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Understanding ASL: The basics of American Sign Language

American Sign Language, is a crucial form of communication for the deaf and hard of hearing community. But what exactly is ASL and why is it so important? Read more in this detailed guide that we have prepared!

In this article, we will explore the different types of ASL interpretation, its significance in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), as well as how it can be utilized in various settings such as healthcare, education, and employment. 

We will also discuss the laws surrounding accessibility and inclusion, along with practical examples on how to enhance inclusivity for individuals who rely on sign language. Additionally, ee'll guide you through finding and selecting the perfect ASL interpreter for your needs.Stay tuned to learn more about this essential language and how it can make a difference in people's lives!

What is ASL?

American Sign Language (ASL) is a comprehensive, natural language that boasts the same linguistic complexities as spoken languages. It is predominantly used by many North Americans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, serving as a primary source of communication. However, it is important to mention that American Sign Language isn't a universal language; instead, it's unique to the Deaf Community in the United States and Canada.

And how does American sign language work? ASL isn't simply about hand movements - facial expressions, body language, and fingerspelling all play a crucial role in conveying meaning. For example: the sign for "mother" is made by placing the thumb of your open hand against your chin, while the sign for "father" is similar but touches the forehead. These signs, like many others in ASL, are iconic and visually represent the concept they are conveying.

ASL alphabet

ASL alphabet comprises 26 manual alphabetical signs, corresponding to the English alphabet. These signs are used to spell out names, places, or even form words for which there's no established sign. A curiosity about the ASL alphabet is that some letters share similar handshapes but are differentiated by hand orientation. For example, "B" and "C" have a similar handshape, but "B" faces palm out while "C" faces palm in.

Sign Language Worldwide

Did you know that even though American Sign Language is prevalent in the United States and parts of Canada, different countries have their own distinct sign languages? For example, British Sign Language (BSL) is vastly different from ASL, with a unique syntax, structure, and vocabulary. These differences highlight the diversity within the deaf community globally and underscore the importance of qualified sign language interpreters who are fluent in the specific sign languages used within each community.

That's where ASL interpreters come in. American Sign Language interpreters act as bridges, fostering communication between the Deaf and hearing communities. They seamlessly translate spoken language into sign language and vice versa, ensuring everyone comprehends the conversation. This empowers Deaf individuals to participate fully in various situations, from doctor's appointments and legal proceedings to educational lectures and social gatherings. 

ASL Interpreters: Find the best fit for your needs

Laws and Regulations Related to ASL: All you need to know

Interestingly, American Sign Language itself doesn't have specific laws or regulations governing its use. However, several laws and regulations protect the rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, ensuring equal accessibility and opportunities in life. This rights extends to all public entities and businesses, ensuring they can navigate these spaces with full access to information and the ability to express themselves clearly. 

Knowing these rights and the availability of interpreting services is crucial for both Deaf individuals and the institutions serving them. Here's a breakdown of key points:

1. Right to Request a Qualified ASL Interpreter:

Individuals who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing have the right to request a qualified American Sign Language interpreter in situations deemed essential, complex, or involving sensitive information. Examples include:

  • Legal proceedings (court hearings, depositions)
  • Medical appointments (doctor's visits, therapy sessions)
  • Educational settings (classroom lectures, meetings with teachers)
  • Important meetings or presentations

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2. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): 

This law focuses on ensuring all children with disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, receive a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) tailored to their needs. IDEA can mandate providing qualified sign language interpreters or teachers fluent in American Sign Language within schools, creating an accessible learning environment for Deaf students.

3. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504): 

This broader civil rights law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in any program or activity receiving federal funding. This extends to public schools and ensures equal access for Deaf students. Section 504 can play a role in securing qualified sign language interpreters in situations beyond the classroom, such as school events or extracurricular activities.

4. Equal opportunities in social, recreational, and academic activities

Deaf individuals have the right to participate in all aspects of society, including social events, recreational activities, and academic pursuits. This means schools must provide qualified sign language interpreters or teachers fluent in ASL, and social events and recreational facilities should offer interpreting services upon request.

By upholding these rights, we create a world where American Sign Language users can thrive and contribute their unique talents and perspectives to all aspects of society.


asl interpreter

5. ADA requirements and ASL

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) plays a critical role in guaranteeing equal access for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. This landmark legislation applies to public and private entities that provide public accommodations, such as government agencies, businesses, schools, and healthcare providers. Under the ADA, these entities have a legal responsibility to ensure effective communication with Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.

DEI and ASL Awareness 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) go hand-in-hand with ASL rights. Here's why:

  • DEI Fosters Equal Opportunity: A core principle of DEI is ensuring everyone has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of background or ability. This includes Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, who rely on American Sign Language for communication. By promoting ASL awareness and access, we break down barriers and create a more inclusive society.
  • Respecting Deaf Culture: American Sign Language is more than just a language; it's the cornerstone of a vibrant Deaf culture with its own rich history, traditions, and artistic expressions. Recognizing ASL as a legitimate language and promoting its use shows respect for this unique culture and its contributions to society.

6 Actionable Steps to provide ASL accessibility 

Promoting ASL rights goes beyond just awareness. We can take concrete steps to support the Deaf community, such as:

  1. Learning basic ASL signs: Even a few basic signs can bridge communication gaps and demonstrate respect for Deaf individuals.
  2. Advocating for qualified interpreters: Supporting policies and funding that ensure the availability of qualified american sign language interpreters in various settings empowers Deaf individuals to participate fully in society.
  3. Creating inclusive environments: This can involve incorporating visual aids, encouraging written communication options, and being mindful of physical accessibility for Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals.
  4. In healthcare: A deaf and hard of hearing patient went to the ER with stomach pains. An ASL, on-demand interpreter via video to complete the intake, help with the physician’s visit and aid in the discharge process. This ensures the patient comprehends their medical condition, treatment options, and other relevant medical information. 

Want to know more? Check out this article about the needs for accurate translation services for healthcare

 5. In schools: ASL interpreters can help deaf students fully engage in their educational journey by interpreting academic content, facilitating communication with peers and educators, and interpreting at school events and activities.

Learn more about it:  A Guide to Translation and Interpreting in education

6. Workplace: ASL interpreting services can help businesses meet ADA requirements by providing language translation services that allow deaf or hard-of-hearing people to communicate with hearing people. Video remote interpreting (VRI) can also help people who are deaf or hard of hearing access an interpreter, but it must meet certain requirements to be ADA-compliant. These requirements include: Providing full-motion video and audio in real-time, Delivering high-quality video images, and Providing sharply delineated images. 

The role of ASL Interpreters 

ASL interpreters play a pivotal role in translating spoken language into sign language and vice versa. They normally have a strong understanding of both languages, cultural nuances, and the ability to translate accurately and impartially.

In order to find a qualified interpreter, you can evaluate whether the professional has the following qualifications

  • Certification: It´s important to verify if the professional has a valid certification from a recognized organization demonstrating their interpreting skills.
  • Accuracy and Impartiality: Accurately translates spoken language into ASL and vice versa, maintaining the meaning and intent of the communication.
  • Specialized Vocabulary: Possesses the necessary vocabulary specific to the situation (e.g., legal terminology for court proceedings, medical terminology for doctor's appointments).

Where to find reliable sign language interpreting services?

Looking for the best ASL interpreters? Language Network is a trusted language service provider  of professional sign language interpreting services. Our interpreters are highly skilled, meticulously trained, and adhere to the highest professional and ethical standards.  

We offer an array of ASL interpretation services, tailored to meet your unique needs:

  • On-Site Interpreting: Ideal for situations that require in-person interactions, like immigration interviews, medical appointments, community meetings, and events.
  • Over-the-Phone Interpreting: Perfect for quick, reliable interpreting services over the phone.
  • Video-Remote-Interpreting: A great option for those who need interpreting services on-demand. This service can be accessed through various platforms.

Contact us today to learn more about our interpretation services and how we can help you meet your communication needs.

About Language Network

Language Network is a language solutions company specializing in interpretation, translation, and localization services for government, healthcare, and international businesses. Language Network provides critical language access and support in over 200 languages. For more information, visit www.languagenetworkusa.com.

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