Sunday, June 21, 2009

You Can't Work With Us If You Don't Join Us!

It happens often. All too often. I'll get a message that someone desperately wants to learn sign language. Perhaps they have a family member who is losing their hearing, but most want to learn to see if interpreting might be a career they would be interested in pursueing. So we set up a time and day and they come and they start to learn. I mention the social opportunities of the deaf and hard of hearing population around Grand Rapids and encourage my students to go to as many of them as possible. But what inevitably comes out as a response is almost always the same: "Oh, I'm not ready to meet deaf people."

Sometimes they're scared and other times they're just not confident enough in their signing to go, but rare is the student who writes down the information and shows up at the actual event.

What I wonder is, if they're wanting to be an interpreter, shouldn't they at least MEET a deaf person first? LOL I understand that we can be very scary (file those fangs down, now), but how can a person even study to work with another culture and another language if they don't want to meet such a person?

Now, if this only happened once in a while or at the beginning of tutoring, I would surely understand. It is intimidating. I do know this. But I'm talking about people I've worked with for six months to a year and still I'm the only Deaf person they've met. It's mind-boggling.

But, perhaps, if the deaf and hard of hearing people could put their weapons and intention to destroy aside, we're a very open group. Come meet us. Talk with us. Write with us. Whatever you need to do, but BE with us. At least that's my opinion. What's yours? Are you a hearing person who is scared to meet Deaf people? If so, why? Are you a Deaf or hard of hearing person who has experienced this? Tell us about it.


  1. My first thought on losing hearing was not sign language, but stronger hearing aids or a CI really ! When that wasn't an option, I tried lip-reading, sign was last option on the list. Certainly my family didn't see any point learning sign language because I didn't use it myself.

  2. Learing sign language would be my first choice when losing hearing late in life, meeting other deaf/hoh hearing people as well.

    Joining a support group and learning about deaf culture would also be a nice thing.
    You do what works for you. CI, the answer? I don't know...

    I often find people are intimated by me at work when they find out have hearing loss, like "oh wow, how will I communicate with her" But we figure it out.

  3. I remember when I was taking lessons with you, and you meantioned going to the Rivertown Mall on Tuesday nights. I didn't go until I was in college though. Why? Well, because it was intimidating, really intimidating. I was sure that I didn't know enough Sign to communicate with someone who relied upon it. Even the first time at college, we went as a pack, about ten of us girls from class, holding on to each other as if for dear life.
    I'm not afraid to meet Deaf people anymore :-) I now have friends in the community, and I'm much more comfortable with talking with Deaf people, I have faith that I'll at *least understand 50% of what they're signing.
    Still, those first few weeks were rough.

  4. I've been to the tuesday chat a few times, but it's not easy to make new friends when you do speak the same language, and not a great conversationalist.

    What I did find helpful was the ASL movie night, because at least it offered the "How did you like the movie" question to the conversation, because you had at least one thing you knew in common.

    I thought your student that came to the picnic did an excellent job signing, and meeting people.

  5. As a late deafened adult who wears hearing aids and knows a little ASL, what I've found most comfortable at deaf/hoh gatherings is communicating with people who speak and sign at the same time. I've found myself tentatively signing along with my own words when I know the signs for them. I don't mind being corrected if I get them wrong. I've not yet felt confident enough to approach someone for an ASL only conversation, although I have used pen and paper to communicate.

  6. This really brings back memories. I was scared too but forced myself to approach deaf people: hi, my name is ellen" and then I'd want to run before they signed ANYTHING back to me.
    It's just like anything else that is new and slightly uncomfortable - you just have to keep on keeping on.