According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NICD), roughly 17% of Americans older than 18 have some type of hearing loss or deafness. This statistic includes the 4,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Many individuals who were either born deaf or have developed hearing loss due to trauma, illness or another cause use American Sign Language (ASL) as a primary method of communication. Teachers, friends, relatives and other interested people often find learning ASL to be a helpful and rewarding process. Pittsburgh residents can follow simple steps to learn about sign language communication.

Learning ASL

Visit the websites or call individual ASL programs in the Pittsburgh area. Schools and universities often offer sign language courses or certificate educational programs. Area schools, organizations and programs with sign language courses include: Community College of Allegheny County's American Sign language Certificate Program, University of Pittsburgh's ASL Studies Certificate, individual classes such as ASL 1 and Parent and Child ASL at the Center for Hearing & Deaf Services and Adult ASL at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

Determine your specific ASL needs. If you have interest in learning ASL to communicate with a friend or a relative, you may only need some basic training. Those considering working as a deaf educator or interpreter will need a certificate or degree program with multiple ASL courses. For example, the Community College of Allegheny County's certificate program allows students to learn advanced ASL skills and pass the American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI). The ASLPI is an evaluation of ASL skills that employers, schools and other organizations may use to assess sign language abilities. Select the school or organization and class and/or program with your ASL needs in mind.

Apply for the sign language program if necessary. Although some classes, such as those at the Center for Hearing & Deaf Services, do not have application requirements, college level programs may. For example, students at the University of Pittsburgh must complete a formal application for the college itself, as well as providing evidence of passing prerequisites such as ASL 1 and 2.

Register for your classes. Beginning students should start with a basic or ASL 1 level class.