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Good for Her? Girl Who Won't Stop Talking About ASL Knows 2 Signs, the ABCs, and Not One Deaf Person


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio / CC2.0

Last Thursday, Annenberg School of Communications junior Madeline Roberts took off her mint Fjallraven and sat down with UTB to discuss her viral TikTok. The TikTok, which features Roberts signing to a snippet of Taylor Swift’s Need to Calm Down, garnered 10K likes. 

Roberts adjusted her cloudy LOKAI bracelets and took a sip of Dasani. “Signing is so fun! This means water!” said Roberts as she signed "SODA" in American Sign Language. 

Slow down girlboss! That’s actually not the sign for water. But, uh, appreciate the enthusiasm? It's giving unironic Ugg-wearing and infographic spamming. When asked how she learned sign language, her answer was surprising.

“I barely know sign language. I can’t even remember what I signed in that video. I just did my best to copy some niche TikToker I saw. I also watch some girls’ accounts who do like cute signs of the day.

UTB screened Robert’s TikTok, which didn’t credit the original creator. With a little digging, we found some of the “cute signs of the day” accounts Roberts cited. None of the chipper, hearing, blond creators were fluent in sign language. Liiike we’re talking third-rate signers who sign for clout but do not listen to Deaf voices.

We pointed out that there are some really great Deaf and Hard of Hearing creators and organizations out there, like @aslconnect, @galladetu, and @loni.friedmann. There is also Penn’s phenomenal American Sign Language and Deaf Studies department. Hey Roberts, if you’re learning to sign from someone who is Deaf, you gain fluency faster because you are actually learning accurate signs while being taught about Deaf culture.

“Naw, I think I’m good,” shrugged Roberts. “I don’t really see the practical application and fiscal benefit of really committing to learning sign language. But I did just have this cool experience when I went out to a restaurant and saw a family signing. I wanted to go over and tell them about how I’m learning sign language. I didn't know how to sign that though, so I just stared at them all night!”

Roberts, that actually kind of proves the point that—

“I have another really cool one to show you!” Roberts held out her hand and put her ring finger and middle finger into the middle of her palm and waved it around. “I think this one means love… Or if you ask my boyfriend, it means rock on!”