I don’t want to die before I fix the world. This comment was jokingly made by a friend, because we all know we can’t actually fix the entire world. But just because total perfection is impossible doesn’t mean we can’t do something.
A few weeks ago, I arrived to give a public address and noticed a Deaf woman nearby, flanked by interpreters. I spoke with her as her interpreters translated, and was impressed by how animated they were, acting out what I was saying, because facial expressions and body language are a crucial part of their grammar.
I kept thinking about that woman, and what her life must be like. Because most of us can’t sign, she has to have interpreters when she goes to personal doctor and dentist appointments, public events, attorney visits, courts, and hospitals. So much of her personal life is shared with someone else. If she attends church, she may need an interpreter there. If she’s a young child, how does she visit Santa at the shopping mall?
As a society, we don’t worry about it. We figure they have their own world, there are ASL speakers for them, and we move on with our busy lives. But there is an entire segment of society we are ignoring and relegating to a parallel, yet never intersecting, existence.
How large is this segment? One in eight people in the United States aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears. (1) Among adults aged 20-69, the overall annual prevalence of hearing loss is almost 28 million. (2)
In an era when so many talk about inclusion and reaching out to marginalized people, no one mentions the Deaf. Most adults don’t want to learn ASL; it qualifies as a foreign language for college applicants, so we know it can’t be something you pick up over a weekend.
But this could be a way to change the world. What if people lobbied at our state capitols and got bills passed that will ensure ASL is taught in elementary school? Imagine if the entire population could speak it! No Deaf person would be left out, ever again.
We know young babies can communicate long before verbal speech kicks in, by signing. Experts have long told us that it’s easiest to learn another language when we’re young. Little kids pick it up quickly (look how adept they all are on electronic devices!) and could learn ASL as a matter of course, just like everyone learns to read and write.
We also know the aging baby boomers are not always thrilled with their hearing aids; how great would it be if we could all sign with each other as we age? No more shouting across a large room—we could even sign with hearing people, and use it in places where we have to be quiet—libraries, movies, hospitals, etc.
This cause has touched my heart. I’ve reached out to two organizations for the Deaf in my own state and I plan to do what I can to get a bill drafted that will change the world not just for millions of the Deaf, but for all of us as we become more compassionate and more willing to help those with differences.
Where I live, a bill was passed a few years ago that ensured Deaf children could be taught by an interpreter at school. But this is different. Teaching ASL to all children means society cares and embraces these people—they are no longer in the shadows and we are no longer ignoring them. I’m hoping others will join me and we can race to see which state can wake up first, and realize these are fellow citizens with rights and dreams like the rest of us.
Maybe there’s another cause you care about. We all have heartstrings that respond to various needs. Maybe this coming year can be the one when you get involved doing what you can, where you can. No, none of us will solve every problem that besets the world. But we can each do something that can lift our world from where it is, to where it could be. And as we contemplate what to give Jesus Christ on His birthday, perhaps this could be our offering.
- Lin FR, Niparko JK, Ferrucci L. Hearing loss prevalence in the United States. [Letter] Arch Intern Med. 2011 Nov 14; 171(20): 1851-1852.
- Hoffman HJ, Dobie RA, Losonczy KG, Themann CL, Flamme GA. Declining Prevalence of Hearing Loss in US Adults Aged 20 to 69 Years. JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. December 2016 online.
Hilton’s book, A Little Christmas Prayer, is the perfect Christmas gift. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.