Sign Language for Emergency Situations: ASL, English & Spanish

It has been about two months since the first run of my newest video – Sign Language for Emergency Situations -ASL, English and Spanish appeared at my front door. I carefully opened the huge boxes and looked at the “zillion” copies that were all over my living room floor. How funny, that this little DVD carried so much history with it… none which is reflected on the DVD itself or its’ cover.

You see, I first decided to create this DVD on a date that will be easy to remember- September 11, 2001. It was a date in which many families, including mine, were intimately impacted by the days’ events. I had a brother and a cousin within sneezing distance of the World Trade Center that day. I had other relatives and numerous friends who all had Manhattan addresses. I also knew that many deaf individuals resided in NYC and wondered how terrified were they on that fateful and tragic day when communication was minimal at best and fear was at an all time high. In addition, my own family lives within a half hour to the nation’s capitol. Our local area, including our neighborhood, has dozens of families who work for government agencies, many of them deaf.

Sign language for emergenciesThat is the day I decided that I wanted to be part of the communication solution for those in the deaf community. I knew that my brother had benefited that day from the ability to ask questions of others that day as he walked the streets looking for a way to get home. He was able to assist others with the information he received and be a benefactor of the generosity of total strangers. He also could hear. But, what happened to the people who were not able to communicate during the flurry of madness on this unbelievable nightmare of a day? Pencil and paper was not practical when there was so much happening and the need for safety was tantamount. If only the emergency response workers knew simple signs such as – EVACUATE!, GO INDOORS, ARE YOU HURT?, WHO IS MISSING?, WHAT IS YOUR NAME? EXPLOSION! DO YOU NEED HELP?

It took me a long time to wrap my head around the events of 9/11. I know that I am not alone. But, then it came to me- I needed to develop something to help people who speak two of the four most common languages, other than English, in the United States to get assistance during natural disasters, medical crisis or if ever there was another 9/11! So, with help from my friends, especially Karina Prizont Cowan, I developed Sign Language for Emergency Situations with ASL and narration in Spanish and English. The entire DVD is signed and open captioned – for all to have access.

I started this journey by querying people who would be first to respond during an emergency. I went to fire stations throughout our local area and ask them what they would include. I asked emergency personnel such questions as – How much time would they dedicate to learning a new skill, such as basics of sign language and what they would want to add, if anything? I also talked to school nurses, health care providers within hospital settings (including pediatrics), educators, parents of special needs children and even people I “met” through social media. I made sure to include deaf people in my “focus” groups. Showing them list after list of vocabulary words and phrases. Finally, the final list was generated and a DVD was filmed. Afterwards, I showed it to many who helped with their initial input. Modifications were made to the video at the very strong request of First Responders who wanted it “short and sweet- 25 minutes or less!”. We also decided to add the Sign Language for Emergency Situations mini-chart that accompanies the DVD as an enclosure. The last piece prior to duplication was two super endorsements- Alison Rhodes the Safety Mom and Mackenzie Kelly of NORCAL Ambulance.

When the DVD was completed we put it up on YouTube and asked many people to “check it out”. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Then I began to think how can I get this to the people who it could benefit most. Twitter, Facebook, friends and good old word of mouth were very effective. Harris Communications- a large distributor of products for the deaf and hearing community who wish to learn ASL, etc. “hopped on board”. Hilary Bilbrey, owner of InspiredbyFamily.com and the creator of the Brecker Bunny Series took my DVD to a safety conference and was kind enough to give me feedback from the very people who I wanted to reach- emergency personnel!

Dozens of phone calls later I have talked to people from all over the country who wanted to know how to access the product, workshops and more. They are excited about the DVDs and the mini-chart for emergencies. They are thrilled that we have a unique product, which no one has encountered before, a TRILINGUAL emergency communication series with English, Spanish and ASL! Also, they like that our little company is accessible and affordable since so many areas have been hard hit financially.

I know that it has only been a very short while since those boxes appeared but I have booked guest speaking appearances to help train emergency personnel around the country. I am hoping this is only the beginning!

Healthful Hints:

Tips for getting started when learning American Sign Language (ASL):

  • Learning ASL can be loads of fun! Start with a few words at a time and practice with your family, friends, and co-workers to help your skills to improve quickly (and teach others!)
  • Parents should start with signs such as: MORE, HELP, FINISHED, BE CAREFUL with their children (depending on the age and developmental level of the child would determine where to start)
  • Also, knowing the letters of the alphabet and numbers 0-10 should be essential for beginners. Why? Because in a true emergency these would be the words most needed to help convey personal information and get an immediate response. If you can spell or read the ASL alphabet (known as the manual alphabet or fingerspelling) then you can convey any information to a deaf person who can “read ASL” and vice versa, such as names, email addresses, and phone numbers.
  • Children and adults with special learning challenges often need to sign adaptively. However, adults who live and work with these individuals should sign correctly. The same is true for parent of young children. “Baby sign babble” will give way to correct signing if the adults are good language models.

Signs for Emergency Situations

  • Knowing the Signs for CALL 9-1-1! HELP! PAIN, EVACUATE! could save LIVES!
  • If Emergency Responders, Law Enforcement officers, Health Care providers, School Nurses and Educators knew basic emergency ASL signs they could help communicate and facilitate assistance during natural disasters, acts of terrorism, emergency health care situations, or if a person is lost or has been abducted.
  • Non-emergency situations also can be a reason to learn sign language such as in the case of looking for a lost puppy or fixing a “boo-boo” that occurred on the school playground.

Enjoy your journey and let me know if I can help you along your way.

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