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n my interpreting class last night everyone was required to do a group presentation on a topic of their choice.  There are only four boys in the class, so they all banded together and decided to do gender issues in interpreting.  Out of all the presentations, theirs impressed me the most.  They brought up a ton of interesting stuff.  that I had never contemplated before about interpreting for a person of the opposite gender.

*Disclaimer: There are dirty words in this post.

To start off their presentation one of the boys signed a story to us and asked us to write down our interpretation.  He told us it was an informal conversation among friends, so we should keep that in mind while interpreting.  My translation was “3 of my friends and I went out to a bar.  We were sitting at the counter when this girl walked up and sat down.  Her skirt was so short, you could totally see her vagina.”    Other girls had written down silly euphemisms like “Lady Junk” and our female teacher wrote down “she was clearly not wearing chonies.”

The boy’s point on this was that none of those words would have come out of their mouths… possibly vagina, but not very likely.  When they did the same excercise, they came up with words that would be considered much dirtier, like pussy and snatch… words that most females feel uncomfortable saying.  I’ve spent a lot of time around (extremely) rude and crass boys before, but none of those other terms came to my mind as I was translating.  I don’t know if I was just so concentrated on the meaning that I forgot I was representing someone else’s conversation, or if it’s truly because I’m female and uncomfortable with saying those things.  Maybe it was a little of both.  I think this exercise was a drastic example of how the male mind and the female mind work completely differently, and that you have to be aware of those things if you’re going to interpret for someone of the opposite gender.

Another thing they brought up was “Passive Voice”.    Passive Voice is a way of speaking and acting towards another person that is deferential.  Women often use passive voice when interacting with people, both male and female, so as not to be perceived as bitchy.  We do it without thinking about it, so it’s not a conscious choice or anything.  Males, however, often use a more aggressive voice – especially in business situations.  This will influence your interpreting style.

To illustrate this, the boys talked about the story of a woman interpreter and her male deaf client who was a manager at a company.  She noticed as she was interpreting for him at work meetings that the assignments he gave people either didn’t get done or got done much slower than some of the other manager’s requests.  She decided to have a chat with her client about how he wanted to be perceived around the office and then did her best to perpetuate that image through her speaking, even if it was uncomfortable for her.  People suddenly started taking his assignments more seriously.  When her client’s work evaluation came up, she did the same.  Instead of saying things like “I think I did pretty well this year”, she would say things like, ” I did great this year and this is why.”  She said she felt very rude and pushy doing it that way, but the performance evaluation went amazingly well.  When it was over, her deaf client told her it was the best evaluation he had ever had.

I think this is another good example of an interesting thing: I know how to be a woman in the world, but in order to be a good interpreter I should also learn about being a man in the world as best I can.  If I don’t learn more about gender dynamics and how men operate, I can potentially hurt a client by misrepresenting him.  I mean, best case scenario – he sounds silly.  Worst case scenario – he misses out on a promotion because he’s perceived as weak.

It’s a lot of food for thought, and something I’ve never really pondered before.  This interpreting stuff is harder than it looks!!



odger Young was born in the small, rural town of Tiffin, Ohio.  His family moved nearby, to the smaller town of Green Springs a few years later.  Rodger was the oldest of five children, and the family loved to get together and play music as a group.  Rodger also grew up hunting with his father in the woods and was an excellent marksman.

In Green Springs, sports was the hinge-pin of the community.  When Rodger started High School, he was determined to make his mark on the ball field despite his small stature.  He was too small to play Football, and the coach wouldn’t allow him to participate.  At 5’2″ he was also too short to play Basketball, but the coach took pity on him and decided to let him play anyway because of his enthusiasm.  Mostly, Rodger played in practice games, but it was during a regular game that tragedy struck.  Rodger was fouled and knocked flat onto the concrete, hitting his head and blacking out.  In the months following his accident, Rodger’s hearing and eyesight deteriorated to the point where he was almost completely deaf and needed to wear thick glasses.

Rodger’s school work was greatly impacted by his accident.  He could no longer hear the teacher, and he could no longer see the blackboard in class, no matter how close to the front of the room he sat.  After a year of struggling to keep his grades up, Rodger decided to drop out of High School and go to work for the local factory.  His family could use the money, and he didn’t feel like his school career was going anywhere.

A few years later, wanting a little extra spending cash, Rodger joined the Ohio National Guard with his brother.  During peace time, the national guard would meet a couple of weekends a year and there was little expectation that they would be in actual combat.  Rodger had been interested in the military before his accident, but knew that his hearing and eyesight would keep him out of the official US Army.  He didn’t pass the test to get into the National Guard with flying colors, but he explained to the man in charge why he wanted to join up, and they let him anyway.

The expectation that the National Guard wouldn’t be in actual combat ended with Pearl Harbor.  Suddenly, the Ohio National Guard had become nationalized as part of the regular US Army, and Rodger was on his way to the South Pacific to fight in World War 2.   Because of his amazing performance as a soldier in the National Guard, Roger was given the rank of  Sergeant with a troop of men under his command.  He did his best to hide the true extent of his hearing loss from the higher-ups in the Army, but it was well known that his hearing wasn’t perfect.

When word came from the top that a big campaign to take control of the Munda Airstrip would be underway, Rodger began to worry.  He knew he could take care of himself in battle, but he didn’t want to be responsible for others lives when he may not be able to hear an order to retreat, or hear where the enemy was located.  That night, he went to his commanding officer and asked to be demoted to a private.  At first, his commanding officer thought he was trying to get out of fighting completely, and he wouldn’t let Rodger step down.  Eventually, the officer ordered that a hearing test be performed.  When the test showed that Rodger was deaf, the commanding officer tried to send him away from the battle, but Rodger wouldn’t go. He insisted on staying and fighting, and the officer sent in Rodgers demotion paperwork that night.  Rodger would be responsible only for himself.

The battle didn’t go well for Rodger’s unit.  They were taking heavy machine-gun fire from a mounted gun operated by 5 Japanese men.  The machine-gun was set on top of a hill, and covered ground for miles.  Rodger’s unit had gotten themselves into a safe position for the moment, hiding behind some trees, but if they were to either advance or retreat, most of them would have probably been killed.  They couldn’t wait out the situation, either, as the Japanese would surely have ambushed them.  After carefully reviewing the situation, the Sergeant in charge of the unit decided to order the men to retreat anyway, as he didn’t see any other way out of the situation.  According to reports, Rodger looked right at the man and said, “I’m sorry Sir, but you know I don’t hear very well,” and went running toward the machine-gun.  He was able to launch a grenade into the midst of the five men operating the gun, killing them all, before dying of his wounds.  This heroic act allowed the rest of his unit to escape the battle without further loss of life.  It also gained Roger Young a posthumous Medal of Honor.

A year or so after Rodger’s death, the Army decided that they’d like to have a song made about one of their heroes.  They commisioned a man named Frank Loesser to look through the Medal of Honor citations for a Private, and to tell that man’s story in song.  Thus the ballad of Rodger Young was born.   Had Rodger kept his rank as Sergeant, he would not have had a song made of his story.

Though Rodger Young was an unlikely looking hero with his coke-bottle glasses and his short frame, he saved many people’s lives that day in the South Pacific.  He will be remembered throughout history as a brave and courageous man.

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!!

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:  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?

don’t know if any of you have heard about California bill AB2072.  If you haven’t, I greatly urge you to look it up.  This bill will be terrible for Deaf Education, as it places all the responsibility of educating parents about options for their deaf child in the hands of Audiologists.  Don’t look now, but the all the progress Deaf people have made with being treated equally has just been set back 100 years.
I thought the time to be able to say something had passed me by, because the bill was passed in April of this year.  I just found out, though, that they’ve sent the bill back to the Committee On Health for further review.  That review is scheduled to happen on June 16th.  If you feel as strongly as I do about this bill, I urge you to write your State Senator because you can still make a difference.  You can find out who he is by clicking here:, and then clicking on “Your Senator” on the left hand side.  This is the letter I sent:
Dear Senator Huff,
I am very concerned about the bill AB2072, which deals with hearing screening and resources for families of Deaf children.  I feel that there are several problems with this bill, 1: that Audiologists will be in charge of dispensing information to families, 2: while the bill states that all kinds information should be given, it doesn’t specify that the information should be treated with equal weight, and 3: the Deaf Community has not been brought in on this issue.
The job of an Audiologist is to fix hearing problems.  When one medical procedure isn’t working they will frequently fall back on another medical procedure, even if it isn’t best for the child.  Oliver Sacks, in his book Seeing Voices, shows that keeping language away from children harms them developmentally.  Audiologists frequently tell parents not to sign with their children so they will learn to speak faster.  The problem with this philosophy is that speech to a toddler who can’t hear isn’t language.  It’s only speech.  If Audiologists become the prime source of information for families of Deaf children, a situation is created that could harm the cognitive development of Deaf children for generations.  This doesn’t even touch on the emotional harm done by Audiologists who hold Deaf people to a standard they will never be able to meet: that of a hearing person.
I have noticed that the bill states that all kinds of information should be given to parents of recently diagnosed Deaf children.  While I commend the effort to be inclusive, I’m worried that this information will not be given equal weight.  It is too easy to hand parents a million pamphlets while pushing a purely oral agenda as the only option.  This ultimately denies parents the equal information the bill pretends to provide.
I am also upset that the Deaf community has not been brought in on this issue.  I am 100% hearing myself, and I have learned through my association with the Deaf community that I will never know what it’s like to not hear.  The only experts on Deafness are Deaf people themselves, and it worries me that they have been shut out of this process.  I can’t understand why Deaf people weren’t talked to about their experiences with the system or asked to be a member of the committee designing the bill.  It also upsets me that, when the omission of the Deaf community was realized, the bill was pushed through anyway.  I feel that a bill cannot be in the best interests of a community when the community hasn’t been allowed to put forth their opinion.
I realize that you are not serving on the Committee On Health, but I hope you will pass my comments along to someone who is.  This issue is extremely important to me.  I agree with the senate that the current system we have in place could be improved, I just don’t think that AB2072 is an improvement.  Thank you so much for your time.
Casey Hamilton

ee What I’m Saying” is a documentary that was made about a year in the life of four different Deaf performers: C. J. Jones the comedian, Bob Hiltermann of the band Beethoven’s Nightmare, T. L. Forsberg the singer, and Robert DeMayo the actor.  It covers all their disappointments and successes throughout the year in trying to become better known for the things they love to do.  C. J. Jones, a huge celebrity in the Deaf world,  tries again and again to break through into the mainstream hearing culture but is constantly rebuffed.  Bob Hiltermann has been teaching for two years, and feels the need to get the band together for one more show so he can be a rockstar at least once more before he dies.  T. L Forsberg tries to find her place in the Deaf world even though many people look down on her because she can pass as hearing, has a singing career, and imperfect signing skills:  they feel she isn’t Deaf enough.  Even though Robert DeMayo is considered a premier actor and even teaches at Juliard, he finds it hard to get work;  everything culminates for him when he is evicted from his apartment and is forced to live on the streets.  The documentary premiered in Los Angeles on March 19th and is being shown exclusively at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in Hollywood until April 1st.  After that, it goes to New York and then into wider circulation.

I had been DYING to go see the movie.  Everyone in my classes was talking about it and saying how amazing it was.  I finally told my husband, Brian, that we were going whether he liked it or not, so we did.  I can’t believe how much everyone was low-balling how great the documentary was.   You wanted to cry with the performers through their difficulties and cheer with them through their successes.  Even Brian, who knows no sign and nothing about Deaf Culture, found the movie incredibly inspiring.  We both agreed that when Beethoven’s Nightmare puts on it’s next show, we will be there with bells on and nothing can keep us away;  the concert they showed was just about the coolest thing I think I’ve ever seen.

Little by little, Brian is learning more about Deaf Culture.  I took him to the ASL Comedy Tour about a month ago and he loved it a lot.  At one point during the movie, Keith Wann interprets for Robert DeMayo.  It was really fun for Brian and I to turn to each other and say excitedly, “That’s Keith Wann!!”.  While in theory I know how small the Deaf world is, it was highlighted a lot in this movie.  The performers all know each other and work together constantly.  The same people turn up over and over.

While the movie was AMAZING, the best part was the ending.  Brian turned to me before the lights came up and said, “Don’t look now, but the girl from the documentary is standing in the aisle right behind us!”  T. L., Bob, and the director Hilari Scarl all showed up to answer questions at the end.  It was really great to meet everyone!!  We bought a Beethoven’s Nightmare CD, T. L.’s newest CD, and a See What I’m Saying poster which everyone was more than happy to sign for me.  It was crazy, because you get all star-struck seeing what amazing artists these people are on the screen and then their right in front of you.  I’m sorry to say that my ASL suffered a little bit of a breakdown due to nerves, but not too badly.  It was a really great day, and I’m so happy that the open captioning on the film and the amazing volunteer interpreter made me able to share it all with Brian.

I would strongly recommend that anyone who is able to should go see this film.  It was a wonderful experience.  The director was telling us all that the future success of the film relies on how many people go to see it in LA right now: I guess movie theaters in other big cities like to gauge how much interest there is before deciding to screen a film.   So if you go to see it, not only will you be treating yourself to a really good time, you’ll be helping people in other cities have a really good time too.  This was, without a doubt, the best time I’ve ever had seeing a movie!

For more information on how to see the film, visit

ndrew Foster was born in 1925 in Ensley, Alabama where racism was at it’s strongest.  His father was a coal miner and the family had very little economic opportunity.  When he was 11 years old, Andrew and his brother both contracted Spinal Meningitis and became Deaf.  The family did what they could to send the boys to the Alabama School for Colored Deaf in Talladega, but their education wasn’t very good.  When Andrew was 16, the family moved into his Aunt’s house so the boys could get a better education.  Andrew finished high school at the Michigan School for the Deaf.

The family was deeply religious and attended church services every Sunday.  It was in Sunday School that Andrew realized his true calling.  A missionary from Jamaica came to the school one weekend and gave a talk about his work in Africa.  Andrew was extremely interested in the man’s experiences and felt that it was his calling in life to become a missionary in Africa too.  If he was to succeed, Andrew also knew he would need a lot of education.  He wrote to Gallaudet College and they accepted him on a full scholarship.  He was the first black student to ever have been accepted at Gallaudet; four years later he became the first black, deaf graduate of Gallaudet in 1954.  He then went on to accieve two Master’s degrees.

Then came the hard part.  Andrew visited every mission he could think of, but in spite of his thorough education they would not accept him as a missionary because of his race.  Instead, Andrew finally started his own mission.  He flew to Liberia for the first time in 1957.  What he saw there was extremely upsetting.  The other missionaries he was in contact with told him that deaf people didn’t exist in Africa at all, but eventually Andrew found them.  Many people thought that deafness was a sign that a person was cursed, so parents were forced to hide their children.  Deaf children who weren’t hidden were frequently left in the wilderness to be eaten by animals.   There was absolutely no education available, and most Africans believed that the deaf were unable to be educated.  The best a deaf person in Africa could hope for was to become a family’s servant, using rudimentary signs for basic communication.  Andrew knew he had to do everything he could to change the fate of African deafs.

Andrew heard about a community in Ghana with a high rate of hereditary deafness, much like Martha’s Vineyard in the United States.  Figuring that he could make an impact quickly in this community, he traveled to Ghana and used the regular school facilities to teach deaf students after hours.  Within no time at all, he had 300 families from all over Africa requesting that he teach their children as well.  The borrowed facilities were no longer enough.  Andrew flew back to the United States to raise money for a permanent boarding school to be built.  A year later, the first school for the deaf in Africa opened in Nigeria.

Andrew faithfully promoted his new schools everywhere he could.  It was at the Third World Congress for the Deaf that he met the love of his life, a German deaf woman named Berta.  She felt just as strongly about Andrew’s mission as he did.  They were married in Nigeria in 1961, and worked together to establish more schools across Africa.  In addition to the schools, they also established deaf Churches, Sunday Schools, Youth Camps, and Teacher Training facilities.  The two also had five children, 4 boys and 1 girl.

Sadly, in 1975 Berta was diagnosed with terminal Cancer.  Although their worst fears weren’t realized (she is still alive and well today), Berta felt that she could not keep up with their nomadic life in Africa any longer.  She and the children moved back to the United States.  Andrew still felt that he had not finished his work in Africa.  He decided to split his time, spending half of the year in America with his family and the other half of the year in Africa establishing more schools and churches.  In 1970, Gallaudet University honored Andrew with an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters.

In 1987, Andrew was on a small plane traveling between schools when the plane crashed in the hills of Rwanda.  There were 11 people on board the flight and none of them survived; Andrew was 62 years old.   As one of his students, Gabriel Adepoju, said, “Andrew Foster is to Africa what Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is to the United States of America.”  Andrew established 31 schools in over 17 African countries.  The mission he started is still going strong, and his legacy lives on in the tens of thousands of deaf Africans who are now literate and living good lives thanks to his lifelong effort on their behalf.

woke in a pool of conspicuous silence and immediatley felt strange.  Then I remembered I was deaf today and I suddenly felt excited.  The earplugs I wore didn’t block out the sound completely, but they blocked out enough noise that I couldn’t hear much.  The little I did hear was completely distorted, sounds seeming to come from places they shouldn’t, and not sounding anything like they did before.  In my 24 hours of ‘deafness’ I learned a lot of things about myself and my relationships.  I also understood why deaf people call themselves a linguistic minority, and don’t think of themselves as disabled in any way.  My morning, afternoon, and evening seemed to separate themselves in to natural parts of a regular day – alone, out in a hearing world, and a typical evening at home.

My morning was very odd.  It struck me immediately what I was missing, and I realized that everything has a sound.  It’s not just the things you think about making noise, like a squeaky door or the tick of the clock.  As I turn over, the bed sheets make a rustling noise, and even my hand makes a soft thunk as it connects with the hard cover of my book.  Missing all these things made me feel quite disoriented.

At the same time, it was an average morning.  I typically spend much of my time alone, and you don’t need hearing to appreciate The Sims 3 computer game.  Watching TV in closed captioning was different for me, but I found it oddly peaceful not to be bothered with the din of comercials.  It was only when I lost my keys and I had a panic attack about being incapable of finding them that I realized how much not being able to hear affected me.  When I realized what was happening, I had to sit myself down and give myself a pep talk.  I found them quickly after that, but more importantly, I lost the feeling of incapability.  I realized fully that there wasn’t anything I usually do that I couldn’t anymore because of being deaf.

My husband, Brian, and I had made plans to go out to lunch together at the college where he works.  Usually, I give him a call, he comes out of his electronically keyed office, and we pick a place to eat.

“I’m here” I texted him as soon as I arrived that day, but evidently he felt texting wasn’t hard enough for me.  Instead, he insisted I come to the office and write what I wanted to the woman at the front desk before he would come out.  My note “I’m deaf today.  Is Brian there?” brought him out with a sadistic smile of glee.

“Dining hall OK? It’s buffet style.”  He wrote to me, and when I nodded, we set off.

We winked, made silly faces, and shared jokes with pen and paper all of lunch time, but he was definitely treating me differently than normal.  He physically stopped me from walking into the dining hall first so he could talk to the woman and pay for us.  It felt so unnatural.  He also proceeded to take my hand and lead me around to each station so I could see all that they offered.  If he couldn’t attract my attention, he would just reach out and grab me.  I also noticed that in moments when I didn’t understand his gestures, he would resort to talking to me (which I couldn’t hear, because of the ear plugs). I felt a little bit like a child.  We did have a great time anyway.  Brian doesn’t really sign, althogh he knows the signs I use most (like ‘keys where?’ ‘ready?’ and ‘your mom’) but he learned a few new ones that day.  We laughed and wrote and generally had a wonderful time, just like we normally do at lunch.  I went away from the experience thinking that the communication barrier between us wasn’t such a big deal after all.

After lunch, I decided to go to Target and test out being deaf among strangers.  By this time, I was feeling confident about navigating in the hearing world.  I looked at a million things, tried on a bunch of clothes, and bought a sweater.  The only think I noticed that was different from a normal Target experience was that people aren’t very nice to you when you don’t speak to them after they’ve said hello.  Otherwise, it was just the same as being hearing.

I took a very peaceful car ride home to make dinner.  Out of habit, I turned on the oven and then went to check my e-mail until I hear the beep tell me it was pre-heated, without thinking about the fact that I couldn’t hear the beep.  A half-hour later, I realized that the oven had been pre-heated for a while, and that I was going to be making dinner without the aid of timers.  No reading fiction and cooking at the same time for me.  When Brian came home from work, we ate dinner without communication.  Without the notebook between us, things felt stinted and strange.  We stared off into space awkwardly.  Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I went and grabbed a piece of computer paper and a pencil and placed it on the table between us.  Brian started writing right away.

“Isn’t it odd that we have to have a paper and pencil to communicate even the simplest thing?” he asked me.

I nodded.  “I wonder if we would still like each other after a while if one of us was deaf and the other wasn’t.” I wrote back.

“I was thinking that too.”  He wrote.  “There’s a lot I wanted to tell you today that I didn’t because I didn’t want to write a novel.”

I realized right then that although we had joked around and been silly at lunch, I really had no idea how his day had gone.  We didn’t talk about office drama or how school had been for me the day before.  We hadn’t talked about anything that really mattered to us.  I imediately felt so disconnected.  Superficially, things were just the same as always, but under the surface there was a definitive communication barrier that we couldn’t cross.

When I took stock of my day, things were surprisingly normal  I had to make a few adjustments to my regular life for not being able to hear, but otherwise I acted and functioned just as I always do.  Certainly, I lived a more solitary existence than usual that day, but my morning alone, time out with others, and typical evening home were much like they always are.  It was only when I tried to connect with Brian on a non-superficial level that I ran into problems.  I realized that if I became deaf tomorrow I wouldn’t really miss hearing things, but my relationships with those I care about would change in immesurable ways if we suddenly didn’t speak the same language.  And change is always scary.

I just found out the other day that September is Deaf Awareness month.  It’s exciting that there’s a whole month dedicated to learning more about deafness.  In honor of that, I’m going to jot down a few things that several of my Deaf teachers have said happen frequently to them that they consider extremely rude, or think people are nuts for doing.

First of all, there are two polite ways of getting a deaf person’s attention.  If they are accross the room from you, you can wave your hand at them, or ask someone near them to tap them on the shoulder.  If they are near you, you can feel free to tap them on the shoulder yourself, by using one finger and tapping two or three times.   Don’t wave your hand in front of someone’s face, don’t ever throw things to get someone’s attention, and don’t tap someone’s arm incessantly until they turn around.  Let’s face it, you wouldn’t like it if someone tried to get your attention those ways, so don’t do it to others and they’ll appreciate it a lot!

If two people are signing to each other and there’s no way arround them except by going through their conversation, it’s OK to do so.  Just walk right on through as quickly as possible, and if you know the sign for excuse me, you can go ahead and sign it.  If not that’s OK too, just try to be as quick as possible.  If you try to go underneath their signing hands, people will look at you as if you’re nuts.  Not only that, but you’ve disturbed their conversation because they’re looking at you and thinking ‘what the hell?’ instead of briefly pausing to let you through, then resuming their conversation naturally. 

If you’re meeting a deaf person and you don’t know ASL, follow a few simple guidelines and your communication will be easier.  First, always look at them straight foreward, and don’t let your eyes wander like they would in a hearing conversation.  Don’t try to enunciate… it distorts your mouth shapes and makes it harder for a deaf person to lip read than if you were speaking naturally.  Let them use paper and pencil, or whatever you have lying around to write with and on, and admit if you don’t understand something.  It will save you lots of embarrasment later if you just admit you don’t know what they’re talking about, rather than agree to something you aren’t OK with or look like a fool by saying yes to something that isn’t a yes or no question.

So there you go… several simple things that will keep you from looking rude or completely nuts in the presence of deaf people.  Happy Deaf Awareness month!!

expressing myself

ASLMy Dad became an Administrator the other day, that dirty word of the Deaf community.  He got a new job in charge of Special Education for his district, including several children currently attending the local Deaf School.  It’s been a little odd for me, because our experiences with Deaf people have been so different.  Sometimes I feel like we’re on opposing sides, because all of my experiences have been so positive and all of his have been so negative. 

“Hey, do Deaf people shake hands?  Or is it some sort of a Culture thing that they don’t?”  He asked me one day at lunch.

“I don’t know,” I replied.  “Why?”

“I had a meeting at the Deaf school today, and when I was done speaking, everyone came up to shake my hand except the Deaf people who were there.  I just wondered if it was some sort of a thing.”  He told me.

I knew instantly what had happened.  My Dad was just another in a long line of Administrators knowing nothing about Deaf Culture to them.  In their eyes he was the enemy, of the same breed that tried to take Sign Language away from them 100 years ago.  It wouldn’t have mattered what he said.  They would already have made their minds up about him.

“That’s funny.”  I said to him non-commitally.  I didn’t want to tell him that they hated his guts on sight.  I didn’t want my Dad to hate them too.  I thought if he didn’t know how much they automatically disliked him, then he could be nice without strain… and then maybe the cycle of “them” vs. “us” could be broken. 

I needn’t have tried.  The Deaf at the school had no problems at all in showing my Dad just how much they disliked him.  They made it abundantly clear several times how they really felt, and they were not tactful about it at all.  The dislike for everything the other group stands for now flows in both directions. 

I haven’t really known what to do about this.  My Dad and I don’t fight about it or anything, but at the same time I feel as though my love affair with ASL has placed us on the opposite side of each other.  I consider the behavior of the Deaf school further proof that Deaf people are just like hearing people:  they have their jackasses and their hard heads just like they have their friendly welcomers and their comedians… just like hearing people do.  My Dad’s only experiences with Deaf people have been with the jackasses and hard heads, and that’s sadly all he can see.  It’s impossible to blame him for hating to have to deal with that.  At the same time, I wish with all my heart that he had better experiences. 

My experinces have been so amazing.  Deaf people have been incredibly welcoming to me and so patient with my limited ability to sign.  They’ve been inclusive, and hanging out with them makes me feel vibrant and full of life.  I love the jokes and the games and the festival atmosphere that surrounds even the simplest Deaf Event.  The culture is amazing, too, and I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life without knowing who Laurent Clerc or Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet were.  Learning American Sign Language has been such a life changing experience for me. 

I don’t know what to tell my Dad.  In some ways, I’d like to tell him how neat Deaf Culture really is.  I’d like to talk with him about the issues in Deaf education that I’ve been reading about and show him that, in the whole picture, most of it is really great.  I wish I could do that without taking a side, without standing against my Dad on the side of Deafness.  Because in truth, I’m on his side too.

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