A Milestone for the Deaf Community: ASL Bible Translation Completed

Deaf Missions

Deaf Missions announced today the completion of a thirty-eight-year translation project for the Christian religious text, the Bible, from its original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into American Sign Language (ASL) using video. The organization previously completed a major section of the Bible known as the New Testament in 2004; today, Deaf, ASL-communicating individuals can access the full text using 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 hit the Deaf community especially hard when it comes to being able to maintain day-to-day routines and complete rote tasks. Specifically, widespread mask wearing makes it difficult for Deaf individuals because facial expression is such a critical part of the language. This means workers at essential businesses like doctor's offices, grocery stores and restaurants might struggle to communicate with Deaf patients/customers and vice versa.

Additionally, while video teaching has become an excellent way for schools to continue, it's limiting for Deaf students.  Even when Deaf students from pre-school to the collegiate level have access to a robust suite of amenities via an interpreter, there are still limitations to fully accessing the information being presented.  The majority of school texts are presented in printed English.  Having access to the ASL Bible in their first/most natural language provides direct access to the content, making the ASL translation a needed win for the Deaf community to celebrate.

"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, but this does not include those that are very hard of hearing.  At least 70% of Americans identify as Christians. Additional survey data from American Bible Society shows that 77% of Americans live in a household that owns a Bible; however, for many Deaf individuals the Bible on their shelf was printed in their second language.

"Translation of religious texts is the first domino knocking over into a new era," continued Entinger. "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."    

The movement owes its advancement to the growing availability and capabilities of technology. Thirty-eight years ago, Deaf Missions began the arduous project of translating the Bible from the source texts into a viewable (not printed) version in American Sign Language.  Founder of Deaf Missions, Duane King began the project in 1982 to break down the language barrier Deaf people often face when it comes to the Bible. 

The completed ASLV was primarily translated by Deaf people for Deaf people, featuring 53 different translators.  With the rapidly changing technology, Deaf Missions reinvented not only process, but the outcome numerous times over the last 38 years, paving the way for other translation work in other sign languages. The ASLV will be used as a resource text for other Bible translations - more than 400 different sign languages exist around the world. 

This project has been made possible by countless supporters of Deaf Missions.  Deaf Missions would like to acknowledge partnering organizations who helped make the completion of this work possible - American Bible Society, Deaf Bible Society, Deaf Harbor, DOOR International, Pioneer Bible Translators, The Seed Company, and Wycliffe USA.

Deaf Missions will host a virtual celebration on October 1, 2020, on their Facebook page.

For additional information, please refer to our media kit for the ASLV:

About Deaf Missions
Deaf Missions, whose mission is to clearly communicate the Gospel of Jesus with Deaf people through their heart language, culture and identity, is located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.



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