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Siblings Called Out By Disabled Man For Using Sign Language In Public Even Though They Aren’t Disabled

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Many of us have a family member who needs different accommodations than the rest of the family, such as hearing aids or a wheelchair. As a family, we do what we can to take care of them.

Outside of the home, unfortunately, not everyone will be so accommodating or open-minded.

Two siblings were surprised to find out there’s a time and a place for the accommodations they’ve always performed for their deaf older brother.

One sibling, “SnooPineapples4931” on Reddit, wrote in to the “Am I the A**hole?” subReddit, wondering where to draw the line.

The OP (Original Poster) asked the sub: 

“AITA (Am I the A**hole) for using sign language in public even though I’m not disabled?”

The OP explained how integral sign language has become to their communications. 

“My oldest brother is deaf from birth. And my younger brother and I were taught sign language when we were little so we could communicate with him.”

“It’s very often that when we are among friends or at family gatherings, my younger brother and I would still communicate with each other using sign language especially when we want to talk about something we don’t want other people to know.”

“My oldest brother has no problem with it.”

Despite the brother’s open-mindedness, the OP just found out others may not feel the same. 

“But apparently some people think it’s so disrespectful to use sign language when we are neither deaf nor mute, especially in public.”

“Yesterday at a friend’s parent’s funeral, which we were attending, a family member of the friend, who is disabled, confronted us.”

“He told us we, who have no hearing or speaking disability, shouldn’t be communicating using sign language in public because, first, it’s offensive to him and other disabled people.”

“Second, because we are giving the wrong impression to people who don’t know us that we’re disabled, which is also offensive.”

Despite trying to explain the situation, the OP was still reprimanded.

“I told him my oldest brother is deaf so we have been communicating using sign language around the house for years since we were little and that we had no intention of offending anybody with disabilities. It’s just a habit.”

“He insisted that it’s still very offensive that we do it and asked us to stop.”

“I politely told him he’s not the boss of me and I can do whatever I want and then left.”

“Am I really the a**hole?”

Fellow Redditors wrote in anonymously and assessed the situation using the following scale:

  • NTA: Not the A**hole
  • YTA: You’re the A**hole
  • ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
  • NAH: No A**holes Here

Many Redditors were discouraged by the man’s response to their use of sign language.

“NTA, unfortunately people will always find something to be offended by.”

“I worked as a cashier at a grocery store while in school, we had several deaf or speach impaired customers that came in regularly to shop. I started to learn ASL so that I could greet them and do the basic script like ‘paper or plastic?’ but I decided to take classes as well.”

“The way their faces lit up when they realized that I could understand them and talk to them was just amazing. One woman told me that she had only ever met one other clerk that knew ASL well enough to have a conversation.”

“That’s just heartbreaking, we should all be learning ASL. It’s not difficult at all once you get the hang of it, and it’s rewarding. At the very least we should teach kids basic ASL.”yellowtrim

“Yes, and as with any language it needs to be used to keep skills sharp. The only time it’s rude is if using any language to be rude to or exclude someone. (Ex: Me using my bad Italian to talk about someone.)”

“Members of extreme deaf culture don’t get to decide for everyone else. NTA”cappotto-marrone

“I’m gonna go with NTA because I think sign should be taught to everyone in schools and whatnot. It makes communication easier, and for people like myself with hearing and comprehension issues feel most comfortable when I see people in public using the practice.”

“It’s not like you’re screwing around taking a wheelchair for a joyride or anything. Heck, this person getting offended is like one of those ‘this is America- speak English or leave’ jerks. That’s the common language spoken in your family. You’re doing fine.”H*llcatEllie

Others pointed out how signing to exclude others from the conversation was questionable. 

“it’s rude to talk in another language in mixed company who don’t speak that language so as to sh*t talk, same rule applies here. That’s pretty bad etiquette and you (OP) might want to reconsider.”AvocadosfromMexico_

“While I agree with your assessment that it’s speaking another language, it could be construed as rude to switch to a language only you and your brother speak while in a group of people. That’s how I see it.”

“I’d just say ESH because the guy at the funeral probably shouldn’t have been offended, then again, why tell secrets at a funeral? And don’t say it isn’t a secret…if it wasn’t, they’d just talk to each other”QueenRhaenys

“Yeah, this made me pause. Obviously the guy who confronted them is wrong. But in many other AITA posts, the person who purposely talked in another language in front of other people to exclude them from a conversation got labeled TA (and I agree with that).”

“If OP and his brother were just talking on their own, then yeah they get to choose whatever form of communication they prefer. If it’s when they’re part of a group, I’d think they’re at the very least rude.”LazyOpia

Though this situation left the Redditors a little divided, both sides made excellent points.

The siblings continuing their practice even when their older brother isn’t around helps them hone their skills and hopefully even normalize the use of sign.

Their motivations for practicing, however, such as concealing information or excluding others, could be considered questionable and could even give the use of sign language a bad rap.

McKenzie Lynn Tozan

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit www.mckenzielynntozan.com.