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


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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Charges filed in national scam of deaf

An Ohio deaf woman in her 70s is facing charges of ripping off other elderly deaf people across the country through a lottery scam. More than 1000 people fell for the scam, which she contacted through video relay using interpreters. Read the full story in the Columbus Dispatch here.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Moldy Bread

Muhammad Ali once said, "If God can make penicillin out of moldy bread, he can sure make something out of me." And for me that stands true. Seems like every year or so, God sends down a true challenge for me to handle either alone or with the help of family and friends.

All three of my pregnancies brought preeclampsia. The second one brought HELLP syndrome and almost took my life. The last one took the hearing I had left and dumped it by the wayside. Permanently. True, you would think it wouldn't be a big deal since I was already hard of hearing, but what it did tore my life apart and produced the second greatest challenge of my life.

All of sudden I couldn't communicate, converse with family and friends in small talk, talk on the phone, hear my babies cry, work in customer service and so many other aspects of my life gone, gone, gone. At least that's how I felt at the time. I even had frequent moments where I begged God to kill me, Just seemed like too much to bear.

But that was then.

For a while, it was hell. I simply didn't know what to do. But God was watching. I learned of the technology available for using the phone, hearing my baby cry from the other room, and other wonderful things. I used my sign language and I met more deaf people and suddenly life didn't seem as hopeless. Now, all three kids are proud CODAs in high school; my husband uses his sign skills and Deaf Culture knowledge at work; and I accept myself as totally deaf.

So, if something major happens in your life and it feels devastating, you can always remember that, with time, God will use that challenge as something to change you for the better. Moldy bread? Bring it on!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Fitting In At A Deaf Convention

I was so excited! Someone I had met out in the Deaf community mentioned a convention coming up for people who'd lost their hearing (or what was left of it) after age 18. I was thrilled! Deaf people I could sign with who remembered what things sounded like more than two decades ago. I could mingle with soon-to-be-friends and learn about how others similar to me crossed over to the Deaf culture to a degree. Yea!

Kenny (my hubby) was excited, too. We were sure some of the Deaf would bring hearing family and Kenny would be able to discuss his feelings, thoughts, and experiences with people who knew how he felt. I mean I've always been deaf to a degree, but total silence kind of snuck up on us and it was a way of life that took some major getting used to. So, it was an adventure for both of us.

However, what we envisioned was not quite what happened.

When we walked into the main room from the registration table (where Kenny had to interpret because the people there used only voice), the room was filled to the rim with people wearing CIs, all talking without signs, and lots of booths set up--all about technology that could "make you hear again."

The lectures, which waved a flag stating they were fully accessible, were only captioned (poorly) on a screen at the side of the room. And interpreter for us American Sign Language users? Nope. Apparently most late-deafened adults (as they called themselves) don't use sign language. But I was still thrilled to meet fellow signers and people from such places as Gallaudet University.

To top it all off, the last night of the convention, they had a huge karaoke party where music blasted and all were given a balloon to enjoy the beat. But see I'm totally stone deaf and didn't feel comfortable at that party. Still, I tried to enjoy what aspects of the convention I could be a part of. I even went to more than one thinking maybe the next one would relate more to me. Unfortunately, no. However, I did make a handful of new friends for which I am grateful.

Now, I don't want to seem hateful or judgmental. There were things here and there I enjoyed that didn't so much require ASL or Cultural norms and there were lots of hugs and lots of accepting each other -- no matter how you communicated. But I just don't think I'll go again unless they come to Grand Rapids, MI.

After a while, it all caused me think about my way of going about being the stone deaf person I am. For one thing, I do consider myself bi-bi (bilingual -- ASL and English, and bicultural). Most LDAs do not. I admit I did try a CI a long time ago and it was a total flop. They had to take it out later for a medical reason, so that's done. I'm happy being Deaf, too, but sometimes when I miss my show tunes, it does get me down.

I use sign to communicate. I have the world's worst lipreading skills I've ever known about and I do not like the sound of my voice -- though admittedly I do use it at appointments to make it easier on my interpreter. I like to use big words and so it's easier to make sure exactly what I want to say gets said.

The only big problem I have is I have some mental disorders that prevent me from socializing for the most part. So I haven't made it to many Deaf events and that makes me sad. I do try though. I WANT to go, so I'm working on it.

Long story short, the deaf community is truly diverse. You have to find where you fit in and go from there. You should be comfortable the way you are -- no matter how different that makes you. I'm working towards that myself.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Goodbye to A Helpful Interpreter

Have you ever noticed how, sooner or later, everybody leaves? I'm serious. Sometimes I feel as if I have a swinging door in my life. For me, I'm talking about professionals--not family. I'm very grateful for that!

I can't even tell you how many therapists I've gone through. Just when we begin to dig into the dirt, they retire...or move out to Timbuktu. It kills me every time. But one set of professionals leave the most frequently--and that's interpreters.

I have to go to my community mental health clinic up to four days a week. Sometimes I see my psychiatrist on Tuesdays, my case manager on Wednesdays, get my bi-weekly injection on Thursdays, and see my therapist on Fridays. Whew! And mental health services depend on confidentiality, so, much to my appreciation, they do their very best to have the same interpreter for all of my visits. And, at least the same interpreter for all of my therapy sessions, so not everyone knows how crazy I am. ..except the 'terp scheduled and the therapist.

But, unfortunately, just when I'm used to seeing the same 'terp week after week, they always seem to find a more steady assignment and leave me. Then a new interpreter comes in and it takes them a little while to get used to the problems I talk about. And they are very shocking, I assure you!

Recently, very recently, I lost another interpreter's devotion. She found herself an assignment that proved more steady and dependable. One day I was in therapy and my therapist ended the session with, "We have something we need to discuss." That's never good. I replied, "Just as long as you don't say you're leaving." I meant the therapist and I was speaking from my heart.

"No, I'm not leaving," was his retort.

"I am," my interpreter chimed in. After a few seconds of confusion I realized I was losing one of my closest interpreters I've ever relied on. It was devastating and I began to cry.

"Why do they always leave me?" I asked. But I knew it was the right thing for her to do. And, after coming down from that devastation, I am very happy for her. But it is rough. Luckily, I have other interpreters with experience with my craziness that I can use and I like them a lot. I'm sure, with time, the trust will be there just as equally as it was with my former 'terp.

But I'll miss my previous interpreter and I'll always appreciate her loyalty to my "cause." Good luck to you and may everything in your life go smoothly from here on out. That includes getting all three cats to use the toilet all the time. (smile)

For me, it's onward and upward. Let's see who next I can suck into my sick world. Don't worry. I'll go easy on them. Maybe.