Sam is deaf and is learning American Sign Language (ASL) as her main method of communication.
She is delighted when she comes across another person who knows ASL.
“Yea, her whole personality changes when it’s someone who can communicate with her,” Sam’s mother, Glenda Savitz told CBS.
Her neighbors took notice in her eagerness to talk to others and wanted to find a way to communicate with her. As a community, they decided to hire an ASL instructor and immerse themselves in ASL, according to the news report. Twenty people ended up joining the class to learn together.
Their teacher, Rhys McGovern, told 6 ABC that she was impressed that the neighbors were learning sign language to help the young girl feel more connected with her community.
“It’s so important for deaf babies and kids to have full access to language,” McGovern said t0 6 ABC. “What this community is doing to support Sam shows the power people have to really change one person or one family’s life.”
Back in the 1800s, there was a high deaf population in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts and most residents knew both English and sign language.
According to Boston Magazine, 1 in 25 people in Chilmark, a small town on the island, was deaf. The sign language that the residents used was called Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) as it was before the development of American Sign Language. Deafness was widely accepted by the community and 25 in 25 people knew MVSL. Bowdoin Van Riper, the librarian at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, told The Atlantic how people in the Chilmark community treated one another.
“People tended to think of the deaf folks in Chilmark as individuals first,” Van Riper said, “and not about their disabilities, except in a peripheral way. No different than someone who’s very tall or only has one eye.”
Since the 1800s, fewer deaf residents live in Chilmark and there are few people who still know MVSL.
Sign language is a great way to immerse yourself into the deaf community. There are different ways that you can learn sign language.
Through learning sign language, you can connect with many other people in your community as the twenty neighbors in Newton, MA have for Sam.
Explore more methods of learning sign language here.