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s you may already have known, I’m a History Major at Chapman University right now.  I’m allowed to do my Senior Thesis on any historical topic that I want (best news ever, by the way), so I have chosen to become a Deaf Historian for the next year-and-a-half!  I’m studying the National Association of the Deaf films that were made between 1910 and 1920 in an effort to preserve sign language.  So far, it’s been fascinating.  I haven’t been able to get my hands on all the films yet, but I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to soon.  They’re all at the Gallaudet University archives, along with all the correspondence of NAD President George Veditz.  It also looks like a school-sponsored trip to the Gallaudet archives might be in the cards for me.  Super exciting!

So, as part of my task to get rolling on this subject, I had to create an essay on how others have studied that topic in the past.  It’s ten pages long, and heavily footnoted (Yikes!).  I’ve included the intro down below, because I think it really gives a lot of info on the background of the films that’s fun, and also super interesting.  I always say to take my stuff with a grain of salt, because it’s not particularly well-researched, but you can take this one as well-researched fact.  I’ll paste the footnotes at the bottom.  I’ll also post the whole essay at some point, but I want to make it easy for those who don’t want to wade through a ten page essay on historic theory to skip.  🙂  Here it is!

George Veditz and the National Association for the Deaf Films

            In 1880 in Milan, Italy, the International Congress on Education for the Deaf voted to ban the use of sign language in Deaf[1] schools. [2]  Spurred by the rhetoric of Alexander Graham Bell, known to most Americans as the inventor of the telephone, American Deaf schools flocked to comply with the Milan Conference’s decision.  In return, a movement was spawned by Deaf community leaders advocating sign language instruction, fiercely hanging onto the culture they had fought so hard to create.  Still, it looked as if the Deaf were losing this fight as Alexander Graham Bell, a follower of eugenics, tried to convince everyone that the Deaf were forming their own separate race.  Even those who didn’t subscribe to eugenics “demanded the elimination of sign language, believing that it undermined English language acquisition and promoted deaf separatism.” [3]  In the end, deaf people would have to live in a hearing world, they argued, and they should have the skills to deal with that fact. Science has since proved what Deaf people knew all along, that this theory does not work in practicality.  Keeping sign language away from deaf people keeps all language away from deaf people, and can be harmful to cognitive development.[4]  Still, it looked as if sign might become extinct in the near future.

This is the climate in which the National Association of the Deaf, under President George Veditz, decided to make several films for the preservation of Sign Language.  “The N.A.D… has collected a fund of $5,000, called the Moving Picture Fund.” Veditz wrote, “…I am sorry that it is not $20,000.”[5]  With such a limited budget, Veditz and the NAD Board had to decide carefully which signers they would film and what subjects they would cover.  Ultimately, the films they chose to make tended to center on Deaf history, American patriotism, and religion[6].  Eighteen films were made in all, from the years 1913-1920, but only fourteen of these survived to the modern age.[7]  The loss of 4 films was due in large part to their heavy use by the Deaf community, and the poorly trained film operators responsible for winding the machines.

The films were made by pointing a static camera at the signers and having them lecture to it.  Often, small amounts of scenery such as vases and curtains were placed in the background for visual effect.  Because of the black and white picture and the poor resolution of the film, signers had to make sure they produced their signs large and signed slowly so everyone could see them.  After a few mistakes, most notably the film showing Edward Minter Gallaudet’s lecture – a retelling of Lorna Doone – filmmakers were also careful to place the lecturers on plain, dark backgrounds so their hands would show up easily.[8]  These films compared favorably with other films of the time in technical skill and appearance.

Once the films were completed, they were circulated throughout the United States to local Deaf Clubs.  These clubs would often couple the film screening with live entertainment, making each screening a huge event in the local Deaf community.  Large groups of signers would congregate in the hall downtown to see the films.  Sometimes, requests were made for the NAD to send transcripts of the films that could be read for any hearing visitors in the audience.  Although Veditz’s film, featuring his impassioned plea for sign language is the best known today, it was E.M. Gallaudet’s film that was most requested when the films were released, despite the difficult background of his film.[9]  This was probably due to the popularity of E.M. Gallaudet’s father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.  T.H. Gallaudet had been instrumental in forming the first school for the Deaf, in Hartford, Connecticut.

Although the films had a major impact on the Deaf community when they were first produced, scholarship on them has been spotty at best.  Many books cover the topic, but devote no more than a few pages to the exploration of the history of these films.  Some give no more than a brief mention to Veditz’s films as being the precursor to modern Sign Language recording.  This paper attempts to explore in greater detail not only the motives behind George Veditz’s creation of these films, and how these films influenced deaf culture as a whole, but also why the topic hasn’t been better covered by Deaf Historians.

That’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed! 🙂  Also, a link to Veditz’s film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XITbj3NTLUQ


[1] The deaf community uses the term “Deaf” with a capital D to denote the segment of deaf people who consider themselves culturally deaf.  This separates them from other groups such as the elderly, who may experience total hearing loss, but hardly identify with the Deaf as a community.  I feel it is important to make this designation in the language Deaf people use about themselves, and have continued this practice throughout the paper.

[2] Daniel Eagan, America’s Film Legacy, (The Continuum Publishing Group: New York, 2012), Page 11

[3] Signs of Resistance, Page 3

[4] Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf, (University of California Press: Berkley, 1990), Page 54

[5] Eagan, America’s Film Legacy, Page 11

[6] Susan Burch, Signs of Resistance: American Deaf Cultural History 1900-WWII, (New York University Press: New York, 2002), Page 58

[7] Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, (Harvard University Press: Massachusetts, 2005), Page 58

[8] Padden and Humphries, Inside Deaf Culture, Page 63

[9] Padden and Humphries, inside Deaf Culture, (Harvard University Press: Massachusetts, 2005), Page 63

At Disneyland where I work, they allow you to have a n extra little pin at the bottom of your name tag if you speak a language other than English.  I think the idea is that people from all over the world come to Disneyland and should you need extra assistance talking to anyone, you can just pull your friend aside who has a “Mandarin” name tag on and they can help you (or whatever language you need).  They’re really stringent about who they let have a pin.  You have to go and do a special test with a native speaker of that language.  If you pass the test, they put our name on a list, and only people with their name on the list are allowed to have the pin.

They offer an ASL name tag, but I’ve been holding off on getting one until I felt I knew enough sign to really help someone.  Besides, the guy I would be testing with is a CODA, interpreted for Hundreds of years at Disney World (OK, I’m exaggerating), and is now head of disability services for the whole park… very nerve-wracking.  I’m starting interpreting classes now, though.  I felt like this was something I should certainly be able to pass.  I also felt like this is just the first in a series of tests that I’m going to be taking in the next few years, so I better get used to it. 

Really, it ended up being super easy and a lot of fun.  The guy who tested me was extremely friendly and knowledgeable.  As soon as he started explaining what would happen, I knew I would pass no problem.  The test consisted of three parts:  Part one, he would give me a vocabulary work and I would sign it back to him.  Part two, he would sign a work or small phrase and I would tell him what he said.  Part 3 was a short conversation.  I don’t think I’ve taken a test so easy since ASL 1.  He was impressed that I knew the sign for “tickets” (super-easy!!!) and the hardest thing he signed to me was that he lost his 7-year-old daughter and explained to me what she was wearing.  The conversation part consisted  of the information you give to every deaf person you meet at any Deaf Event.  When the test was over, he told me that he thought it was the quickest he’s ever given, as he just skipped over the easy stuff.  Let me tell you, I felt great!!

The best part about the meeting, though, was all the information he gave me on Deaf Services at Disneyland.  He was saying that people will see my pin and expect me to be an expert, so he’d give me all the information he could.  Such cool stuff!! They have a little handheld Closed Captioning device that’s radio-tuned to the ride, so people on the ride can read what the overhead voice is saying in places like the haunted mansion.  They also offer interpreted performances four days a week, 2 days at California Adventure, and 2 days at Disneyland.  I have to say, I kinda want to ask for one of those Closed Captioning devices the next time I’m in the park.  It would be fun to see how accurate they are and how easy they are to read and use while riding the ride.  I’ll definitely have to do that and report back. 

The other thing we discussed that I thought was interesting is when I’m allowed to interpret and when I’m not.  It’s all stuff we’ve covered in classes I’ve taken too, but I thought it was great that he’s concerned about Deaf people having qualified interpreters when they need them.  All in all, I was very impressed with my Disney Deaf experience.  I can’t wait to try out their stuff for myself.  And in the mean time, I’ll be waiting for my pin to arrive!!

I started my first interpreting class two weeks ago, and boy are we talking about some interesting things!!  The name of the class is “Principles of Interpreting” and, as my teacher says, it’s everything about interpreting that doesn’t have to do with ASL.  We’ve been dealing with dress codes, on the job stress, talking about types of interpreting (who knew there were so many?!), and all sorts of other things. 

The topic I’m finding most pertinent right now is on the job stress.  A few weeks ago, I was in a work-type situation where there were a mixed group of Deaf and Hearing folks.  A very Audist gentleman was being a total A$$H*!@ to the Deaf folks, much more so than to any of the hearing.  He would spontaneously yell and reprimand people publicly.  I even once heard him say “I don’t care about Deaf Culture, I just want you to do it my way.”  I was not the interpreter in this situation (thank God!!)  but boy was I stressed!!  I think the worst thing for me was that this gentleman came into the situation spouting all the right stuff about Deaf Culture and Deaf rights.  It wasn’t that he didn’t know better.  it was just that, when push came to shove, he didn’t care.I was so stressed one night that – I’ll admit it – I went home and cried. 

In class, we’ve been talking about worse situations than the one I experienced, such as being the operator for a 911 VRS call, or having to tell someone in a hospital that their mother just died.  I’ve heard all this can wear on an interpreter until the experience what’s called Vicarious Trauma.  Don’t worry, I’m not re-thinking my desire to become an interpreter, I’m just thinking about all the tools I’ll need to handle this.

I have never handled stress very well.  My usual master plan is to go home and have a good cry, which frankly frightens my husband.  Crying is not a good strategy for stress management, at least not for me.  But what other tools can I use?  I’ll be pondering that as I take the rest of this course.  Along with everything else I’m learning.

he MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grants were announced a few days ago.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur foundation gives $500,000.00 to 20-40 Americans who “show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.”  These Americans can be in any field and they can spend the money on whatever they feel like, no strings attached.

This year Carol Padden was one of the recipients!  Carol and her husband, Tom Humphries, wrote several books about Deaf Culture, including “Deaf in America: voices from a culture”, “Inside Deaf Culture”, and two textbooks for learning American Sign Language.  I have read many of her books and consider them some of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of Deaf Culture.

Carol was born Deaf to her two Deaf parents and she also has a Deaf brother.  She attended a Deaf elementary school for a time before being put into a mainstream school.  Currently, Carol is a professor at University of California San Diego and studies signed languages.  She recently studied a new signed language in Africa that uses the actual body of the signer to indicate pronouns, as opposed to the area around the signer as in American Sign Language.

Carol is the first ever Deaf recipient of the Genius Grant.  She says she has no concrete plans for the money yet, but will probably use it for creative research.  “Maybe I have a few wild ideas I’ve been obsessing about,” she said in an interview “But they’re a little bit crazy. I’m not going to tell you about them until I can make them sound a little more rational.”

Not only am I excited that the field of Sign linguistics has gotten such amazing recognition, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.  Congratulations Carol Padden!!!

aturday was horrifically hot and awful.  It was over 100 degrees, and you could see the waves of heat coming off the macadam roadways.  Instead of staying inside like any decent person would, I worked Deaf West’s booth at DEAFestival LA.  Aside from the unbearable heat, I had an amazing time!

My shift at the booth was supposed to start at 2:00, but I hit the inevitable LA traffic.  That, coupled with a 3 car accident on the side of the road, served to make me a bit late.  As I pulled off the freeway, I saw with relief the little sign procaiming DEAFestival parking, and a blue arrow pointing the way in.  Murphy’s law tends to work out so that whenever I’m running late, I usually get lost too.  I was excited that didn’t have to worry about that today.  I drove down a dusty road while a volunteer pointed me to park in a vast expanse of dustiness.  There was a bus, shuttling people from parking lot to festival, so I retrieved my purse from the back seat of the car, straightened my new blue “Deaf West” shirt, and trudged through the dust to the bus stop.  I was excited when I knew one of the volunteers helping people park!  She also volunteers at Deaf West sometimes.  We chatted a little before I took my place in the shade to await the bus.

It probably took less that 15 minutes for the bus to arrive, but the opressive heat made it seem like much longer.  My little Disney Heat Index trained self was telling me to drink water NOW or suffer the consequesces.  Too bad I hadn’t brought any with me.  As I waited, I caught snippets of conversation from the others waiting for the bus.  I think that’s the first time I’ve understood parts of ASL conversation without trying too.  Evidence I’m getting better?

The bus dropped us all off underneath a line of tall pine trees, next to another field of dustines.  Blue Easy-ups stretched out in the vast expanse of brown dirt while people bustled here and there.  I joined them, determined to rush around and find the Deaf West booth as quickly as possible.  As soon as I joined the crowd, a woman stopped me.

“Hi!  You work for Deaf West?” she asked, signing with a very student accent.

“No, I’m a volunteer.” I signed back.

“Are you hearing?”  She asked me.

“Yes.”

“Oh thank goodness.”  She said to me in English.  She wanted to know about volunteering at Deaf West.  I told her that I considered it an amazing experience, that they needed people for just about everything, and that she could go on the website and fill out their form if she was interested.  We exchanged names, and I went on my way.

I found the booth pretty quickly, in the middle of the middle aisle.  Ty, the Deaf West representative was chatting with someone in front of me.  “Hi!” I signed to him, ” I’m volunteering today. I’m soooo sorry I’m late!”

“Don’t worry about it.”  He signed back to me, and I took my place behind the counter.  The next two hours were great.  I chatted with people in my bad ASL, handed out forms, asked them if they wanted to win tickets, explained the shows that were coming up, and all together had an amazing time.  They even had bottles of water for us to drink so we didn’t get dehydrated!  The other girl who was volunteering with me was an ASL 2 student, and she did so well!!  I don’t know that I would have done as well as she did when I was in ASL 2.  We made friends fast,  and exchanged numbers at the end of our booth stint.  Several Deaf people asked me my name, several more decided to tease me (which I always enjoy), and I saw a lot of funny t-shirts.  “I laughed my ASL off” was one of the t-shirts I really liked, but my favorite by far was “Don’t Scream, I’m not that Deaf.”  I also saw a LOT of people I knew milling about in the crowd.  It was exciting to know that I was recognizing people and becoming a part of the community, slowly but surely.

When my booth stint was up, I wandered around for a few minutes.  I decided several months ago that my dream interpreting job would be to work for GLAD (Greater Los Angeles Agency for the Deaf), so I was excited to see their signs.  I took a bunch of fliers, figuring I would peruse them later.   I also walked around to see if there was any ASL merchandise I wanted to buy.  Sadly there were only two booths selling things, and they were things I really wasn’t interested in.  The other thing I really missed was the TTY museum.  Maybe they decided not to attend because all their antique machines would be outside in the dust.  Aside from all the booths with Deaf themes, booths from the city of Los Angeles were there too. The Democratic party had a booth, the water district had a booth, and so did one of the candidates for city council.  It was nice to see people who aren’t part of the Deaf community trying to participate.  I commend them for trying, but it didn’t seem like many people were interested in what they were doing.  To be honest, I wasn’t very interested in what they were doing either.

I had an appointment that evening, so after I strolled leisurely through the rows of booths, I took the bus back to my dust-covered car and went on my merry way.  It was a great day!  I think my ASL stood up really well to the challenge of explaining things, I got to meet neat people, and I got to spend time with the Deaf community.  What could be better than that?  Not a whole lot.

y sister went out to the mall with some friends the other day, and a Deaf man left a little booklet on her table with the ASL alphabet and some basic signs inside.  She thought of me, so she bought it.  I was really excited about it.  Most of the signs are ones I don’t recognize, like GOOD, BAD, PERFECT, CHANCE and RIGHT.  I know versions of those signs, just not the signs listed in the booklet.  I had heard much about ABC cards and Deaf peddlers, but never seen them.  In fact, I had the impression that ABC cards were a dying breed and I’m excited that I now own one.

I know this is probably a controversial feeling.  Deaf people tend to look down on people peddling ABC cards.  The general feeling is that people handing out ABC cards are ambassadors, of a sort, for the Deaf Community.  Most Deaf people feel that these people aren’t the best roll models.  The impression they give is that Deaf people don’t work, that they rely on begging to sustain themselves, and that Deaf people can’t do everything a hearing person can.

I know neither my sister nor I felt this way.  She thought the little card was neat and bought it because she liked it, not because she felt sorry for the man selling it.  What she was really interested in is how he got it.  Who prints them, decides what they say, and how does the ABC card seller get them?  I went on a quest to find out, and what I found was, um… interesting.

My particular card was made up into a PDF file by a group called The Orange County Deaf Advocacy Center.  Before this latest version, they had another version where the signs weren’t very up to date, but they recently remade it to be more current.  The group prints the pamphlets and distributes them mostly to Deaf people, although they also distribute them to hearing people at fairs and other places that the Center might have a booth.  They also offer the PDF file on their website to anyone who wants to print some ABC cards themselves.  If you’re interested in looking at the PDF, here’s the link to it: http://www.deafadvocacy.org/community/freebies/des.pdf.  I think it’s interesting to note that nowhere on the card does it state the name of the agency- or have any other identifying information about where it comes from.

Now comes the juicy part.  How did I come across this information?  I found a message board thread where a man stated that they had just finished re-designing the ABC cards, and that distributing them would be “a win-win for the deaf community members and our deaf center!”  He linked to the same PDF file that’s listed above.  People ripped this guy a new one on the message board, but he seemed to enjoy it and was snarky right back to them.  It feels a little to me like this guy knew he was being controversial and wanted and internet fight.

So who is this organization providing ABC cards?  At first, I thought that the OCDAC might be some sort of dummy site or joke site.  I clicked around a little, and I found out that they’re a legitimate Deaf Advocacy organization.  They hold events, provide services, and otherwise function like a real organization.  They aren’t a joke.  The question now is, are they trying to make a joke?  On their website, on the page “Free Services”, the link to the ABC cards is listed as “Personal Fundraising Assistance”.  They’re just asking for it, aren’t they?

The third layer to this story is the fact that Deaf Peddling is illegal in California.  There’s a law that prohibits solicitation by those not connected with a non-profit institution, which includes Deaf people selling ABC cards.  Whether they’re trying to be funny or not, the reality is that OCDAC is making it really easy for people to break the law, without telling them that it’s illegal.  Do they realize this, or not?

I’m inclined to chalk all this up to a not-very-funny joke.  It seems to me that someone is trying to make a touchy subject a little less touchy by being flippant about it.  The fact that it isn’t funny, and that they’re potentially harming people seems to have escaped them.  That’s what I’m going to believe anyway.  Who knew that researching the gift my sister gave me would be so interesting and controversial?

esidential Schools are an important part of Deaf Culture.  Because 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents, Deaf Culture can’t be transmitted (as culture usually is) from parent to child.  So who teaches Deaf children about Deaf Culture?  Up until very recently, they would learn about it at Residential Schools.

Residential Schools are boarding schools specifically for Deaf children, such as Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, or the American School for the Deaf.  Usually, parents send their children away to these schools to get a specialized education.  The idea is that the children will be taught and supervised by Deaf adults who will pass on the culture to them.  Although in the past signing was often prohibited, today ASL is used in the dining halls and for recreation as well as in the classroom in these schools.  For many of the children attending them, it’s the first experience they have had without communication barriers.  Even in the days when signing was taboo, children still found a way to pass on the ASL tradition.  Because of the amazing sense of community fostered by Residential Schools, many of it’s graduates will settle down in the community around the school.  Often, they will even be employed by the school.   This creates an even wider Deaf community to teach the next generation of Deaf children.

Lately there has been a lot of debate about the best way to educate Deaf Children.  Slowly but surely, Residential Schools are falling out of favor.  In this time of recession and budget cuts, states are becoming increasingly unhappy to fund these places.  Also, the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 made interpreters more widely available to Deaf students in mainstream classrooms.  Many hearing parents feel that mainstreaming will allow their child to be more versatile as they get older, and more and more Deaf children are taking classes with their hearing peers.  Other options that have become more popular are special Deaf schools that don’t have a boarding option, such as California School for the Deaf.  While Deaf teachers at these schools still transmit parts of the culture to their students, Deaf children don’t live their whole lives at the school and have less strong ties to the place.

Even though Residential schools have fallen on hard times, they have been an  immensely important piece of Deaf Culture from as far back as 1817 when Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc opened the first Residential School in Connecticut.   Millions of Deaf children were educated in such places, and the transmission of Deaf Culture flowed smoothly generation to generation.  In this new age, Deaf people have more of a challenge.  They will need to figure out  how to communicate Deaf  Culture to young children in an age of ever increasing budget cuts, without the built-in network of Residential Schools to help them.

fter going to the Mata Expo for a couple of years, I felt like I knew exactly what to expect from the Deaf Nation Expo.  And it was pretty much as I pictured it:  booths and vendors and people everywhere on a much bigger scale than Mata.  The event took place at the Pomona Fairplex in one of their giant concrete buildings.  As soon as I crossed the bridge from the parking lot, I knew right where the expo was happening.  A giant mob of people were standing and signing outside the building, and a huge line on one side indicated all the people who hadn’t signed up for free tickets beforehand.  There was one difference for me from the other expos I had been to.  I was bringing my husband, Brian, who doesn’t know any ASL and has only spent time with highly oral Deaf people.

I usually feel like having Brian along makes everything a better experience, but so far I’ve avoided taking him to Deaf things.  I always worry that the language barrier will be too much for him, and that he’ll have a terrible time.  Lately, I’ve been trying to convince him to learn ASL with me. So I’ve envited him to the last few Deaf things and he’s come willingly.  I know he feels awkward about it, but he seems to have a good time in a surreal, culture shock kind of way.  Bringing Brian to Deaf Nation turned out to be one of the best things ever.  I’m naturally shy and won’t ask people things, even if I’d like to know.  Brian always wants to know, and isn’t shy about marching up to people he’s never met.  Because I was his “voice” that day, I ended up asking people all sorts of things that I never would have thought of on my own.  I got a lot of really neat information, too.  Did you know that the first TTY machines actually communicated using Morse Code?  I didn’t either.  I guess the first model that Robert Weichtbreit and James Marsdon put together was a machine that would either take in the Morse Code and translate it to English or take the English and translate in into Morse Code, depending on which way the information was flowing.  Cool, huh?  And I never would have known if it hadn’t been for Brian.  Even though he didn’t know ASL, he ended up enriching my ASL experience.  He’s so great like that.  🙂

This is the first time I’ve been out in the Deaf community that I’ve acutally seen people I know in droves.  At past events, I might run into one of my classmates at a large event, but for the vast majority of the time I’m alone with no support.  This time, I saw a ton of people I know.  Other students from my classes, people I know from Deaf West, old teachers, everyone was milling about in that giant building.  For the first time, I felt like I could maybe be considered a part of the community.  It was great.

I think most importantly, though, it left me wanting more.  I haven’t been able to attend all the weekend Deaf Events in Southern California because I’ve been working at Deaf West, but once the show is over I definitely need to start doing those things again.  I miss being out in the community and chatting in ASL with people I just met.  I’m starting actual interpreting classes (not the pre-interpreting stuff I’ve been doing) in 6 months.  I need more practice fast!  That means I’ll be doing everything I can to get into the community and chat more.  See you around.

eaf people can be really blunt some times.  They will go up to friends of theirs and say things like; “You got your hair cut.  I liked it better the other way.”  or, “Oh my gosh, you put on so much weight since the last time I saw you!”  If your hearing friend said something like that, you’d want to punch them in the face.  Some people find it hard to believe that this is considered polite behavior in the Deaf world, but it is.

Why would potentially making people feel bad about themselves be considered polite, you ask?  That’s easy.  Deaf people frequently feel like they have a small community of people whom they can trust, and that the wider world is against them.  Who knows what the people out there will tell them, they think.  But they know they can always rely on their friends to tell them the truth, even if it hurts.  The next time a Deaf person comes up to you and says, “is that a new shirt?  Well, I guess orange is just really not your color;”  just remember that they are showing you how much respect they have for you.  Enough to tell you the truth, no matter what you want to hear.

Another thing Deaf people frequently do that would be considered impolite in hearing society is “gossip” about each other.  Everybody always knows everyone else’s business, and will tell others about it too.  It’s not uncommon for someone to lean over to another person and say, “Did you hear that Sally’s getting a divorce from her husband?”  This is considered polite behavior.

Why is gossip considered OK, even desirable, in the Deaf world?   Deaf people want to feel like they’re a part of a wide community of people who care.  If you know their business, obviously they are valuable enough to the community that people talk about them and care about what’s happening in their life.  I think many people are also relieved that they don’t have to keep telling the story over and over.  If they are getting a divorce, for example, they can just break the news to some close friends.  It minimized the chance of  embarrassing incidents where someone must break the news to an acquaintance they barely know.  The person can just assume, probably correctly, that their acquaintance already knows their business, and move on from there.

Some of the practices in Deaf Culture can seem rude to hearing people.  I find that if you know why something happens, and why people are treating you “rudely”, you begin to understand that it isn’t rudeness at all.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  A sign of respect.

‘ve been volunteering off and on for Deaf West Theater for about a year now, more off than on.   It’s been a strange experience.  Usually I go in to help with behind the scenes work or to help in the office, and I don’t meet any Deaf people.  I meet a lot of hearing people who know sign, but the folks who are assigned to deal with the volunteers are all hearing.  It’s probably better that way.  You never know what kinds of volunteers you’re getting or how competent their ASL is.

Prior to my volunteer stint, I also applied for an internship at Deaf West.  I’ve been in theater my whole life and I know what’s going on.   I’ve also worked lots of office jobs to support my theater habit, so I know my way around an office too.  I felt like the interview went really well, and I was excited to work with them.    Unfortunately, I was a few school units shy of qualifying for the internship.  That’s when I decided to volunteer instead.  It has been fun.  I didn’t realize how much I  miss real theater and real theater people.  Disney seems to either chew these people up and spit them out or slowly change them into happy Disney techs.   The debauchery and uncouthness that’s so prevalent back stage doesn’t really exist there, and that’s part of what I love so much.  When Deaf West asked for volunteers to help usher for their new production, “My Sister In This House,”  I signed up immediately, and also included my phone number in case they had any problems.

I was called later the same day.  They needed a wardrobe person for backstage ASAP, and remembered that I had a lot of experience with costuming.  Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.  They asked me to do basically the same job I’m doing at Disney… put people in costumes, make sure the costumes are being sent to the correct cleaning places (washing machine or dry cleaner?), and doing minor repairs if buttons break etc.  Instead of dealing with costumes for 100+ people like I do at Disney, they have a cast of no more than 20.  I figured that volunteering and giving up all those Saturday nights was worth it for all the experience I would be getting.  Working with Deaf actors would also allow me to improve my rusty ASL.  Then they let me know they would be paying me a stipend.

WOW!  Was all I could think.  My 2 favorite things in the world are ASL and Theater, and I would be getting paid to work at an ASL theater.  You can’t get better than that.  I start going to rehearsals this week and I can’t wait to meet everyone.  This is such an exciting opportunity!!

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