Literacies Circle: Linguistic “Accommodations”

Too often, “accommodations” are provided to a child or bigger human without the input of the person on the receiving end. And too often, when the “accommodation” was arbitrarily provided, it is expected that everything should work just fine. If not, the onus is placed on the receiving child or bigger human for not trying, not complying, or worse, as incapable of learning.

Even though I am totally deaf in both ears, I happen to not communicate in American Sign Language (ASL). However, there were numerous times that I was assured an ASL interpreter would be available for meetings, conferences, or gatherings. While I am always thrilled to hear that ASL interpreters would be available for others, ASL is a language, not simply an “accommodation” that I could easily use. ASL is far from pantomime. It is well recognized by linguists as a valid language containing phonology, morphology, and syntax. It even contains regional dialects.

On the other hand, I have seen many children and youth communicating in ASL being denied the use of ASL interpreters because of false perception that ASL is not a language but a set of crude forms of gestures. Children being denied the use of ASL interpreters are also being denied their languages, identities, and inclusion. And they are being denied the opportunity for making connections between their languages, other languages…and literacies around them. Conversely, when there is insistence that I use ASL, I am, too, being denied my language, identity, and inclusion.

Only the withholding of what we really need make us incapable of learning…and segregates us into the other and disposable category of humans.

Unfortunately, many “accommodations” are made for languages and literacies without an understanding of the nuances or limitations of the “accommodations.” In moving toward restorative literacies, the importance of fully listening to the receiving end of “accommodations” is paramount. Following are queries for thoughtful conversations in literacies circles:   

When watching someone use ASL (not knowing the language and without hearing the interpretation), are we easily able to understand? What are the differences between ASL, body language, and gestures?

Hearing aids and cochlear implants do not cure hearing; they offer the input of sound in a limited range but not entirely the full discrimination of sounds, including speech sounds. What are some of the numerous ways hearing losses can be supported or worked around in different situations? Checking the lighting? Reducing ambient noises? Scheduling the timing of the day?

What about captions? What is the rate of speech? What is the rate of reading speed? Are they well aligned? Or is there a slight delay? What is the difference between auto-generated captions and Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)?

How does braille work? Is it an exact translation of letters and words in print? What are the stages of learning braille? Are there shorthand versions of it? How widely and timely are braille texts made available?

What about the use of audio for not only vision impairments but also “struggling” or “dyslexic” readers? Is there a difference in listening to fiction versus nonfiction? Is the rate of the speech on audio books slower than the rate of reading? What about the ability to rewind and refer back to a vocabulary word or concept? Are words available to read along? And are these words or phrases highlighted as they are read? What about verbal or tactile references to illustrations?

What about wait-times in taking turns in conversations? How much time do deaf lipreaders need to process what was being said, formulate thoughts, and express with speech enunciation in mind? What about people who stutter? Or have word retrieval issues? Are we really in a hurry?

Second language learners often use translation apps or services. Are there always words in English for words in their first language? What about syntax? Connotation? Idioms?

What gets lost in translation? And how to we take the time to listen, assure truth in storytelling and learning, make caring connections, and bond with one another?

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