Friday, June 19, 2015
Ain't life grand? You often said you wanted to learn American Sign Language. "It's so beautiful," you'd always exclaimed. And it is (if you know what you're doing). So, after years of watching "Signing Time" and thumbing through "The Joy of Signing" while you have a free moment on the toilet, you're finally convinced to visit your area's community college and enroll in ASL I. You leave the college beaming--exuding excitement all over the place. (If you exude at my house, I'll expect you to clean it up. I'm just saying...)
Class starts: Depending on which college's ASL class you attend, you learn ABCs, numbering, vocabulary, a few phrases, grammar, and a little about the Deaf culture and communication. You recognize that you're definitely not the best in the class,, but onward you trudge.
The teacher gives the class a mandatory assignment that you have to go to a Deaf event and sign (no talking, please) with some deafies. You do, in fact, go to one at the neighborhood mall. Your teacher introduces you to some very kind, patient and understanding Deaf people, but mostly you find solace with some of the other members of your class.
Finally, you finish! Class is over! Your teacher compliments your hard work and off you go into the world of wonders. You're bilingual now, right? I mean, you learned a lot. And it wasn't easy! Man, you can fingerspell both your first and your last name! What else could there be? It's not like you want to interpret for the President. You just want to be able to sing songs in sign (how did you like that for alliteration) and chat with the (gulp) "hearing impaired." What more could you possibly need?
But life goes on. And although you continue to work on your fingerspelling and some signs, you seem to fall into a funk and resort back to that sinfully annoying woman on "Signing Time."
Six months after you completed ASL I, you happen to see a table of people in an elegant restaurant, signing to each other. You stare--Trying to figure out if you can understand them. Nope--Not really. You go back to eating, wishing so much you could communicate with them.
Heck with it! You get up and walk over to their table. They see you, so they stop signing and turn to you. "HI, I'M...," you get five out of the twelve letters of your name wrong, but you don't notice. The group at the table looks at each other, confused. One deaf man signs something you understand: DEAF.
"DEAF YOU?" He asks in ASL.
"NO," you sign. "I NOSY." The group breaks outs into guffaws and giggles. What you don't realize is that, though you intended to reply, "NO, I'M HEARING," your hand actually was too high and, well, maybe NOSY was the more appropriate sign anyway.
Later, an elderly woman from the deaf table's group wanders over to let you know (by way of a napkin note) to keep studying and that it will get easier eventually.
And it does get "easier." Well, maybe not. I guess I would rather say you become more proficient the longer you study it. Seriously study it. And what every knowledgeable teacher would tell you, the more time you spend signing with deaf and hard of hearing people (NOT just signing friends from school), the smoother and more fluid your words and presentation will become.
To be totally honest, I gotta tell ya, taking one ASL class, expecting to be skilled enough to engage in even moderate conversation in sign (especially with a native Deaf person), is insane. But the next time you become upset with your signing, thinking you should be learning faster, imagine that it's German you're learning. Would you be so hard on yourself then? Well, a foreign language is a foreign language. American Sign Language is just as complex as any other. Give it time.
So here's what you do: Give yourself a pat on the back for all you've already accomplished, sign up for ASL II, go to Deaf events as much as you can, and, sooner or later, you'll fulfill your wish of hangin' with the crew. Now, go study!
Monday, June 8, 2015
We walked into Olive Garden and were seated immediately. The place was quiet since we were early for the lunch crowd.
"What would you like to drink?" was the waitress' first question. I knew what she was asking from past experience, so I went ahead and told her I wanted an iced tea and she went on her way. She returned shortly thereafter to take our food order.
"Are you guys ready to order?"
I watched as Kenny placed his order and then the waitress turned to me and started talking. Not knowing what she was saying, I went ahead and started to order. "I'll have the seafood alfredo, please."
"OK." She said more, so I turned to Kenny to interpret. When he began to sign to me, the waitress' eyes grew as big as saucers. I found out what she was saying and answered -- just as clearly as I had before. She looked baffled -- as if finding out I was deaf completely blocked her brain waves. "Wh--what did she say?" She turned to Kenny to rescue her. "I didn't understand."
Kenny signed to me to repeat myself and I did. Still the waitress stood there, unable to comprehend the words coming from my mouth.
After a minute of repeating myself, I was visibly frustrated, so Kenny finished up the order and the waitress awkwardly walked away.
That wasn't the first time a person was fine listening to me till he or she discovered I was deaf. People find out this information and all of a sudden tit's like the clarity of my voices dissipates and they can't understand me. But, despite the frustration, it's really quite absurd and I often have to laugh out loud. What is it in my voice that changes? Do I start to mumble? Do I start to slur my words like a drunken sailor? No! Nothing changes except the other party sees I'm deaf and that I need sign language to understand them. But since they don't know sign language (It's another story if they think they do), they assume we cannot communicate with each other and they have to ask my husband to talk for me. Nevermind, I've been talking all of my life and didn't lose the bulk of my hearing till I was 27!
Because this happens so often when I'm out and about, I have repeatedly asked my family if my voice has changed. Some have said that my voice has gotten a little deeper, but most people emphatically tell me no. My voice is the same as before I went totally deaf.
So why the comprehension problems? I believe it's gotta be in their heads. I mean, isn't one of the first things you learn about the "death" is that we also can't speak? Deaf mute, right? Before I sign, I look "normal." Then I use my hands and POW! I must be a mute. I must be "deaf and dumb."
Well, let me take this moment to clarify. To not be able to hear -- no matter how deaf a person is -- does not in any way automatically mean they're not able to speak! Everyone has a past and you can't know a person's abilities simply by watching and/or guessing.
Remember this blog the next time you meet a deaf person. Assume nothing! Get rid of all the stereotypes in your head. Just because a person has a disability or comes from a culture other than your own, doesn't mean they fall into a set of characteristics you learned as kid or even an adult. Keep an open mind! But I still have to laugh when people, who have been talking to me, all of a sudden can't understand me and need to ask my family, "What did she say?"
Sunday, May 31, 2015
I have rights. Just like everyone else, I have the right to leave my house without being scared. Yet I am – scared, I mean. I’m not afraid of getting killed or mugged. I’m not afraid of being put in jail or being in an accident. So, what am I so afraid of? Communicating with other people.
Silly, huh? Of all things to be frightened of, the one thing that terrorizes me is the chance that another person will try to talk to me. Or that I will need to talk to someone else.
Why? Because I dread the moment when I have to let them know I’m deaf. It’s the reactions I get that bother me the most. That and the fact that, when I let them know, I feel like I’m confessing to some unfathomable crime I committed or something. Like I did something wrong.
The reactions are always the same. Some people become bug-eyed and high-tail it away from me. Some say they’re sorry, as if they’ve caused it. And some even laugh it off and keep talking – even when I explain that I can’t lipread. When I ask if they can write down what they’re saying, some people just wave me off. Of course, we also can’t forget the ones who become angry and irritated – like I did something personal to them and they haven’t got the time to mess around with me.
Sure, there are many deaf people who can shrug it off or who have gotten so used to it that they don’t even notice. But that’s not me. I care. I notice. And it scares me. It intimidates me. It makes me want to stay in my house – locked behind a hard, wooden door – separating me from the cruel, cold world.
But is it really the world that is holding me back? Can I make myself so invisible that I can’t be hurt by the reactions I get from total strangers? I have the right to be treated well, but can I really control what other people say or do? I don’t think so. I mean, I may get hurt emotionally when I go out, but that shouldn’t stop me. I can’t control other people. And if they are so ignorant that they run for the hills or babble on even though I tell them I can’t understand them, that shouldn’t be my problem. In my head, it is, but it shouldn’t be.
I shouldn’t let my fears win. If I want to go out to eat or browse around the bookstore or serve on the PTO board at my kids’ school, then that’s exactly what I should do!
I have rights! Believing that and pushing myself to go forward may scare the heck out of me, but it shouldn’t stop me. And I don’t want to let it. So, I’ll fight. I’ll force myself to go out – to shrug off people’s reactions until one day I can be like the other deafies who don’t let it scare them. It might take a lot of time – years. But that’s my goal. Who wants to live in fear anyway? Certainly not me. So, look out world; I’m going to conquer my fears one way or another. One day, I’m going to leave my house and not think twice about my fear of communication. I know it. I have to believe it! One day…..
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Who says coincidences are overrated? I must strongly disagree. I know I’ve been shocked by things often, but there’s one time that comes to mind that shows that life can throw unexpected joys at you when you least expect it.
I had just become totally deaf in both ears and I felt very alone. Not having found my identity yet in the deaf community, I called the contact person for the Association of Late Deafened Adults and asked about information. They didn’t really have anything for me. I wasn’t interested in lipreading (I am totally deaf—not just profoundly deaf—and a bad guesser from the start) and they didn’t really focus on Sign Language, which I chose as my main method of communication. But, although I found the organization more for older people who lose their hearing through age, they did ask if I wanted the contact information of someone in my area who was also “late deafened.”
I was shocked! I lived in town where the population was 200 and that included all the cows and dogs. But there was someone else experiencing what I was experiencing in my area? Wow! So, of course I took the information and then I TTYed them right up. (This was a long time ago—long before video relays and such).
When I finally was able to talk with Bob, I liked him right away. He had a great sense of humor and, like mine, tended to be sarcastic to the hilt. Kenny (my husband) and I met with him and his wife that very week. For a few months, we got to know each other well and it was so nice to have someone whom I could confide in.
Then one evening, it happened. Kenny had gone off to use the restroom and I was showing them my photo album. I had been into scrapbooking for some time and was showing off a little.
As we sat and thumbed through the pictures, Bob got a confused look on his face. He turned to his wife and asked, “Does that look like Thelma? Why is Thelma Laflen in your scrapbook?” I replied, “Thelma Laflen is my grandmother.” He looked at me and very excitedly said, “Thelma Laflen is my aunt!”
Huge laughs and total astonishment, we quickly figured out that that meant we were second cousins! In fact, he said he had even met my parents at a family reunion a few years prior! How amazing! We hugged and explained it all very excitedly when Kenny came back in the room. We were family! How wonderful! Two people who had never met, hadn’t known anything about each other’s existence were actually cousins! And both deaf at that!
So don’t tell me coincidences are overrated. I strongly disagree. Coincidences can be life-changing just like the one I had. Our family had grown. We were related and instant fans of each other.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
If you check out the following link, you'll find that a war veteran was kicked out of a Taco Bell because he had a service dog. He had the dog for his PTSD, but the worker at Taco Bell said that he wasn't blind, so he didn't need a dog. Here's the link:
Service dogs have been around for quite some time, but people are still having to fight to be allowed public accommodations for them. People only think of seeing eye dogs, but there's service dogs for many, many conditions from physical to emotional. Not least of which is hearing ear dogs.
Service dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing are extremely helpful and can be made to let you know if the doorbell or phone is ringing, fire alarm blaring, someone knocking on your door, get your attention for another person, medical emergencies, and many, many more jobs that they do so very well.
I wish I had a service dog. There's a place nearby here called Paws For A Cause that trains service dogs and helps you find a match. I haven't applied, simply because I can't afford it right now and don't really have the time, but for people just starting out deaf (late-deafened adults) or born deaf-alike these wonderful pups can really make a difference in your life.
The next time you see a service dog in public, try to remember the article above and remind yourself that one neednt be blind or even deaf to have some use of one. Support service dogs!!
Friday, January 16, 2015
I don’t write in my blog enough. I use to, but my depression got the best of me and then I just ended up stopping. Couldn’t think of anything funny to write about. However, even when I’ve got a world of writer’s block in me, people still seem to find my blog and read it. I’m so, so happy about that.
I get people asking all sorts of things, like where an ASL class might be located or if a certain situation really did happen. Some want me to read books and give reviews about them (I’m not so good at that since I really only read non-fiction and most of the books they want me to read are fiction). But sometimes I do get requests to be interviewed.
In fact, last week I received an email from a teenaged girl who “found” my blog and wanted to know if I would answer some questions to help her with a project at school. Sure! Of course I said yes. Always happy to help where I can. But, unfortunately, I couldn’t be of much help to her. See, her project was to compare the kind of sympathy for the blind with the kind of sympathy for the deaf.
The problem I ran into was that deaf people don’t really get sympathy. Rolled eyes, we get. Frustration. Angry communicators. We get all that. But very, very few people actually feel sorry for us. It’s more of a nuisance to them.
“Hi! I was just wondering if you could come speak with my class about deafness.”
“I’m sorry, what? Can you write that down? I’m deaf and cannot lipread. I need you to write for me.”
“Nevermind. I’ll ask someone else.”
Good luck with that! If you’re looking for a deaf person, you better be ready to write at least some of your conversation. Or repeat it slowly three times. (This, of course, does not include those who lipread like a pro.) Fact is, communicating with a deafie can be difficult. Not always, but often. And people don’t like that. In fact, they hate that! The thing is, deaf people don’t look deaf. You can’t decipher a deaf person from a hearing person just upon looking. So it’s a shock or a surprise or a grenade thrown right in their faces if they find you can’t handle small talk. No thanks. I’m not up to that much trouble. I’ll just move on over to this other person.
And it hurts sometimes. They leave. Sometimes they just turn and walk away without any acknowledgement. Ouch.
The blind, on the other hand, are visible. People can and do sympathize with someone who can’t see this beautiful world. Let me help you across the street. Would you like me to read that to you? What do you need? I can help!
Now, I’m not blind and, in fact, I only know a few blind people, so forgive my ignorance if I’m wrong. But they do get sympathy. I see it all the time. It’s that inevitable question:
If you could be blind or deaf which would you choose? And everyone chooses deaf. Why, “Because it would be easier. At least I can drive (you do drive, don’t you?) and I would have to learn Braille. If I were deaf, I could just learn sign language and everything would be normal otherwise.”
Ha! What’s “normal?” And as a matter of fact, if you learned sign language, who exactly would you be signing to? Are all of your family members and friends going to learn it, too? Will the world be able to cater to you if you know ASL? Dude, you have no idea what you would be getting yourself into.
Anyway, back to the question the teenager asked me (remember her from above?). Compare the two, sympathy-wise. I can’t. They’re two totally separate entities, each with unique and diverse experiences. I’d like to say that no two experiences are alike, but that’s not true. That’s what makes this blog helpful. Other deafies can read it and say, “I’ve been there.” Hearing people can read it and be baffled at how ludicrous the situations are. Blind or deaf? Who gets more sympathy? There’s no comparison because there’s very little sympathy for the deaf population (though it’s not unfounded in some circumstances).
As for me, I don’t want anyone’s sympathy for my deafness. I am part of a great community of people who have a rich and diverse culture. I’m Deaf. I sign. It’s how I communication. Now, do I miss sound at any time? Hell, yeah! I’d do anything to hear music again or listen to my kids’ voices (of which I’ve never heard). But I don’t need people looking at me like I’m some fragile person who needs to be saved.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
It’s Christmas time. Time to be jolly and merry and all of those happy-time feelings. I always try my best to stay in the spirit, but sometimes it’s hard to do. For example, if people talk with me, I have to, at some point, let them know I’m Deaf so they don’t think I’m just ignoring them. But it seems that the words, “I’m Deaf,” are a real shocker to most people and they may even come across as rude. But if I wrinkle up my nose and point to my ear and very slowly nod, that doesn’t work either. Plus, it makes it look like I’m apologizing and do I really need to apologize for being Deaf? I don’t think so. I’m proud of it as far as the culture goes. So, sometimes just letting people know I can’t understand them is a chore. It makes me feel guilty and it shouldn’t.
On the other hand, there are people out there that, when I tell them I’m Deaf, they have an altogether different response.
Yesterday was a busy day. Two days before Christmas, lots of people out there buying last-minute gifts and food for the holiday. Kenny and I had to go to his doctor. He has some skin marks that look like they may be precancerous (or cancerous) and he needed the doctor to scrape them off and send them to the lab to see what the next course of action should be.
Everything went well. I was seated at the end of the table where I had a straight shot to see the doctor do his stuff. First, he gave Kenny two local anesthetics. I know how much those hurt, so I cringed. The doctor looked over at me and said something. I, not wanting to get into a conversation about hearing and not hearing, simply smiled and nodded. (Many times that is NOT a good idea.)
The doctor then got a scraper (I think that’s the technical term. Or maybe “doohickey”) and started doing his deed. He kept glancing over at me, but I never saw his lips move, so I just ignored it. Finally, I saw that he said something and his assistance smiled. I had no choice, but to let him know I’m Deaf. His reaction? He started to mime.
Now, I don’t know if I prefer a roll of the eyes, a person telling me they know some sign and start signing their ABC’s, or people who start gesturing obnoxiously, but this time it was interesting to see him move the way he did. You know? You don’t see doctors dancing and convulsing very often. So I watched intently and then waited for the explosion. I finally guessed what he was trying to convey. Many people who watch the procedure he was doing end up fainting and he was making sure I wasn’t going to follow suit. I assured him I was fine and I didn’t think I would faint. Then he finished up and left. Right before he left, he turned to me and said something like, “Have a nice holiday.”
That was nice.
See? So some people, when I tell them I am Deaf, give me the deer-in-the-headlights look or roll their eyes and turn away (usually saying “Nevermind.” I’ve learned to lipread “Nevermind” fairly well). Some people get way too excited and then trap me for a half an hour with the little (and I mean little) sign language they know. But some people will do what they can to let me know what’s being said by writing (my preference), gesturing, or some other way to get their point across. The doctor did the latter and it worked out great.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Today, I'd like to discuss what to do when you see two people or a group of people signing. Or rather, what not to do. Don't burst into the crowd and start asking questions. You would think that would be a no-brainer. At least you would think that.
A couple of weeks ago, Kenny and I were signing at a neighborhood Speedway (gas station). We're deep in conversation when a robust older woman starts punching at Kenny's shoulder--actually causing him pain. When Kenny chose to hold up a finger to the woman (no, not the middle finger) and continue on with our dialogue, the woman actually swung Kenny around and grabbed his hands to get him to stop.
"Are you using that, um, hand language?" she asked ignorantly.
"My wife and I are using American Sign Language to talk, yes." Kenny has so much more patience than I do.
The old lady then asked, "Why?!?" and said it as if what we were doing was incredulous.
"My wife is deaf. It's how we communicate."
"Why would you marry a deaf person? You're not deaf...are you?" Kenny's patience was wearing thin and I was getting pissed.
"Ma'am, did you need something? My wife and I are trying to have a conversation."
That's when she started grotesquely waving her hands about and laughing. Before she left, she mumbled to herself, "What a waste of time."
We don't encounter situations that often that are so blatantly rude, but it happens. And just to make it clear, do NOT do what that old lady did. If you do, you're risking being smacked silly by several people.
All this frustration, rudeness, and ignorance when all she should have done was wait for a break in the conversation and lightly touch Kenny's (or my) shoulder. However, in this scenario, I don't think it would have turned out much differently. Some people simply haven't got a clue.
Posted by Michele at 10:01 AM
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Through different social media, I am getting back in touch with different friends from high school. I attended three high schools (Sugarland, TX., Valrico, FL., and Belleville, IL.) and in no school did I have an IEP or attend special classes for the deaf and hard of hearing. In fact, despite my deafness on my right side, I was in three different choirs my senior year and sang and participated in theatre throughout my entire high school experience. I don't think many of my friends even knew I was deaf on my right side and hard of hearing on my left.
So, when I find them on Facebook and they find out I'm now totally deaf and depend on American Sign Language to communicate, they're all pretty much surprised.
Isn't it interesting? The things you discover about people from your life whom you thought you knew? People tell me about their lives and what they're doing now. I can't help but be excited for them or sad if something has happened. But then I find out things about them that I guess they assumed I knew about and it gives me a whole different perspective on them and our friendship from long ago. People really are a puzzle, aren't they? I guess that's a good way to be, Keep people guessing.
As for me, I never really hide anything. If people are surprised about me, I can certainly understand why, but my life is an open book. Ask me anything. I've got nothing to hide. Well, maybe something, but I can't think of anything at the moment. Give me a minute....
Monday, October 6, 2014
Hearing-impaired truck drivers should not be prohibited from operating commercial motor vehicles because of their disability, federal regulators said Tuesday.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced it will loosen longstanding English language requirements for truck drivers who are deaf as long as they can still understand traffic signs and signals.
"The English-language rule should not be construed to prohibit operation of a commercial motor vehicle by hearing-impaired drivers who can read and write in the English language but do not speak, for whatever reason," the FMCSA wrote in the Federal Register.
The requirements are intended to make sure truck drivers understand the rules of the road, but the FMSCA said some state agencies have misconstrued the rule by denying commercial drivers licenses to people with hearing impairments.
"Because some hearing-impaired drivers granted exemptions do not speak English, it has been asserted that they may not meet the requirements and may not be qualified to operate commercial motor vehicles," the agency noted.
After the National Association of the Deaf complained, the FMCSA said it will grant exemptions to hearing-impaired truck drivers who demonstrate that their disability will not affect road safety and does not put other drivers in danger.
The rule goes into effect immediately.
Posted by Michele at 1:13 PM