Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Coincidences are Underrated--that's for sure!

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.

Bob died of a heart attack a couple of years ago. We were close, but circumstances had lead us to not see each other as often as we would have liked. Don’t get me wrong. I miss him. I will always miss him. But I know that he and my grandmother are up there in heaven celebrating. I’m also certain they watched down on me as I went through finding my identity in the Deaf world. Thanks, Bob. I appreciate it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Service Dogs Are Awesome!

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

Sympathy? What's That?

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.

I never heard back from the girl after I explained the situation of deaf versus blind. Don’t know if she went to another source to try to find an answer she liked better or if what I gave was sufficient and she needn’t contact me again. That’s OK though. I don’t expect an answer. I do wonder if it surprised her. I wonder if this surprises you. Did you already know or is this news to you? 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Christmas Doctor Dance

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.

Now we just wait for Kenny’s lab results. But I can be assured, if I ever have to see his doctor again, he’ll be just as pleasant as he was yesterday. And that, folks, is a relief.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Etiquette Lost

Every culture has their own ideas of etiquette. For example, in America, it's polite to shake someone's hand when you meet them. In Japan, people greet each other by bowing. The same idea holds true for the Deaf Culture. We have various traditions and ways of minding our manners.

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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Before and After

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

Feds Loosen Rules For Deaf Truck Drivers

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. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hearing Loss and Depression May Be Linked? You Don't Say!

According to new research, hearing loss is associated with depression among American adults, especially woman and those younger than 70. No! You mean if someone starts to lose their hearing they may become depressed? Who woulda thunk?

I can remember the first few months when my hearing loss went from still using the phone to no hearing whatsoever. Boy, was it stressful! My family hadn't quite make the connection, I couldn't read lips (still can't), I had a newborn baby (and two other young children as well) I couldn't hear, and I couldn't even communicate with my husband. It was horrible! To top it off, I have clinical depression already, so I was a mess.

Because I have depression, I already isolated myself, so when I became deaf I had to make sure to seek outside resources. I called an organization and asked if they had any ASL classes for deaf people who already know sign language, but want to work on their ASL grammar. I figured it would be hard to find, but, lo and behold, they had an upcoming class! I remember going to one (after I'd been going for a while) and just totally breaking down. My 3-year-old had been trying to communicate with me and I couldn't understand her. It was heartbreaking and everyone there understood.

I made it a point to start teaching all three kids ASL (now they're all almost fluent) and my husband and I practiced constantly. It was a very tough few months, but I was lucky to have the support. Imagine if you had none! All of a sudden you couldn't use the phone, hear your kids talk or babies cry, have small talk with people when you left the house, watch the TV, or any number of things. How would you handle it? (Just as a side, deaf people can do all of those things, but newly deafened people rarely know about how to go about it.)

To make new research even more absurd, it stated that the depression was most pronounced in ages 18 - 69 and mostly in women. 18 - 69?? That just about covers everyone, Seems like a big age group to me. I don't believe that it's more in woman other than 1. women tend to seek help more often than men, and 2. women, in general, have depression more than men.

If you are newly deafened, by all means get out there! Find a buddy and vent. But mainly, if you have a hearing loss, you need to go to an audiologist or otolaryngogist (otherwise known as an ENT) to be diagnosed properly.

You don't need to be fully deaf to grieve for the loss of your hearing. Losing it in any range can be devastating. Whether you lose it in increments or all at once, the loss can feel more than one can bear. Please know you're not alone. There are others like you out there. Depression isn't something to ignore. And, by all means, if the depression gets so bad you start to contemplate suicide, please go to an ER and tell them how you're feeling.

So, depression and hearing loss linked? Wow! There's a revelation. But don't minimize the pain. It can hurt like hell and it's not all on you. Heck, if you need a friend, leave a comment here and I'd be happy to chat with you. You're NOT alone.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Deaf Awareness Week is September 22-26, 2014

From SigningSavvy.com

Deaf Awareness Week this year is September 22-26, 2014. Deaf Awareness Week, also called International Week of the Deaf (IWD), is celebrated annually and ends with International Day of the Deaf. Deaf Awareness Week is celebrated by national and regional associations of the deaf, local communities, and individuals worldwide.
The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week is to increase public awareness of deaf issues, people, and culture.  Activities and events throughout Deaf Awareness Week encourage individuals to come together as a community for both educational events and celebrations. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Smile -- There Are Deaf People Nearby

"Smile!" The photographer yells just as he's going to take the shot.

"Smile," your mother says. "You look so miserable!"

"Oh, no! Here comes Ashley. Just smile and nod."

There are several different kinds of smiles and a hundred more reasons to smile. But are they real? I mean are you genuinely happy and do the sides of your mouth naturally turn up when you feel that way?

Nowadays, one can't know whether the person you're next to is actually honestly smiling or if they're faking it (or if they're constipated). And if you're "different" than the immediate crowd maybe the question shouldn't be, "Wow! I wonder what fantastic thing she's smiling about," but rather, "Why is she smiling so hard at me?" It's true!

When I walk into a place with people around, as soon as I start signing and people realize I'm deaf, they start to smile at me as they pass by. That wouldn't be such a big deal if they knew me or were just smiling naturally, but no! The people start to metamorphosis into plastics--mannequins--with, "Please don't talk to me," glaring from their eyes. It's frightening!

I guess I should be used to it after all this time, but it scares me! And this makes me have the same eyes glaring back, echoing, "Please don't talk to me!" In fact, if it's a bunch of people in the same vicinity, I might fart or something to get those terrifying faces to leave. (That DOES work, by the way.)

So here's some advice--
if you're around people, deaf or otherwise, who make you feel awkward, try not to fell obligated to smile. If you make eye contact, give them a small polite smile and then leave them alone. That's what I would prefer. Or maybe just ignore us all together. Now, if you are a skilled signer,that's different. Then by all means, approach me!

Smiles are there to help people express pleasure or happiness. Don't feel the need to do it just because you're nervous. Wait a few minutes and maybe something will happen to give you a genuine reason to smile.