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Sign Language and Business:

by Julie Cusanelli
March 7, 2007

Sign Language and Business

            Every job or work position is in some way part of the world of business. From a nanny position to retail to corporate positions, we all have experience in it. Wouldn't it be great if in these positions, that businesses would be able to adapt to everyone's needs? Well, that's exactly what some companies are starting to do. Take for instance Sign Language, we all have heard of it and the use of it is rapidly increasing especially in the business world. Companies are starting to use interpreters and take classes in Sign Language in order to adapt to their hearing impaired employee's needs and their consumer's needs.

            Author Kathy MacMillian talks about incorporating Sign Language into company programs in her book titled Try your hand at this: Easy ways to incorporate sign language into your program. She talks about how to work with interpreters as well as certain myths about sign language that were cleared up. Another great thing she does in her book is talk about how to set up the program so that Sign Language can be incorporated into it. 

            One company that has started to pay attention to the needs of their consumers is Apple. Apple has recently launched their new product, the iPhone. What's so amazing about this phone is that the makers actually thought about how this product could be better used by hearing impaired consumers. The makers of the phone came up with the idea to create a larger on screen keyboard. Each key can remain small and within an orderly grid at first glance; then, by hovering your finger, the on-screen key is made bigger so that you can see it better," John Maeda explains. "It's a fairly simple idea and probably not brand new, but definitely a step forward in the awkward task of typing on a tiny virtual keyboard" (Scanlon and Walters 2007).

            Another company catering to their consumers is Co-op Travel. There an agent decided to learn Sign Language in order to help her customer's plan their holidays. Employee, Emma Powell decided to learn British Sign Language. It only took her one year to be able to help consumers feel more comfortable. She was quoted in the article saying "When I signed, ‘can I help you?' to them, their faces just lit up" (Yates 2005). Powell was inspired to learn by her boyfriend's mom who knew Sign Language and from that took a 32 week course. With word spreading of the travel agent who can sign, Powell is able to book many trips for the hearing impaired. She is able to listen and give feedback to what they want without anyone getting frustrated. In the end, everyone is happy.

A new program called SignBank is another way to make sure the needs of the hearing impaired are met. What exactly is SignBank? It's a FileMaker Pro database application that stores the movements, hand shapes and facial expressions in a written form of sign language known as SignWriting (Business Source Premier 2005). This program was designed to help the deaf improve literacy, translate and learn other forms of Sign language.  Using this system allows people to combine Sign Language and English. Many businesses, government facilities and education facilities are taking part in this free program. This program allows people in any business a step ahead.

Companies all over are making themselves more diverse and accessible to the deaf. They are doing anything from learning the language to using software in order to make their business more convenient for all their customers.


MacMillian, K. 2006. Give me a sign. American Libraries, 85.  

Scalan, J., Walters, H. 2007. The real genius of apple's iphone. Business Week Online, 16.

Worldwide Database, 2005. Deaf children learn to read with Sign Language database. Business Source Premier, 17, 2.

Yates, N. 2005. A positive sign for deaf custom. Travel Trade Gazette, 34-35.


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