Bob Walker, a 74 year old man from Maryland in the USA, is walking 400 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles in May and it’s all in aid of promoting American Sign Language (ASL). Walker is quoted as saying “I am walking for ASL because I earnestly want the hearing Americans to recognize our basic everyday language known as ASL. We are comfortable with our language and we want the Americans to accept our language as official.”
The walk follows many efforts to raise awareness about ASL in the USA. Despite widespread usage, the language is not recognised as a community language by the White House and so in November a petition was raised and it has been signed so far by 35000 people. The month-long walking event in California has seen interest from around 15 walkers so far, each of whom will need to raise $1000 dollars to take part. The money raised from this will then be fed into other support channels for ASL, one quarter going towards a Research Grant in relation to the benefits of Sign Language.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication disorders (NIDCD) ASL is “a complete, complex language that employs signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the primary language of many North Americans who are deaf and is one of several communication options used by people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.” Among the hearing population however, awareness of the language and an ability to use it is limited, something which can create barriers between hearing and non-hearing people.
The wish of Bob and of many others is that ASL be given more recognition and also that more of the hearing community might learn the language in order to better enable communication and break down the barriers that have been created. No two sign language forms are the same, differences between ASL and British Sign Language (BSL), for example, can be quite large and the two are not mutually intelligible. Yet, the importance of these Sign Languages is clear. People continue unaware of how learning the languages could have a huge impact. Interpreters for ASL are in demand and it would be sad to see the efforts of so many go unrecognised.