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RARI: TRUE BIZ Discussion Guide

5 Parameters of ASL

1. Handshapes

2. Orientation

3. Movement

4. Locations

5. Expressions/Non-Manual Signals (NMS)

Communication, Assistive Technology and Accessibility

American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual-gestural language used as a primary means of communication by many Deaf people in the United States and Canada. ASL is a major part of American Deaf culture, and is transmitted from one generation of signers to the next. In addition to Deaf native users and deaf people who learn it later in life, many hearing children whose deaf parents use ASL learn it as a first language; other children learn ASL in schools or from friends and deaf adults; and it is increasingly popular as a "foreign language" in hearing schools and colleges.

ASL should not be confused with signed English or with signed pidgins, which use signs from ASL but put them in English-language order, often with additional invented signs to show English grammar and syntax.

Deaf people use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with each other and with hearing people who know the language.

  • ASL is a visual/gestural language that has no vocal component
  • ASL is a complete, grammatically complex language
  • It differs from a communication code designed to represent English directly
  • ASL is not a universal language - there are signed languages in other countries (e.g., Italian Sign Language, Chinese Sign Language, Swedish Sign Language).

The 5 Parameters of ASL

The parameters used in ASL describe how a sign behaves within the signer’s space. All five parameters must be performed correctly to sign the word accurately.

1. Handshapes

  • Manual alphabet and other variations of handshapes.

2. Orientation

  • The direction your palm is facing for a particular sign includes:
    • Palm facing out
    • Palm facing in
    • Palm is horizontal
    • Palm faces left/right
    • Palm toward palm
    • Palm up/down

3. Movement

  • A sign can display different kinds of movement such as:
    • In a circle
    • Up and down
    • Forward and Backward
    • Tapping
    • Back and forth
    • Wiggle

4. Locations

  • Location is the physical place where the sign happens in relation to your body within the signer’s space.
  • Signs can start in one location and end in a different location.
  • Examples: Chin, Shoulder, Front of body, Front left/right of body, Forehead

5. Expressions/Non-Manual Signals (NMS)

  • Non-manual signals refer to facial expression or body movement used to convey additional meaning with a sign.
  • Not all signs use non-manual signals.
  • Examples of NMS include:
    • Head nod/shake/tilt, 
    • Eyebrows
    • Nose
    • Eyes
    • Lips

Learn more on American Sign Language

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology refers to any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Assistive technology devices can be of  high or technology and include:

Assistive listening devices (ALDs)

  • Help amplify the sounds you want to hear, especially where there’s a lot of background noise
  • ALDs can be used with a hearing aid or cochlear implant to help a wearer hear certain sounds better

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices

  • Help people with communication disorders to express themselves
  • Devices can range from a simple picture board to a computer program that synthesizes speech from text

Alerting Devices 

  • Connect to a doorbell, telephone, or alarm that emits a loud sound or blinking light to let someone with hearing loss know that an event is taking place

Personal Amplifiers

  • Useful in places in which the above systems are unavailable or when watching TV, being outdoors, or traveling in a car. About the size of a cell phone, these devices increase sound levels and reduce background noise for a listener.

The following items can be used as additional means of communication usable for as many people as possible:


  • Note-taker
  • Sign Language Interpreter
  • Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART)
  • Video Remote Interpreting (VRI)
  • Videophones (VPs)/Portable Videophones​
  • TTY Relay
  • Video Relay


  • Captioning
  • Subtitling
  • Visual and textual information

Assistive Devices

  • Hearing aid
  • Cochlear implant
  • Vibrating alarm clock

Built Environment

  • Visual fire alarms
  • Visual door alarms
  • Textual announcements