Sent: Sat, Mar 27 8:00 pm
Subject: learning to sign
I was shown your videos from my new foster placement of a deaf teen.
I am trying to learn to sign, and as it is a minor passion of mine I
have been picking it up rather quick. I am having one problem and I
am hoping that you can point me in the right direction. In August, I
really tore up my hand. I was in a pedal bike crash and I tore all
the major ligaments in my hand to some degree. I did not have use of
my pinky for 6 weeks and didn't have use of my middle finger until
Christmas. Should I be concerned that I can't bring my hand into the
perfect position, or just do the best I can? For example, with the
letter e, I can not bring my thumb to the palm of my hand or my
fingers on my (used to be) main hand. I do try to use my left hand
for as much as I can, but I am struggling with some that need both
Thanks for your time, I really have learned a lot from your videos
so far, I am only on lesson 2, and they are great.
[Name removed for privacy]
Signing with physical limitations is common in the Deaf Community.
Many of us have physical limitations of one kind or another
especially as we get older and arthritic.
So we sign using smaller movements, we sign lower, we switch hands,
we choose versions of signs that are easier to do, we sign one
handed, we use hand heaters, we gently stretch, we use wrist and
other braces, we add context or mouth movements, and we figure out
which brand of pain-reliving rub has a smell and texture we can get
It is okay to switch hand dominancy in ASL if you are consistent
about it. If you are going to switch which hand you mainly
sign with then go ahead and switch but be consistent about it and
make that your actual new dominant hand for signing. Don't bounce
back and forth between hands. Pick one and stick with it to the
reasonable extent that your physical abilities allow.
My youngest daughter was born without second and third knuckles in
So she just does the best she can and gets on with life.
That applies to the rest of us: We just muddle through and do the
best we can with what we've got.
Our real friends will still be our friends.
Those who are not patient enough to take the time to figure out our
signing probably were not a good fit for us in the first place.
- Dr. Bill
William G. Vicars Ed.D.
Dear Dr. Bill,
Thank you so much for make all your material available for free for
self study. I am learning (or at least trying to learn) ASL for fun
and am really enjoying your lessons. I am starting to practice
finger spelling but I ran into a surprise for me: for the letter W I
cannot keep my three middle finger straight while holding down the
pinkie and the thumb. The 3 middle fingers end up like a claw and
they will not straighten up any further. I think something in my ring
finger ligament will not allow me to fingerspell "W" properly (my dad
also has issues with his ring finger ligament) so I was wondering if
there is an alternate way of spelling the letter W? If there is not
an alternate finger spell, would ASL speakers understand if I finger
spell the W with British "accent" (using BSL)?
There is not an "alternate" version of "W" that would be less
distracting than a clawed version of "W." Any alternate
approach would end up being more distracting than just going ahead
and using your somewhat misshapen "W."
Some ASL signers do recognize the British 2-handed Alphabet.
Or perhaps I should say they can start at "A" and work their way
through to "Z" (but not necessarily recognize whole words
fingerspelled quickly in the two handed British alphabet.).
However I don't see the BSL alphabet as being a feasible / alternate
fingerspelling approach for ASL-based communication.
You may wish to spend a few minutes each day stretching your "W."
Suppose you are standing in line at the grocery store or watching a
video -- you could stretch your fingers during that time. Stretching
may or may not "work" but I suppose the only way you'll know is if
On another but related topic: Those of us in the Deaf community are
generally quite a bit more accepting of physical deformities than
the mainstream Hearing community. So while you may be bothered by
your "W" we generally are not.
Sorry this is kind of a weird question, but I have trouble
spelling/signing some words because my hand are too 'tight.' ex. my
'Y' or 'yellow' or 'play' or 'still' sign are lame because I can't
put my pinky all the way up without bringing the ring finger part of
the way. Is this a common thing? And would you happen to know of any
exercises where I could improve this flexibility. Again I know you
re busy so if you cannot answer this question I completely
understand. Thank you for the lessons.
No, a misshapen "Y" is not a overly "common" thing but it occurs often
enough that it is not that big a deal for most everyday
ASL communication. You might perhaps not want to plan on a career
in interpreting -- but for chatting with Deaf people at a pizza social
you should be just fine.
I'm not a medical doctor and thus if I had an attorney my
attorney would tell me to tell you to check with a medical
professional who specializes in hands before engaging in any self
therapy. So, sure, if you have the money or medical insurance
I encourage you to see a specialist.
As far as "exercises" to improve your "Y" -- yes, there are things
you can do. Your ring finger is probably jutting out because the ligaments
and/or sinews between it and the pinkie are not limber enough and
the muscles in your ring finger are not strong enough.
I'll share what has worked for me in the past:
non-dominant hand, gently and slowly stretch the pinkie finger of
your dominant hand backwards while holding the dominant hand ring
finger down will help limber up that area of your hand.
putting your dominant hand flat on a table, now lift it up about an
inch off the table and bend your ring finger at the large knuckle so
that the fingerprint pad is touching the table. Now push the
hand down while trying to hold the hand up with just the ring finger
(almost as if you are trying to do a push up using only your ring
finger). That will help build the right muscle. Eventually it
is likely that you will be able to form the letter "Y" correctly.
But even if you are not able to do so, it is not "that" big of a
- Dr. Bill
You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™
ASL resources by Lifeprint.com © Dr. William Vicars