The 38-year project from Deaf Missions will provide a valuable guide for other sign language translations of the Bible, as well as for translations of any text into the world’s 400-plus sign languages.
Deaf Missions has announced the completion of a 38-year translation project of the Bible from its original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into American Sign Language (ASL) using video. The organization had already completed the New Testament in 2004, but now the full text of both the Old and New Testaments will now be available to Deaf, ASL-communicating individuals through the Deaf Missions website or app.
“While Deaf Americans that are practicing Christians in particular have reason to celebrate, this really represents a broader win for all Deaf people and ASL communicators,” said Deaf Missions CEO, Chad Entinger. “This translation comes at a time in history when a lot is possible in terms of advancements for accommodating Deaf people. The explosion of digital technology and accessible video has allowed more Deaf people to share knowledge and communicate. Not unlike how the Bible was the first book printed on a modern printing press or the creation of the first Braille Bible in the 20th century, the availability of an ASL version of the Bible demonstrates a turning point in the culture toward normalizing sign languages.”
The pandemic has forced major limitations for the Deaf community when it comes to day-to-day routines and communications. Specifically, widespread mask wearing has created a major barrier for Deaf individuals, since facial expression is such a critical part of the language. Additionally, while video has become a primary tool in education since the pandemic hit, Deaf students have faced limitations in access, even with an interpreter present. Even in non-pandemic times, development of Sign Language translations will provide Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people much-needed access to both religious and academic texts.
“As a Deaf translator and a Christian, this work has been an important project for me,” states Renca Dunn, communication specialist and graduate of Gallaudet University. “What I wish more people understood is that for many Deaf people in the U.S., English is our second language. It can be a challenge for Deaf individuals to connect with printed text. It’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that, for thousands of years, Deaf people have faced communication barriers and lack of access to fully understanding one of the oldest and most cherished texts of all time – the Bible. Now, translators have the framework to keep translating the Bible into other sign languages. It’s incredible, the amount of impact it may have.”
In the United States, the CDC estimates that about 1 million Americans are deaf, not including those that are very hard of hearing. At least 70% of Americans identify as Christians. Additional survey data from the American Bible Society shows that 77% of Americans live in a household that owns a Bible. However, for many Deaf individuals, their Bible was not printed in their first language.
“We will continue our work for the Deaf communities, and we hope what we do reverberates into the culture. I’d like to see an America where it’s normal to see a video created in ASL engage the Deaf Community. One where it is typical for churches to utilize videos in ASL to reach Deaf people. One where schools have equal respect for English and ASL. I would like to see a world where Deaf people truly have equal access to information and job opportunities,” said Entinger.
Deaf Missions began the translation project of the Bible from the source texts into a viewable (not printed) version in American Sign Language almost 40 years ago. Founder of Deaf Missions Duane King began the project in 1982. The completed ASLV was primarily translated by Deaf people for Deaf people, featuring 53 different translators. The ASLV will now be used as a resource text for other Bible translations into one of the 400-plus unique sign languages around the world.
Although the project was led by Deaf Missions, the efforts also received support from the American Bible Society, Deaf Bible Society, Deaf Harbor, DOOR International, Pioneer Bible Translators, The Seed Company, and Wycliffe USA.