Will there be a rise in people learning sign language?
We now live in a world where navigating this ‘new normal’ in a mask is so commonplace that it’s finally the law in England. In my opinion, it’s been long overdue, and the ruling extends to shops, supermarkets and takeaways, which could be stricter and more widespread. If you look at places such as Dubai, you absolutely cannot go out without a mask — and there are many of other countries and locales that have adopted that far safer strategy.
While it’s a wise move for general public health to implement the wearing of masks, this could cause issues with communication, not least within the deaf community. There’s quite a lot of material in the media at the moment about how we should try to annunciate more clearly and at a louder volume, so that everyone we intend to speak to through a mask will be able to understand. In a time when people might want to go about their business without loitering and lingering in potentially germ-filled environments, we can’t afford to be mishearing one another and dragging routine conversations out.
As someone who’s linguistically trained, it’s made me consider the effect on language. It’s spawned the notion of there being a chance that the focus on protecting and helping the deaf community while wearing masks could lead one language to rise as a result: sign. The reliance upon cues such as lip-reading and facial expressions will become hampered by masks that will now cover up these telling gestures.
So, how can we get around this and provide better cues in these evolving situations? While we still all have more time on our hands, why not aid in the effort and consider starting an online signing course? If lots of people got on board with this, surely that could minimise further detriment to an already marginalised group? There’s talk of some brands producing badges or stickers so that deaf people can identify that they have hearing loss, which is another great idea and will hopefully go a long way. But it does make me wonder whether this could be the start of the rise in people learning sign language. After all, we’re in this together, so a little extra care and consideration could move mountains.