Stressing the beauty of signing

New book brings more clarity to learning language of the deaf

Health & Fitness

April 13, 2003|By Michelle Jabes | Michelle Jabes,Sun Staff

The cover of Talking With Your Hands, Listening With Your Eyes: A Complete Photographic Guide to American Sign Language depicts two hands, captured in mid-movement. When the author's deaf mother saw the cover, she said, "Oh, Gabriel, you have such beautiful hands." However, according to Gabriel Grayson, "They aren't my hands. But you don't contradict your mother."

His hands may not be the ones decorating the cover, but Grayson's handiwork is found on every page of his new book. A decade in the making, Talking With Your Hands (SquareOne, $26.95) could become the definitive guide to learning ASL.

Grayson, who has taught ASL at the New School University in New York City for more than two decades, used many textbooks in his classroom. But he found that "all the books were done with line drawings. They didn't express the most important component, what was happening on the face ... the students weren't tuning in to the beauty of the language and the culture."

Instead of line drawings, Grayson's book contains almost 1,400 photographs demonstrating how to sign nearly 1,800 words. Three of the models are deaf. The fourth model is Grayson himself.

The page layout breaks down each word into hand shapes, positions, movements and visualization. A visualization key gives the signer an idea of what the movement actually looks like. For instance, to sign the word "bear," one is supposed to use the "right and left clawed hands" to cross over the chest several times. The "visualize" explains it as "A grizzly bear showing his powerful claws." In the photograph, a ferocious-looking Grayson scrunches his expressive face into a growl. "It's a very fun language," Grayson says. "Deaf people have a good sense of humor."

Grayson's book also offers a wealth of information about deaf culture, including information on what it's like to grow up with deaf parents. Grayson, a hearing child born to two deaf parents, hopes the book will spread a greater awareness of the deaf.

"One out of 10 people in the U.S. have a hearing problem," he says, "and there's over two million who are profoundly deaf ... and yet it's still not a well-understood disability."

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