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etty G. Miller was born in 1934, and her parents were both Deaf.  Betty had two older brothers who were hearing, so everyone just assumed that Betty was too, especially because she could clearly hear a little bit.  It was a surprise to everyone in her family when she attended Kindergarten for the first time and was diagnosed as Hard of Hearing.  This threw her family for a loop.  Remembering all the prejudice and oppression they had experienced at the hands of hearing people, Betty’s parents decided that they wanted her to make the most use of whatever hearing she had.  This is why they made the surprising decision to send her to Bell School in Chicago – a school known for Oralistic practices.  Later, Betty’s parents took her out of Bell School and switched her into a regular mainstream school.  But the mainstream school didn’t have speech therapy, so Betty went to still another school in the evenings to be tutored in speech.

Betty did the best she could at these schools, and was a very successful student.  She got her degree in Art Education from Pennsylvania State University , but it wasn’t until she started to teach at Gallaudet University that things seemed to click for her.  She finally felt the sense of belonging that she had missed out on in her mainstream school career.  Betty’s art focused completely on the Deaf experience, depicting the oppression Deaf people face at the hands of hearing, and also exhibiting the joy of sign that can be found throughout the Deaf community.  Many of her paintings depict puppet-like deaf people – no doubt a response to all her speech therapy classes.  Artwork that focused entirely on the Deaf experience was an entirely new form of artwork in the 1970’s, and came to be called “Deaf View/Image Art.” Or De’VIA Betty was one of the early pioneers of this form of art.

Betty’s first one woman show took place at Gallaudet University in 1972, entitled “The Silent World”.  It was so successful, that throughout the 1970s’, she continued to have shows frequently at Gallaudet.  They were all very well received.  This spurred a series of one woman shows throughout the 1980’s and ‘90’s, and also many collaborative shows with other Deaf artists.  In 1993, Betty put on a showcase of eight Deaf artists, which was the largest collection of De’VIA that had ever taken place.

After 13 years of teaching at Gallaudet, Betty decided it was time to move on.  After a time touring around the country putting on shows, she became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor – the first Deaf person to ever do so.  This has allowed her to have a rewarding career helping other Deaf people overcome serious addiction problems, and also educating other Drug and Alcohol counselors on how best to work with Deaf people.  She has published a book about her and others experiences entitled “Deaf and Sober: Journeys Through Recovery” which she has both authored and illustrated.

Betty is currently in her 80’s.  Unfortunately, she has suffered from some memory loss and doesn’t create art very often anymore.  When she does, it’s usually in Neon  – a medium she discovered in the late 1990’s.  Still, her pioneering efforts in the field of De’VIA will always be remembered as some of the greatest contributions of the 20th century art world.  Without Betty, the world would be a little less bright and a little less Deaf-aware.

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!!

I just got word a few days ago that I got into Chapman University, which I’m so thrilled about, I can’t even tell you!!  They like me, they really like me!

While this doesn’t exactly have to do with sign, it does get me one step closer to getting a BA, which gets me one step closer to being certified as an interpreter.   I just thought I’d like to share the good news.  🙂

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.

In the late 1600’s, an extended family from Weald, England settled on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in New England.  The family carried a strong hereditary deafness gene, and as they married and intermarried, the rate of deaf people born on the island rose steadily.  By the 1700’s almost everyone on the island had a deaf family member or two.  Because of the high rate of deafness, the society on the island was completely different from mainstream, mainland society.

Mainland New England at this time was generally a terrible place for deaf people to live.  Many people believed that deafness was a punishment from God.  While the families of deaf children may have developed home signs, mainstream society could not understand these rudimentary signs, usually only good for expressing basic needs and requests, and different from home to home.  Scholars debated about whether a deaf person could reason and learn like a hearing person.  There were almost no career opportunities for deaf adults.  The best they could hope for was to be trained to do manual labor for someone else’s business.

The prospects for deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard were completely different.  Many of the former residents of the island were interviewed, and they paint an idyllic picture of what it was like to live in Martha’s Vineyard during this time.  Because everyone had a deaf family member, everyone in the community knew sign language.  Deaf people were farmers, store clerks, anything they wanted to be.  Hearing people would sign to each other over the large expanses the island farms created, a deaf person could walk into a store and the clerk would always know sign.  Deaf people were even elected to high political office, becoming mayors and council members for the island, a thing unheard of in the rest of the country.  When telling stories about the community, the people who were being interviewed could only remember after much prompting if the people they were talking about were hearing or deaf.

The rare deaf/hearing equality experienced in Martha’s Vineyard is still remarkable today.  In a society where hearing people are ignorant about deaf issues and can be very rude, a place like Martha’s Vineyard seems particularly wonderful.  The equality that was shared by everyone, and the prejudices about deaf people that didn’t exist, make the little island community seem like the perfect place.  Many deaf people consider it the ultimate utopia.

Ironically, the opening of the first deaf school in Hartford, Connecticut was a big reason why the hereditary deafness on the island petered out.  Many deaf people from the island attended the school, met and married other deaf people who’s deafness wasn’t hereditary, and lived and had children near the school on the mainland of New England.  As more and more of the population moved away, less and less deaf children were born on the island.   In 1952, hereditary deafness died on the island with the death of Katie West.  Though the community is gone today, it’s signs live on.  Children attending the Hartford school mixed their signs in with the French Sign Language Laurent Clerc brought with him from Paris, creating much of the uniquely beautiful American Sign Language that exists today.

t Mount San Antonio College, where I’m studying for my sign certificate, there are ducks all over the ASL department.  Rubber ducks, duck pens, decoy ducks, yellow feathers, plush ducks, basically any kind of duck you can think of, it’s there somewhere.  Frequently I’ll come into class and there will be duck pictures drawn all over the white boards, with the words “Quack” written everywhere too.  On the day a bunch of people came into class wearing duck masks and pelting little duck erasers at the teacher, we got a hilarious explanation of what’s really going on.   This is what we were told:

Robert Arnold started it all, he fully admits to everything.  In his first year of teaching, he was required to attend these once a week meetings about how to be a better teacher.  He’s Deaf, so he had two interpreters to go with him.  Well, the meetings were pretty boring.  So instead of trying to pay attention, he decided to screw with the interpreters.  He would be signing really inappropriate things to the one interpreter while the other interpreter was trying to do her job, and vice versa.  The interpreter would be watching their conversation and trying really hard not to be unprofessional and laugh.  The other two were also frequently trying not to laugh out loud and disturb the meeting, which they did with varying success.  The interpreters didn’t know what to do.  They finally asked the big boss, Julie Bradley, what they should do about the situation so they could remain professional.

Julie decided to come down to the meeting and see what was going on for herself.  Instead of behaving himself,  Bob asked the interpreters why someone hadn’t made an air freshener for farts.  You could stick it up there and when you farted it could emit a little puff of scent and be really nice.  Or how about a whistle?  Instead of the farting noise, it could whistle Yankee Doodle or Camp Town Races or something.  Eventually this devolved into sticking a duck whistle up there.  That way when you farted, you would emit a really loud duck call.  After that he would draw pictures of ducks on pieces of paper and hold them up for the interpreters to see as they were trying to do their job.

And so the Duck Wars were born.  It’s the interpreters against the Deaf teachers, and they both attempt to recruit students to their side.  The interpreters started leaving Bob little plush ducks and things, and Bob chuckled in glee as he told us about the day he completely covered every inch of Julie’s office with yellow feathers.  She duckified his office in retaliation a little while later, and now there are ducks all over the place.  Most of the students seem to be on Juile’s side.  As she points out, she teaches most of the interpreting classes and it’s kinda up to her whether we pass the program or not.  I also think that, as future interpreters ourselves, we tend to side with our partners in occupation.

As Bob says, the Duck Wars are a great way to break the monotony at work and have a little fun among colleagues.  I think it gives our department a little more personality.  All the students love it, and it’s never disrupted our learning environment.  In fact, I think it adds to it.    It’s great to be in a serious class, but sometimes a little diversion helps you study better after it’s over.  So if you’re going to Mt. SAC, slip someone a duck.

I’ve been doing this blog for over a year now, and I think it’s high time there was some signing going on.  My teacher asked us to sign an embarrassing moment that had happened to us, and it had to involve either food or liquid.  I’m pretty proud of the video, and I thought I’d share it.  There’s one place where I get a little flummoxed, but otherwise I think it’s great.  The transcript is below for everyone who’s “ASL Challenged”.   Thanks for watching!!

~

long time ago, I worked at a Dinner Theater.  You know, people go in and sit down and eat and when they’re finished they watch a show?  Yeah.  I was a bus girl.  I filled people’s water glasses, I gave people bread baskets, and I took away everyone’s dirty plates.  I was busy all the time, always running around.  I didn’t have time to take a dirty plate, walk all the way to the kitchen with it, and then do it all again.  Instead, I had a tray.  I would place it at the end of the table and put all the dirty dishes there.  When everyone was finished, I would carefully pick up the tray and walk to the kitchen with it.

One night I was running around like usual, and I heard the music start, I heard the show start.  I hadn’t picked up my tray yet!  I ran into the dining room and picked it up as quickly as I could, but I wasn’t very careful.  As I stood up, the tray slid backwards and crashed to the floor.  Plates went flying everywhere and food went flying everywhere.  Everyone’s head snapped in my direction as people picked up their feet to avoid being hit by the flying food.  I was standing there all red faced when the lights went out.  I had to sit there in the darkness, picking up all the plates, and cleaning up all the food.

My boss was a funny guy.  At the end of the night he came up to me and said, “Oh, poor you.  You had a bad night.  Here’s a soda.”

I thought, “Really?  I made this horrible mistake and you’re giving me soda?  Wow.”

Thank you, Thank you!!

lectricity is another great game to play in ASL class.  It helps you learn you alphabet better, as you will have to identify letters with your eyes closed.  Also, trying to pass the letter on to your neighbor as quickly as possible leads to lots of fun times.  Here are the rules.

First, pick two volunteers.  One will be the “Source” and the other will be the “Light”.  Next you need two lines of people, the lines must contain an equal number of people.  The two lines of people face away from each other and hold hands.  The “Source” connects the two lines together on one end, and the “Light” at the other, to make a circle with all the members facing the walls of the room.  The “Source” is the only person who should be looking towards the inside of the circle.  When everyone is ready, they will close their eyes.  The “Source” will sign a letter to each of the people they are holding hands with at the same time.  Those people will then pass the letter like a chain down the line until it reaches the “Light.”  The first team to get their electric current to the light wins.  If the letter is not correct, however, that team looses and the other team wins.

You can repeat this as many times as you want to.  It ends up being a really fun time.

ast year when it was so hard to get classes, my husband cheered me up with Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” (for a transcript, go here: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/TenWays/story?id=3675954&page=1 ).  Evidently, it is a tradition that college professors who know they will be dying give a last lecture on what matters most to them.  Randy’s was amazingly inspirational and has garnered him a bit of fame.  In it, he explains that obstacles are there for a reason: they let you prove how much you want things.

I must really want to be an ASL interpreter.  I went through another horrible week of being turned away at every class.  The worst part is, I didn’t get the class that’s the prerequisite to everything else.  If everything goes well in the future, it will now take me double the time I thought it would to graduate with an ASL degree.

I do have a backup plan.  I need a BA anyway, so I’ll transfer and go to a “real” school while I’m finishing up my AA in sign.  I just feel so defeated right now.  I’m at a school I hate, fighting an uphill battle, for absolutely no gain.  I am so tired of loosing the fight against the California State budget cuts.

I’ll cheer up in a little bit, I promise.  I’m not giving up.  After all, if I work hard enough this year my ASL should be AMAZING by the time I get into those interpreting classes.  It will make my journey easier in the long run, right?  Hopefully? Maybe?…

I thought for sure that there were Deaf events I went to last semester that I never posted about, and in looking through my old school papers, I found this one.  It’s the very first time I ever went out into the Deaf community, twords the end of my first semester of ASL.  I know I still have a long way to go before I become an amazing ASL speaker, but reading this makes me realize how far I’ve come. 

***

 went to the MATA convention by myself, as no one I knew could make it on Friday, the only day I could go. I went after work, knowing I’d only have a few hours to peruse the convention before it closed. Usually I drag my husband Brian to these things. He’s always up to new experiences and it’s nice to not feel wholly alone in a crowd of strangers, I knew Brian would be good moral support. As I pulled up to that giant white building full of windows, I thought of him in his safe little cubicle at work. I wished I was there myself. I am notoriously shy in social situations and I abhor feeling stupid, something I was sure I couldn’t avoid with my inferior ASL 1 vocabulary. I’m well aware that it takes time to be good at things, but I never want to wait that long. I’d like to be good right off the bat, especially if I’m displaying my inexperience to large groups of people. I was very nervous.

I was relieved as I stepped inside the giant room where the MATA conference was held. It looked just like any other convention I had been to, with the bright banners stretched behind folding tables spread with interesting items. There were thick crowds of people milling from one booth to another and, besides the people signing back and forth, this was a scene I was familiar with. I couldn’t follow anything people were saying to each other, my sign language skills were not quick enough to keep up, but you could certainly tell the emotions people were trying to get across. Most people seemed happy to be there.

I knew this was a good opportunity to practice my signing skills, and even though people were extremely nice to me and tried to start conversation, I felt odd about it. I realized that even in the English speaking world that I live in, I usually give a quickly polite answer to any question that’s asked of me, and don’t elaborate. By the time I had thought of more to say, the person I was speaking to at the booths had usually moved on to the next person. It didn’t help that I usually didn’t know the signs for anything I could ask about at the booth. In class I feel like I can communicate anything I want to, but out in the actual world, it’s a little different. I realized how much I’m hampered by my lack of vocabulary. I definitely felt as if people wanted to be inclusive and friendly. Those I did sign briefly with were incredibly kind in signing slowly so I could understand.

I’m glad I went to the MATA convention, instead of to a reading or other type of Deaf Event. I’ve heard of some of the services available to deaf people, such as fire alarms that shake the bed and doorbells that flash a light. It was really neat to see all the products and services out there, especially the video chats, which make life the same for a deaf person as for a hearing person, as far as technological conveniences are concerned. It was neat to get to understand that aspect of deaf life.

I learned a lot at the MATA convention. I loved seeing all the neat products they had displayed, and I liked seeing people sign back and forth to one another. It made me want to be better at ASL, so I could join in on the conversation as well, though I didn’t understand what people were saying. It also made me realize how little I communicate in English when I’m alone in a large group. Usually my conversation is confined to “Oh, I’m fine thank you,” and “no, I’m just looking.” It was harder to branch out from that habit into actual conversation especially because I was trying to use a new language. Visiting the MATA convention made me excited to be better at ASL, and excited to practice communication in the new language I’m learning. It was a great experience.

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