considered to be a true, complete language, with its own syntax and grammar rules. Consider this fact, today many people are bilingual, I myself, a totally deaf person can speak three languages: English (good), ASL (good), Spanish (fair).

Everyday Use

There are many other good reasons knowing and using sign language is useful in both everyday and survival situations. Everyday situations are just that, being able to communicate with a deaf individual on any number of subjects, work, sports, hobbies, etc. Now for survival situations, let’s consider the most obvious possibility, a grid down, immediate, short, or long-term situation. The fires now raging in the western states is an example of an immediate situation, many people have said that the noise of exploding flames burning houses, natural and gas fuel tanks (gas stations), and cars and trucks going up in major, noisy exploding booms. And then there’s the thick smoke, so thick that people could barely see their hands a few feet in front of them. If a person can barely make out what’s being spoken and seen, would knowing signs as a backup method to voiced speech be useful? Yes, it would!

And there is more. Any survival group, homesteaders, or urban dwellers, in the country or urban areas at the very least should know and practice sign language, using primarily simple, basic signs. Notice I say basic signs, I am not referring to the alphabet letter signs although that is useful too, but to the basic single or occasionally, double hand signs. More advanced signs can always be learned later as a communication tool with the deaf. In any defensive situation, oftentimes the sound of group members voices can give any invading gang or individuals the specific tactical location of your people, increasing the danger to them while compromising the defense of your position, compound, or homestead, The truth of the old adage, “The first people to move after speaking out are usually the first to die.” is quite clear.

It is a wise man or woman that tries to prepare themselves, their families or groups to learn many different skills to survive. There will be many different situations where some members may have medical, speech, audiological, or autistic problems, sometimes before the emergency situation arises as well as after a given survival situation when casualties may occur. Having the knowledge of ASL would ease the communication burden between the healthy members of a group or family and the afflicted members, particularly when voice is not advisable or possible.

Tactically Speaking

It is important to note that tactical use of signs is a very important subject taught and practiced by both military troops and police tactical (SWAT) teams worldwide. To a lesser extent, dangerous gangs and small groups out to steal or cause trouble may use signs (Mexican cartels or Antifa members come to mind), these signs oftentimes are specific and localized homemade signs, not the more organized types as used by the military or police. ASL will give you more signs to use in a larger number of situations than tactical signs do, hence increasing your ability to function communication-wise across a larger number of situations, it can be adapted to tactical survival sign use in addition to everyday talk.

Whenever a group or family accepts or has a deaf individual or individuals, it is important to understand how deaf people perform work assigned to them often is done in ways that are safer for them but may seem slow or not done using methods a hearing individual may be accustomed to. For example, be aware that many deaf people will often have balance problems due to the fact that the human sense of body balance is located in the ear, the one part that is not working for them. For example, if you ask a deaf individual to climb up a wall using a ladder or a tree to pick cherries be prepared to accept that they may refuse or be very slow but careful going up, they know their capability better than you do.

Never think that the deaf cannot do normal everyday activities. There are deaf lawyers, farmers, engineers, postal workers, etc. Would you say or agree that anyone with an artificial leg or arm cannot do normal activities? They may conduct their work, social activities, family life, or survival activities in ways that may be different, safer, or slower. In summary, sign language is the best survival option from many directions, from the tactical defensive and offensive angles to the simple ability to communicate with deaf/mute, autistic handicapped people. If a particular deaf individual, group, or family offers a particular skill to a survival group that the group does not have, professional or otherwise, it would be valuable skill to know and speak sign language in order to increase the survivability of your group or yourself.

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