Friday, 13 August 2010

Learning to communicate

There's always been a little thought at the back of my head, one of those "I'll get around to it someday" kind of thoughts, when you suddenly realise you've been thinking about it for years but never acted on it.

I've always wanted to learn sign language.

The same way I've always wanted to learn to be fluent in Italian (I understand more than I speak), I've considered Sign as a language I would love to learn, considering there are over a million people in Scotland alone that suffer from some form of hearing impairment, it's a goal I think would benefit myself and the deaf customers I deal with on a regular basis.

Yesterday, in work, a woman approached a fellow colleague for assistance. I watched as she pointed to her ear and shook her head, signalling she was deaf, and said in the sort of thick accent that comes from being deaf from birth, "Help me". My colleague (who is new, it has to be said), look both confused and uncomfortable, so I stepped in to help. With a smile, she touched my arm and pointed to a gap in the shelf, where the product she wanted would be. I said clearly and a little slower than I would normally speak, "Let me check for you". I grabbed my scan gun and zapped the bar code, and my gun showed me there should be more in stock downstairs. I smiled and said "Yes, we have it, I'll go get some" and held up my two fingers to indicate I'd be two minutes. She smiled, counted out her fingers, and held them up. "Six" she said, "Six please".  I nodded and went to go get them.

Luckily, they weren't hard to find, I quickly brought them back, plus more to put on the shelf. It was those ready made drinks in a can, this one being G&T, Sainsbury's are doing an offer on them just now. I put 6 in her basket and she hugged me, pointing at the promo sign and remarked "What a great deal" (not just saying that, it actually is, whether I work there or not! :P) and mimed tipping a drink back and being, well, less than sober! We giggled and she touched my arm again, saying "Thank you" with such warmth in her eyes I almost hugged her right back. Instead, I just replied, "You're welcome" with a smile to match her own, and we parted company.

As lovely as an experience it was, I can't help but feel if I had a basic working knowledge of Sign I could have made my lovely customer's request somewhat easier. I imagine she goes through her whole day, trying to communicate with people who make no real effort to understand her. The new guy, I imagine, isn't a bad person, but he clearly felt uncomfortable and walked away relieved when I took over. I think if there was just one person in her day to day life who unexpectedly could not only understand, but could communicate in a way she knows as well as hearing people can understand the nuances in speech - it's a goal worth having, I think.

So I'm on it. Gonna start, at least, to look online, I've already had a peek and there's a wealth of information to be had on BSL (I'm looking here and here at the moment.), and later, when I've grasped the basics, I'm going to look at evening classes.

It's the right thing to do.

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