The Benefits of Learning ASL as a First Responder

ASL Program
August 10, 2022

First Responders are critical in different types of emergency situations. From firefighting, medical attention, and law enforcement, these are the people who are trained to keep us safe in a variety of circumstances. In today’s day and age, technology has skyrocketed in improving the ways a First Responder interacts and approaches people of different ages, races, and backgrounds, making it easier to resolve situations as best as they can. Here are some ways that a First Responder could benefit from learning ASL when helping deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, and late-deafened people in their work.

1. You won’t be a bystander when you’re helping someone

(A gif of a white man with reddish blonde hair walks forward in dark blue scrubs and a doctor's coat saying, “Yes, can I help you?”)

In many instances, First Responders arrive on-scene to realize the individual in need of services is deaf, so they wait for an interpreter to show up or hope that the deaf individual can read their lips. They try their best to interact with the individual but are struggling to communicate. Sometimes interpreters are unavailable or arrive late, causing a delay in the individual receiving medical attention in a timely manner. Ultimately, the First Responder is left standing there like a bystander. If they had learned ASL, the First Responder may have been able to communicate simple but effective phrases that keep the deaf individual calm and reassured! Feeling like you’ve done your best to contribute to someone else’s aid is worth it.

2. Build trust between you and the deaf individual you’re communicating with

(A gif of a black woman signing in ASL, “you are cherished.”)

People who need help in a crisis often confide in you their deepest worries and insecurities when they feel safe and secure. Simple communication and reassurances can alleviate those concerns. When you’re in a situation where you’re tasked with helping a deaf person and you lack the ability to communicate, it can sometimes escalate the situation even further. Even basic signs could do wonders in most cases to help the deaf individual feel connected to the First Responder.

3. Learning sign language can help reduce fears all around

(A gif of five firefighters walking up dressed in their gear, while a black man in a suit appears to the right)

When you go into a dangerous situation, showing your bravery can help another person feel brave as well. Deaf and hard of hearing people often experience increased anxiety during chaotic situations because of the lack of communication. Learning ASL could change your level of confidence in those situations and give you the ability to communicate things quickly so you both can navigate the situation safely. You may feel frightened by using a new language or by making a mistake during a critical period, but be assured that showing your effort to communicate with the deaf individual will make them feel more at ease.

4. Create clear communication quickly 

(A gif of a white woman with curly hair wearing a neon safety vest flips a stop sign to slow saying, “you go.” ) 

First Responders have to be clear and concise with their words when they’re trying to communicate in a crisis. In a lot of those situations they speak loudly or extremely fast. This often prompts confusion, especially for a deaf individual. For example, if you need to get people to move out of the area. Now, with a deaf person, they won’t understand which direction they’d need to go, especially if they’re by themselves or if no crowds are around for them to follow. This is where basic ASL comes in handy “GO LEFT STAIRS, RIGHT BLOCKED” could save that person and get them out of the situation quickly. Keep communication concise and clear for all people. 

5. Learn more about the system and open a dialogue for change

(A gif of a black woman dressed in a suit in front of microphones saying, “There’s so much we have to talk about.”)

Overall, First Responders have done a great job of improving the standards of safety in our society. Though some systems are effective and have saved many lives in and out of danger, there are still flaws. Learning sign language means learning more about where deaf and hard of hearing people stand in society. The more you learn ASL the more you understand why a deaf person’s hands are their only voice and how important they are to them. You may also begin to view things in a different perspective, such as the challenging and depriving experience of handcuffing an individual who communicates through sign.  Be a part of opening up a wider dialogue for better ways to improve communication and awareness in the healthcare and law enforcement fields. 

6. Share the language with others

(A gif of an animated image of a man with an arrow over his head labeled “information” shooting lines into his brain.)

ASL is a growing language, and more recently, people are picking up sign language a lot more than they were years ago. You may be interested in learning sign language for your work as a First Responder, but you may not realize how far it could really go! The excitement of learning something new and the benefits of the language can continue to spread to their family members and friends and so on. In fact, sign language is a visual language and deaf people aren’t the only visual learners. It could be a huge benefit to someone you least expect!

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