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RE: Sign language equivalents

From: Slaydon, Eugenia <ESlaydon@beacontec.com>
Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2002 16:35:01 -0500
Message-ID: <D47827B1DE559D458AB76C6E6EADFC669CD203@tortugas.beacontec.com>
To: "'Charles McCathieNevile'" <charles@w3.org>
Cc: WAI GL <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>
Thanks so much for the explanation Charles. It put things in a different
light for me. Rather than being an alternate method of communication it
really is a language unto itself. So how do sign language dependent
individuals access the web? What do they look for or what is their method of


-----Original Message-----
From: Charles McCathieNevile [mailto:charles@w3.org]
Sent: Tuesday, March 12, 2002 2:17 PM
To: Slaydon, Eugenia
Subject: RE: Sign language equivalents

Well, I guess you've hit a bunch of interesting points at once...

Disclaimer: I probably know more about this than the average person in the
street. (It's part of my job <grin/>). That doesn't make me the unquestioned
expert. Besides, I am trying to be clear and simple here <grin/> and may
left out some subtle details that turn out to be important. Or I may have
made some major errors. But here is my first attempt at explaining the

For many Deaf communities, they often consider that sign language is a
different language. Structurally, it is a different language, which people
learn because of a disability.

For people who grow up learning sign language, learning to read and write is
in fact very difficult. Apparently this applies most especially to Deaf
children in hearing families, whose deafness is often not diagnosed for a
couple of years, and whose very early exposure to language is to spoken

The reason is that learning a written language means understanding a complex
system of abstract notation, which is based on the sound of a language.
the sound generally has no meaning for this group of people, the degree of
difficulty approaches the idea of learning to read arabic (as a monolingual
english-speaking child) without learning to read the alphabet - just by
learning whole words.

The fact that in addition the words don't have direct translations - the
syntax and structure is quite different is something that I try to capture
using arabic as an example - where direct translation of words is more or
less unintelligible in many cases.

Just as a side note, Australian Sign Language (Auslan) is very different
the American Sign Language (ASL) - about as different as English and
(Yep, even the alphabets are not at all comprehensible between the two...)

So one might say that many Deaf people have a learning disability with
respect to written language, but often have quite a complex language that
they do use - like many disabilities, generalisations are often inaccurate.

And finally, of course, this only applies to people in certain situations -
people who lose some or all of their hearing after learning to speak, or
after learning to read and write 7 or 8 languages, are in a totally
situation. Many older people who lose their hearing progressively cannot
well, but learn some lip reading skills, guess a lot from context, and can
often read and write. Some people cannot hear or see, and use completely
different methods to learn and use language.



On Tue, 12 Mar 2002, Slaydon, Eugenia wrote:

  I guess this is an issue I have trouble understanding. This is just my
  of view and not meant to be derogatory. Please enlighten if I'm heading
  the wrong path. I want to understand this issue and right now I'm very
  confused on it. :)

  If someone is deaf and using sign language to communicate, then sign
  language is replacing "the hearing" piece of communication for them. I am
  also assuming English as the primary language for this example. That
  mean that "the seeing" piece of communication is missing. Isn't this a
  of "choosing" not to learn or use another means of communication? For
  example I can read English but find it difficult or tiresome and would
  rather listen to a sound file instead. Can I then say that the content is
  inaccessible because it doesn't come in a sound file? It doesn't fit my
  unique user need or wish? All of my experience with deaf individuals has
  been that they couldn't hear. They could read and write and communicate
  effectively with me in that way. In school they were required to learn to
  read and write like any other individual. So why do you say that deaf
  individuals don't get much benefit from text? Is this because they can't
  learn it - or choose not to? If it is a choice then what about the person
  who just chooses not to learn to read? To me adding sign language to a
  is the equivalent of adding another language - like spanish or german. It
  doesn't mean the site is inaccessible just not in the language of choice.


  -----Original Message-----
  From: Charles McCathieNevile [mailto:charles@w3.org]
  Sent: Tuesday, March 12, 2002 10:04 AM
  To: WAI GL
  Subject: Sign language equivalents

  There are a number of communities who really don't get much benefit from
  text, but are Deaf and use sign languages. Do our requirements and current
  checkpoints enable this sufficiently or not?


Charles McCathieNevile    http://www.w3.org/People/Charles  phone: +61 409
134 136
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative     http://www.w3.org/WAI  fax: +33 4 92 38
78 22
Location: 21 Mitchell street FOOTSCRAY Vic 3011, Australia
(or W3C INRIA, Route des Lucioles, BP 93, 06902 Sophia Antipolis Cedex,
Received on Tuesday, 12 March 2002 16:29:01 UTC

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