by Maggie Jones.
During a recent interview, Dr. Bill Vicars, director of the American Sign Language University and coordinator of the Sacramento State University Deaf Studies Program, provided firsthand knowledge of signing in our society.
Question: Is sign language overlooked or is there an insufficient use of sign language in our world today?
Vicars: “I think a key word in your question is ‘today.’ In general, ‘these days’ sign language is not being ‘overlooked.’ Signing appears relatively frequently on television and in other visual media. Signing is more popular than ever. The fact that you are interviewing me about sign language is a good example of the type of attention signing is getting. As to if there is ‘insufficient use’ of sign language in the world, I think it would be good to simply ask the question, ‘Are there people who could benefit from sign language use who are not currently using it?’ The answer to that is a resounding ‘Yes!’ For example, nearly all parents would benefit from using sign language with their babies to expedite and facilitate communication. Typically, babies can learn to more effectively communicate specific needs and concepts via signing several months earlier than by voicing.”
Question: How do you recommend promoting the importance of sign language?
Vicars: “The single most effective method I’ve ever witnessed for the promotion of sign language has been the televised series titled ‘Switched at Birth.’ People from all over the world inform me that they became interested in learning sign language after having seen that TV show.”
Question: Is signing something that is growing in our society, or is it becoming less prevalent?
Vicars: “Signing is definitely growing in society. I’m excited to see more and more use of sign language taking place throughout the world. The Internet is enabling people to learn sign language for free or nearly free.”
Question: How have you experienced improved relationships with others due to learning how to sign?
Vicars: “Communication with people who do not sign used to be and still is a struggle. Learning to sign opened up a whole new world to me of people with whom I can communicate easily and without struggle. My wife is deaf, and she and I communicate with each other via signing. During our dating years, my wife and I sought out dating partners who could sign for the specific purpose of having improved communication with our eventual mates. If she didn’t sign, I would not have a relationship with her today.”
Question: Could you summarize your opinion of why you are so passionate about teaching others how to sign?
Vicars: “It is a multiple-win situation. I get high from teaching others something that is good for them and good for society. There is research that indicates learning a second language is very good for your brain and helps to protect your ability to think clearly as you get older.”
Question: How important do you see the ability or knowledge of signing in the workplace?
Vicars: “How important the ability to sign is in the workplace of course depends on the nature of the profession. A chemist in a lab won’t have as much use for signing as someone who works with the public. For most people, knowing sign language provides an ‘edge.’ By that, I mean all other things roughly being equal, the person who knows a second language will typically get the job simply because he or she can potentially better serve a wider base of customers or clients and thus be able to pull in more sales or revenue.”
Public relations, a field that requires constant communication, can particularly use sign language to reach a wider audience. At times, incorporating an overlooked language or skill can enhance the image and quality of a company or brand.
The interest, promotion and knowledge of sign language are evident, but the desire to use and expand this skill is lacking. As PR practitioners, it is our job to be aware of various communication tools and integrate them accordingly.