Most students at SIS are proficient in three languages and there are some students who know how to speak, read, and write even more. However among the student body, Eddie Ko (11) knows a language that many overlook. When he’s not in costume as the Cowardly Lion, playing his ukulele for his friends, or preparing the next event for Random Acts of Kindness, Eddie practices and learns American Sign Language (ASL).
Eddie was in the fifth grade when he was first introduced to ASL by SIS, but initially dismissed the language as an unimportant part of his education. His rejuvenated interest in ASL came later near the end of freshman year when he stumbled across the TV show “Switched at Birth,” in which one of the characters is hard of hearing. After watching clips of the show on YouTube, Eddie was led to the world of sign language song covers. His interest flourished. ASL quickly became Eddie’s summer project.
“I remember this vividly: I sat in my butterfly chair with my computer on my lap, watching Beginners ASL videos on YouTube,” Eddie said. “I also watched videos about the deaf community and deaf culture, which I also found really interesting.”
What began as another one of his fun summer projects grew into an experience with more depth. Through learning ASL, Eddie began to see the impact the language has on the deaf community, and in turn, started learning about a community that he knew little about before. He began to realize that, though hard of hearing individuals are often reduced to just their disability by the rest of society, the community itself finds strength in what others may consider a weakness.
“The hard of hearing community is able to take something that a lot of people perceive as a weakness and embrace it–turn it into something that should not be pitied,” Eddie said. “Instead of being upset or angry at their lack of hearing, many hard of hearing individuals take pride in belonging to that community. I know that deafness still comes with a lot of real difficulties, but I find it inspiring and eye-opening to see people take something that the general public pities and transform it into something that gives them something else that hearing people can’t experience.”
Aside from the new understanding he has of the deaf / hard of hearing community, ASL intrigues Eddie because it challenges the idea of what a language is. That is, it differs from other languages which typically are known as a verbal or auditory medium of communication that primarily use hearing and speaking skills.
“ASL completely changes that,” Eddie said. “It shifts language into something you hear and speak to something you see. ASL is like art, which is one way that hearing people are already experiencing nonvocal communication. The same way paintings and other works of art speak to people without words, I feel that ASL, and other sign languages, embodies that idea of simply using images and shapes to tell stories and express ideas that can’t always be expressed via spoken language.”