Decline in use
Over in Britain there are fears that the British Sign Language (BSL) is near its demise since deaf people are seen as disabled. They seem to forget that there is still a very large community of early deafened people and those whose deafness was congenital in nature. For them the most natural language is sign language, which is very much like the spoken language. However, for some hearing-impaired persons, access to sign language is still improbable. While cochlear implants and the use of hearing aids can help hearing-impaired people in learning the spoken language, their communication facility is still not complete. They still need sign language to properly communicate.
In the United States, one deaf person is making difference, not only in his life but also in the lives of his co-workers and people he meets. His name is Jaime Herrera and he works as a cleaning staff at the main branch of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. Although totally deaf and only uses sign language, he is also tasked to train newly-hired cleaning employees.
Mr. Herrera, who is 56, has a new cleaning partner, 22-year old Emrah Bektesevic, whom Mr. Herrera trained himself. At first Mr. Bektesevic thought it odd to be trained by a person who is deaf and cannot speak. But he said that after spending 10 minutes with Mr. Herrera, who was using sign language, he fully understood his trainer. To his surprise, it was also Mr. Herrera who introduced him to his co-workers and other people he will be encountering on a daily basis, including porters and security guards.
Great communication skills
Although he turned deaf at an early age, Mr. Herrera did not let his disability to distress him. In fact he is having fun with his own brand of communication and is one of the most popular among the 400-man staff of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
Mr. Herrera, who learned sign language at the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, NY, can also read lips and uses body and facial gestures when communicating, which he also sprinkles with humor. Some of his co-workers liken him to Harpo Marx for he has become adept at impersonations. His co-workers does not even want to acknowledge that his deafness is a disability. They actually find him too talkative, for a person who cannot speak. He has even inspired a co-worker, Yesenia Del Valle, who is a security guard, to take up classes in sign language. She now interprets for Mr. Herrera at their workplace.
Hearing of cases such as this helps to ensure that sign language is still very much alive and is in no way endangered.