“eaf people can do anything hearing people can, except hear.” I. King Jordan said when he was elected President of Gallaudet University, but is this really true? I asked myself, would I be able to do my job if I was Deaf? I think I could, although I certainly wouldn’t be able to do my job the way I do it now.
I’m in charge of the day-to-day running crew for Disney’s Electrical Parade costuming. My official title, for those of you who know Disneyland, is “Working Lead.” I’m not going to divulge any dirty Disney secrets, but I will tell you that my job entails a LOT of communication. I’m the representative for costuming to all other departments working on the parade, and I spend a lot of time talking to Stage Managers, Choreographers, Performers and my own crew. I also do a lot of teaching people to put costumes together, and supervising and correcting people who are doing things wrong. If I was Deaf, the method of communication would have to change a lot. Right now I just walk up to people and start talking.
How would the method change? I think in some respects, it’s already built into the system. I carry a notebook around with me all the time so I can jot down problems and fix them later. I could use that notebook to write down anything I wanted to communicate, or have others write down what they’d like to say to me. If I’m the inside Lead, where I’m likely to get phone calls, there’s already a person assigned to act as my buddy and run errands. They could certainly relay phone messages as well. If I needed to teach someone to put together a costume, I already show them the parts and how they all go together… they would just lack audio. I’m sure it would be really simple for everyone on crew to learn one sign: “Understand?” and be able to tell me yes or no. Being Deaf might even be helpful. I can already tell from across a parking lot if costumes are blinking wrong or missing a light bulb. Just think of how much more effective I’d be if my vision was as good as a Deaf person’s!
Some things, of course, would be problematic. We wear headsets every night so we can learn about problems happening where we can’t see them, and I would be unable to use these. If we are having an emergency, we have to be able to tell official people (usually over the headset) that there’s a problem while also trying simultaneously to fix said problem. I wouldn’t have time to stop and write. Then there’s the matter of General Announcements (things the crew is supposed to know about, or do that they aren’t doing). I’m not sure I would feel comfortable speaking to a group of twelve about what they were doing wrong when I couldn’t hear myself at all. I wouldn’t know how loud or soft I was being or if I was even clearly understandable. I would probably end up writing them down and having my fellow Lead read them for me, and I would just have to trust that she was getting my point across. In all of these cases I would have to rely heavily on someone else to communicate for me. This is something I’m certainly not used to now.
There’s no doubt that I could do it, though. I’m also certain that I would enjoy it as much as I do now. I could still enjoy the antics of the performers and my crew: having Chinese fire-drills when we’re waiting for the Fireworks to end… performing the hanger dance while waiting for the parade to come in. The fierce beauty of the electric lights as the parade leaves backstage would still leave me breathless. And I would never get that darn song stuck in my head. 🙂
If a Deaf person could do my job, with as much constant communication as it entails, a Deaf person could do any job. I fully believe that it’s just a matter of being flexible and figuring out what works best in each situation, with a little help from friends. Deaf people can certainly do anything hearing people can. I. King Jordan was so right, and that’s nice to have proof of.