Thursday, December 22, 2016

Showing Signs of Christmas

Showing Signs of Christmas
Guest Blog by student and volunteer Catherine Meyer

The holidays are a special, joyous time of year. However, the hustle and bustle of the holidays and end of year planning can distract from the true meaning of Christmas. As a college student, I understand how hard it can be to get side-tracked by the stress of life, work, and school. I find myself concerned with only tasks that I need to do, this year especially. On a recent trip to JC Penney to help my dad buy some gifts for the family, there was a kind-hearted lady ringing a bell for the Salvation Army, the red metal tin sat still and stagnant next to her.  It was at that moment that something jolted me and I realized I had failed to acknowledge the true meaning of this holiday season. After depositing money in her pail, a new attitude was awakened in me,  I now found the time to donate toys for the local Toys for Tots drive.  A man sitting on the street shivering was given a blanket. I smiled at people, held doors open. With each act, my heart grew a little warmer and my soul felt lighter and brighter than it has in a long time. I realized how important kindness, care, and compassion were to all human beings. We are in fact, all the same, regardless of our skin color, beliefs, income, or abilities. Wouldn’t it be great to show signs of Christmas to those around us… all year long?!

About the Blogger: Besides volunteering for GraceSigns, Catherine Meyer is a transfer student at Sonoma State University pursuing her BS in Computer Science. She has been enthusiastic about sign language since she was 13 years old.  She currently enjoys signing songs with a group called SoundWaves.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Why Did A Deaf Person Have to Die?

A North Carolina family is in mourning and questions are being asked.
The question is: WHY did that 29-year-old man have to die?  The answer: He didn't.
A man who was deaf and speech-impaired was trying to communicate by sign language.  He was not understood, in fact, he was so badly misunderstood that he was killed.  He was pursued by the police in his vehicle as he was driving home.  He was pulled over in the neighborhood of his Charlotte, North Carolina home. When he exited his car in an attempt to communicate with the trooper, he was fatally shot. This is a tragedy that could have been averted.  A crowdfunding site called is raising money for the young man's cremation and service and left over funds are going toward a foundation "to educate and provide law enforcement proper training on how to confront deaf people."
The bottom line is that it is a good idea for the police to know some sign language.   Not everyone can hear and speak.  And they shouldn't be shot because of it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Language: A Human Right

Language is defining.  Being some where and everyone is speaking and you are unable to join in, puts you at a disadvantage. If you were in a foreign county and conversations were flying by your head, you would possibly feel isolated.  How about if you were in an environment and everyone was conversing and you understood what was being said but simply could not express your thoughts, your wants, and your basic needs.  Imagine how frustrating that would be.  For so many individuals with speech challenges, that is exactly what they face everyday.  For the friends and families of these folks, it is just as difficult.

GraceSigns is committed to opening up a very viable communication option for kids and adults. How? By making sign language fun and easy to learn.  And also by showcasing sign language as not a stigma, but as an awesome communication tool.  

Access to language is a human right.

When you learn sign language, you are learning a new language for not only yourself but for those around you.  Even cats have learned sign language. Really! Watch this amazing video:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

From Speechless to Speech

So many kids are totally speechless, some just have a bit of language.  Some use sign language exclusively and others utilize Augmentative Speech Devices (devices that speak for them), while to many have only grunts and sounds that they are able to make.  My daughter is more conversive then many but she is certainly not a chatterbox. She has some language and every single day her language skills continue to get better and better.  She speaks primarily (although she is often difficult to understands), she signs a little,  and yet there are still times when she is totally speechless.   The reasons vary.  It could be because she is tired, unwilling, unable, feeling shy, feeling angry, and most often, simply because she can not find the words, articulate them, make herself understood and feel confident in her delivery.  It is a lot for a young person to deal with. Parents of children without language are as equally frustrated as the children themselves.   It is a difficult situation for all concerned.

Parents, educators, therapists are always looking for ways to help children communicate.  I as a parent, have spent many years and money on speech therapists (not covered by insurance for many of us), speech camps, speech tools, devices, games, talking toys, videos, books, and apps.  Has it helped? Yes it all has helped. My point is that we need to keep working toward language everyday.   With children of all ages, babies through older kids,  communication is an evolving skill.  One day they can't say a word, the next they sign it, the third day they sign and say it, by the fourth day they may be signing and/or saying and even reading it.   Children will learn at their own pace.  It is not a race to language, it is a process.  The reward will be witnessing a previously non-communicative child actually communicate!

Whole language is the best way to teach and to learn.   Let's start with the word BOOK.  Write the word BOOK down on an index card in big bold letters. Show the child the index card.  Let them hold it. Then sign the word.  Hold your palms out as if you were holding a book in them. It is an easy sign. Then say the word BOOK out loud.  Then show the child an actual BOOK.  Hand the child the book. Sign it again, by saying, where is the book?  They will get it. Integrating it all together is the key.

GraceSigns is working to create apps that pull all the language together for children.   Our first app Sign Me A Story, taught signs in the stories.  Is the whole story signed, no, it would be overwhelming to try and learn the whole story, but by just pulling out 26 words to teach, it becomes more manageable.   It is also supposed to be fun, not a chore for kids to learn.  We are learning and growing as a company and like the children that we are aiming to help, everyday we are in improving in the process.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Deaf For A Day

One morning last week, I woke up feeling like my ears were full and I was swimming in an underwater tunnel.  I tried all the usual remedies: Q-tips, Hydrogen Peroxide, pharmacist recommended- Dubrox and more Q-tips.  But after hours of underwater activities, they felt sore and I simply could not hear.

"Speak up and please look at me when you are talking," I asked my husband.  He was sitting next to me and was perplexed.  I couldn't hear the microwave ding, I couldn't hear the TV,  I couldn't hear my cell phone chime, I just couldn't hear anything.  I made an appointment at the doctor's office for the next day.  The next morning, it was actually worse.  I did not ear my alarm go off and could only only hear my own heart-throbbing thoughts.  While walking the dogs, I did not hear a car drive up behind me.  When I arrived at the doctor's office, I sat near where the nurse came out to call out patient's names, concerned that I would miss out.  I jumped up when I thought I saw her mouth my name.  As I followed her down the hall, she of course, began asking me questions, "What?" I said, "Pardon me, can you repeat that?"  "WHAT BRINGS YOU IN TODAY?" she shouted.  "I CAN NOT HEAR." I shouted back.

Finally, after sitting in the doctor's office waiting, worrying and feeling very isolated in my silent world, he came in.  I was ready for an answer or a remedy or something.

He looked in both ears and very calmly and loudly announced,  that both ear drums were impacted.   "WHAT?" I blared.  "BOTH EARS ARE IMPACTED WITH WAX. AND WE CAN FIX THAT TODAY."  I was so relieved that not only were my ears not infected, but they were going to take care of it right away.  Less than 20 minutes later, after have both ear canals flushed out with a strong stream of warm water, my ears were clear.  I COULD HEAR AGAIN!  I could have kissed everyone in the office.  I smiled. I cheered. I was out of my silent state.  I could hear again, what a wonder, what a blessing. WOW! When I turned on my car for the ride home, I had the radio so loud, I was nearly blasted myself out of my seat.  I really wasn't hearing anything, what an unbelievable situation that had been. Here I was creating sign language apps and I had truly experienced deafness.  God gave me the gift of that perception.

What did I learn? I learned to be grateful.  I realized that I took so much for granted, my hearing, my sight, my limbs, my health, I had so much to be grateful for!  But back to the lack of hearing, it had been a frightening experience. I was very much alone and removed from what was going on around me.  It was frustrating and confusing.  I felt completely socially-isolated.  Now I knew what people with disabilities experienced every day and all the time.  To NOT be able to see what others are seeing, or hear what others could hear, or do what others were so easily doing - that is very isolating. To truly assist others experiencing disability, we must do what we can to take them out of their isolation and empower them to do everything they want to do and more.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why Sign Language?

The easy answer is Why Not? And the full answer is because you have so much to gain. 
Signing is beautiful and it is fun. It is a great way to encourage communication with young children and with those who have speech and/or hearing challenges. Signing can be used silently, or with vocalization.  Many signs are intuitive and children especially love the animal signs which are often very funny.   

For instance, the sign for DOG, is patting your thigh and snapping your fingers.

When my daughter was small and just starting school, she was unable to tell me about her day.  By us learning some signs together, we were finally able to communicate. We have always used spoken language when signing, because ultimately we wanted her to utilize full language.  In the past, she might just say or sign the word DRINK, holding a cupped hand to her mouth. 
In response, I would use signing as a verbal prompt.  I’d sign the word, “I” my pinky pointed toward myself and the sign for drink. This would get her thinking about saying more. She then would try to sign and/or say the sentence, “I want a drink please”. This encouraged her to make a complete sentence. Ultimately, with or without vocalization, signing allows a child to express themselves.

By teaching just a few signed words in a story, children and adults, have found it so much easier to learn and retain the words.  In our first Sign Me A Story app, 14 signed words are taught through live action video and animated adventure.  In the second story, 12 more signs are learned and previous signs are revisited.  By the end of the two apps, 26 signs are remembered. Kids can practice reading, review the videos as well. The story makes the whole experience entertaining and engaging.  

Signing is an amazing way to teach words, encourage language and break down communication barriers.  Why not learn to sign?  It will open up a whole new world.