Curatorial Statement: Imprinting Sign Heritage
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None of these signs are known to young Deaf people today. These specific signs are known only to Deaf printers who trained and worked in this field. Documenting these unique vocabularies has value in preserving language forms which are now endangered, and known only to a dwindling number of retired printers who are no longer working. The technologies and workplace practices described in these signs are no longer commonly utilized in newspaper printing. The rapid transformation of print technology over the last several decades led to the decline and loss of spaces where Deaf people worked and coexisted alongside their hearing colleagues at The Washington Post. The signs utilized by Deaf printers represent and reflect the realities of those experiences, and they are disappearing. Preserving these signs documents a trade that was widely taught in residential schools for white Deaf students from the mid-nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century. Many of the American Sign Language vocabularies for printing work likely originated in these educational contexts, passed from one generation to the next from teacher to student in vocational training classes. Entering the workforce, and often the Printers Union, Deaf printers carried these signs into and between print shops across the country further standardizing these language forms. These signs are essential to the stories told by Deaf printers. They are embedded with meanings that are both cultural and linguistic. They depict the complex components of workplace technologies, they reflect daily communication strategies with signers and nonsigners at work, and they reinforce the social connection between the Deaf printers who worked alongside one another for decades.