Celebrating International Day of Sign Languages
September 23rd is a very special day for the international deaf community, as well as for Palmetto Goodwill. It is International Day of Sign Languages; a day which represents a “unique opportunity to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of all deaf people and other sign language users,” according to the United Nations.
To read more about the history of the holiday, click here.
This year’s theme is “We Sign for Human Rights.” To celebrate, we wanted to highlight our ASL instructor, Sonia Pagan. She works during the day as an interpreter for the Berkeley County school district, and at night she instructs our weekly online ASL courses.
In honor of this day of awareness, we wanted to chat with Sonia a bit about her history with ASL and to ask how we can better spread awareness of sign language resources, and be better allies to the deaf community.
It all began one memorable day in church, Sonia shared. Out of nowhere, she felt an urge to learn sign language and better connect with individuals that are deaf. Although she had no prior experience, she decided to listen to what her heart was telling her, and she signed up for a class. At first, she remembers feeling lost. “It just didn’t click”, she stated. Nevertheless, she kept studying, as something inside told her to keep pushing. From learning the alphabet to mastering phrases, practice helped her confidence grow.
She has met many deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. The first deaf individual she met was a nine-year-old girl, and Sonia has never forgotten that day. In ASL, Sonia asked the girl what her name was. Suddenly, the little girl’s eyes lit up, and she began excitedly signing her name back. The littlest things, like that unexpected connection with Sonia, mean everything to the deaf community and all who learn and teach ASL. After all, for Sonia and countless others, the best thing about practicing and teaching the language is the touching stories that come with it.
I don’t like being called just an interpreter. We are all more than that. We are advocates for the deaf community. That’s why we do what we do.”
After moving to South Carolina from the D.C. area, Sonia immediately recognized a need for ASL resources. Wanting to brush up on her skills, it didn’t take long for her to realize that there simply were no local classes available. Thanks to her, and several other members of the Palmetto Goodwill team’s hard work, anyone can now take online courses from anywhere. She is a humble, yet vibrant, example that anything can happen with hard work and a dream.
Starting a Chain Reaction
Intrinsically, learning ASL causes you to open your eyes. In a literal sense, paying attention to other people’s body language is half of the way you communicate. Figuratively speaking, sign language allows you to fully understand and “see” deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals for the first time. (Photo credits are linked here.)
Sonia is a firm believer that anyone can be an ally. To her, the best way for us to spread awareness of and information on resources is by challenging ourselves to break out of our comfort zones. By taking basic courses and learning how to sign and hold conversations, we can create more inclusive environments at work and in the community. The positive changes that we make have a ripple effect, even if you can’t see them.
“This one man in my class said because of what he learned he finally was able to talk to a coworker”, stated Sonia. “He said the man immediately smiled when he signed to him. So, when you hear those little stories, to me, that’s impactful.” A chain reaction, she added,
you’d be surprised of the difference you’d make in someone’s life just knowing how to sign, ‘good morning’.”
Never Stop Dreaming
The future is still being written, and Sonia has high hopes for it. When asked about future aspirations for our ASL program, she mentioned creating classes and programs geared more towards kids, including a possible youth summer camp because “they’re going to be the future advocates for the deaf community.” The power of language is fascinatingly beautiful. The doors that it opens and the people who it allows us to connect with is something to celebrate.
This International Day of Sign Languages, we challenge you to do something that tests you. It could even be as simple as learning how to sign “good morning” on your own. After all, you never know whose day you could make, just by making an effort. Today and every day, join us in taking strides towards inclusivity and celebrating our abilities.