Friday, December 31, 2010

TO GO OR NOT TO GO --Does Inaccessibility Automatically Rule You Out?


Well, the holidays are almost over. No doubt you’ve had some interesting experiences along the way. I know I have!

We traveled from Michigan to southern Illinois over Christmas, to visit my and my hubby’s families. Being the only deaf member of both families, I knew that there would be struggles at times. Because I don’t live close by and they don’t see me very often, their signing is a little lacking (and, in many cases, non-existent), but they sure did try. For that, I was most appreciative.

I guess, since I don’t see them but every year-and-a-half or so, some of them aren’t skilled or knowledgeable in the art of inclusion as well. Sitting there, watching everyone open their presents and chatting away, was most isolative. However, it was nice just to see everyone and I tried my best not to complain.

On Christmas Eve, my mother came to me and asked if I would be willing to take my kids to see a specific movie, so my parents could have some alone time, since it was their wedding anniversary. She was going to give me the money and find out when the showing was.

”Will it be captioned,” I asked, assuming she looked into it.
“Oh,” Mom looked a little confused, as if to say, “I didn’t even think about that.”

And so I was faced with a moral dilemma. Should I take her up on the offer so she and Dad could have some alone time? Or should I politely turn down the offer and save myself from two hours of boredom? I guess there was another option…to take the kids somewhere else and they could still have their alone time without me being bored to death, but I didn’t think about that at the time.

I politely agreed to the plan and figured I might get in a good nap in the theatre. Thankfully, the weather became bad and my mother asked us not to go. But therein lies the question….

Should a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person be polite and accept an invitation somewhere they know will be inaccessible (such as a movie, wedding, or party) or is it all right to nicely refuse the offer and spare themselves a night of boredom, awkwardness, and confusion?

I think there are times when you just have to grin and bear it. If your best friend or sibling is getting married, I think there are times when you should accept and make an appearance. You don’t have to stay the entire time.  However, that leaves the question of why they didn’t think to provide an interpreter for you. Why would someone so close exclude you?

Then there are other times when you should be thinking about yourself and your stress level and such.  If you think you’ll be overwhelmed, or that the event will make you feel uncomfortable, don’t go. You could tell them you have other plans or that you’re not feeling well. But you could also go the other way and explain why you’re not interested in attending. It’s explanations and instruction like this that will help people (especially people close to you) understand the communication gap. Perhaps they need you to teach them ways to include you and make events accessible. Often, it’s just asking for what you need, but, unfortunately, there will be times when it won’t matter to the other person. This is the disappointment we should be prepared to deal with.

So, now I ask you, Readers, what you think…

Should we refuse or accept an invitation to an accessible event and how exactly would you handle it?

Friday, December 17, 2010

A DEAF PERSON'S GUIDE TO HOLIDAYS WITH NON-SIGNING FAMILY




It’s Christmas time and, chances are, you’re going to be spending some of that time around family and friends. Perhaps you’re Deaf or hard of hearing and your family is not. Perhaps those hearing relatives don’t know sign language either. What’s a deafie to do to make sure they don’t go completely berserk at this time of year?

Here, I’ve put together ten holiday tips for staying sane and making the most of your time with hearing friends and family.

1. If you're worried about getting the perfect gift for that special someone, but the thought of battling through all the holiday traffic, spending hours finding a parking place, then remember that sometimes the best gift is a simple one. You can buy almost anything online from the comfort of your own home. Gift cards are also an easy way to go. But if you really want to “shake things up,” why not give them a vibrating alarm clock? No need to wrap it. Just sneak into their bedroom at night and place the vibrating part under their pillow. Although they’re usually meant to be placed under the mattress, putting it under their pillow will give them a much deeper and immediate appreciation for what you go through to wake up in the morning.

Just sneak into their bedroom, plug it in, and set the alarm for 1 minute later. Then sit back and watch the festivities begin!

2. If the thought of a party, family gathering, or other "mandatory" social event leaves you knotted up with anxiety, plan ahead for some "escape time" for yourself. If you are suddenly feeling overwhelmed with all of the lip-flapping and none of the hand-using, do what the experts tell you to do: Hide in the bathroom. (OK, maybe the experts don’t exactly say this, but I do, so we’ll just go with it, shall we?)

Not only can you lock the door and ignore all of the knocking and hands waving under the door, but you can go through their medicine cabinet and get to know them in a more personal way. Then, once at least 5 notes have been pushed under the door to tell you that they need to go to the bathroom, you can simply flush the toilet, let the water run for 10 seconds and emerge rejuvenated and wiser to the ways the host’s family deals with medication.

3. If you’re one who can lipread a bit, it might behoove you to determine in advance what subjects will be discussed.  Try to take a moment and think about what each guest is interested in and then practice lipreading words that might be said. You never know when learning to lipread “Sheboygan” and “antidisestablishmentarianism” will come in handy.

4. Greet every family member with a hug and sign, “It’s great to see you!”  You never have to recover from a good start. Then again, if you start things off on a bad note, it might just ruin the entire visit. Do what you think is best. If you think hugging Uncle Larry, who often looks at you like you’re about to smite him down with his own deafness, would benefit you (such as scaring him so badly that he loses all blood flow to his brain and passes out---fun to watch!) then hug away. Otherwise, a nice wave across the room should suffice.

5. Whatever issues exist, it is not the fault of your nephews, nieces, and grandchildren.  So, be sure to be nice to them. In fact, it’s a well-known fact that eating at the kids’ table is much more enjoyable. Not only can you play with your food, but, if you behave yourself, you can often get a second piece of pie. 

6.  Form alliances with those you like and stay clear of the dysfunctional ones. In other words, there’s no point in hanging out with Uncle Larry if your cousin Tammy signs well (and you like her). Just think of the things you can do! You can have long, gossipy conversations in sign language and no one will have a clue. In fact, I’ve even had people tell me that it’s rude to have signed conversations in front of people who can’t sign. My response is to explain how they’re doing the exact same thing when they speak around someone who can’t hear. Helloooo!

7. Don’t expect others to be different. It’s very easy to go into a situation like this, hoping that the people you haven’t seen in a while will be more receptive to you and include you more. Unfortunately, it’s those who haven’t seen you who will probably treat you worse. Out of sight, out of mind, applies to a person being deaf as well. So, don’t get your hopes up regarding people changing. Try to change your own attitude and let the ignorance of others roll off your back. (Easier said than done.)

8.  Keep busy! If you’re at a party and you feel bored or left out, find the host and ask what you can do to help. Whether it’s washing dishes or changing diapers, there’s sure to be something to occupy your time. Give it a try! If it doesn’t help, at least you can know that you helped someone else out that day.

9.  Use laughter and humor to take off the pressure. This is probably the most important tip of all! Everyone needs a sense of humor, and us deafies need it the most. Instead of focusing on why you’re unhappy or feeling excluded, try to think of things that are happening and what is funny about them.  So, you’ll be off in the corner laughing to yourself. So what? They already think you’re a freak because you’re deaf. Mental illness isn’t that far a step now, is it? 

10. Make an exit plan and use it. Escape, flee, run for the hills, hightail it out of there…anything you have to do to make it all go away. As soon as you’ve had enough, it is OK to tell people that you need to leave. Don’t stay until you’re so stressed you want to vomit in Uncle Larry’s shoes. He probably won’t notice it anyway. So leave. You may never enjoy these family gatherings, but, if you leave before total insanity has set in, you just might be able to find something good that came out of it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

BAGELS AND BABES: BONDING WITH MY HEARING CHILDREN…KIND OF


“Bagels and Babes” is a special time at my kids’ school, where they invite the mothers to come out and bring all their children for a breakfast of…wait for it….bagels for the babes (babies, kids, short people). I, ever the wanting-to-spend-time-bonding-with-her-kids-type mother, decided that this year, we would indeed attend.

I’ve never been very good at estimating arrival times. I always give myself way too much time to get there and then drive like a bat-out-of-hell, only to arrive 45 minutes early. This morning, I did better. I was only a half an hour early. Hey, it’s a step in the right direction.

So, when we pulled up in our van that desperately needs a new furnace and some shocks, we were all a little beat up and ready to snack. Unfortunately, we were the only ones in the parking lot and the only snack I had in the car was a half-eaten Snickers bar with fuzz stuck to it. This surprised me. Not because it was gross or the only thing in the car to eat. By why in the world would anyone only eat half a Snickers bar? That’s just insane.

I had Mollie, my oldest, run into the school to see if we were allowed in yet. We were. So I bundled up my nerves, grabbed my purse, and headed for the school gym, which would double that morning as the cafeteria.

We were, in fact, the first people there. Well, the first people not setting up, there. The woman behind the breakfast table waved a hearty hello and shouted something to me that seemed pleasant. She could have been saying, “You guys sure are too fat to be arriving so early for food. Can’t you starve a little and give the hungry kids of the world something to chew on for once,” and I wouldn’t have known the difference.

I gave my usual, “Hi! Do you need any help,” only to be answered. Now, why did I ask a question when I knew I wouldn’t know what in the world the answer was? It is a terrible habit I have. Perhaps it’s just me wanting to feel the vibrations of my own vocal cords. I talk quite a lot, actually. I talk to fill up the air, knowing that I sound like some poor, dying animal on the side of the road. But poor, dying animal sounds is better than nothing, right? I think that may be debatable.

Thankfully, she shook her head as she answered. Even though I realized the answer was no, I did happen to glance at my 10-year-old, Natalie, who, by the way, is the second most fluent signer in the house (behind me, of course), and she interpreted that the woman had been there for 20 minutes and was all set up. Hmmm. If only I would have driven a little faster and met my usual 45 minutes-early time pattern, I could have lent a hand. Alas, all I could lend was my mouth and my stomach at this point.

After a couple of minutes of very awkward silence…well, awkward for the woman (everything is silent to me)…I decided to start digging into the donut holes on the far right of the table and a glass of hot chocolate, located in the middle.

I was so involved in decided which hole would be the least caloric with the most taste, that I failed to realize that more people had accumulated in the gym for the festivities. So, when I grabbed the two holes I’d decided on, I moved directly back toward the middle of the table to pick up a glass of hot cocoa. Unfortunately, someone else had already picked up theirs, so, when I moved to the left, not looking at where I was going, I hit the woman on her arm and it sent the hot beverage flying.

“Oh, my gosh! I am SO sorry!! I didn’t even realize you were there,” I spat out as I observed where the glass and its contents were going to land. Thankfully, it wasn’t on another person. What’s a wet wall at 7 AM, anyway? All was OK—Except the fact that the woman, who had politely smiled off the collision, had decided to start a conversation with me. She began by introducing herself. I think. Her name was Felicity or Barbara or Veronica. Maybe it was Diandra. Could have been supercalifragiliciousexpialadocious for all I knew. But, because I had absent-mindedly left my paper and pen in the van, I smiled and introduced myself and shook her hand.

She talked and laughed. I laughed and smiled. She talked some more. I nodded. She jabbered on as she started to eat her bagel, which was smothered in cream cheese. (I know this because she ate and talked at the same time.) I smiled and tried not to gag at the grossness. I quickly looked around the gym for one of my three children. Perhaps they could give me an excuse to get away from this bevy of crumbs and saliva and confusion. Nope. They were all busy with their own friends. So, I did what any other person would do in this situation: I created a new child. A fictitious child. A child who was always in trouble and was making a ruckus waaaaaaay on the other end of the gym.

“Sorry, but I have to go. Bartholomew is always making a fuss. I need to make sure he hasn’t maimed or killed anyone yet. It was nice to meet you.” I went to leave and the woman with her mouth full spat a few crumbs at me as a goodbye and went about making small talk with another poor victim.

After that…er…situation…I decided that maybe I should eat my holes and drink my chocolate and just sit somewhere. I did so. I acted like I was totally engrossed in the origami book my son has asked me to hold.  I’d never found a paper crane so interesting! When I was done with my food and realized that my kids didn’t even know I was there anymore, I went about getting ready to leave. After all, a mother was about to give a presentation on the importance of including your children in your every day activities. Definitely not something I wanted to sit through in silence.

I left. I left knowing that, even though they didn’t give me the time of day, I’m sure my kids appreciated my effort to spend a little extra time with them. I left knowing that I had done my job and shown my children a little extra love. I left knowing that some people just haven’t a clue about the proper eating habits of not talking with your mouth full!!!!! …Ahem…. And I left knowing that I had a half-eaten Snickers bar in my car if I crashed in the snow on the way home.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

INACCESSIBLE LIVE THEATRE -- EVEN WITH AN INTERPRETER!


Many of you know that, in the past I did professional theatre. Moving to Grand Rapids, MI, and losing all of my residual hearing has changed that, however, as the opportunities simply aren’t there. But that hasn’t stopped my love for watching live theatre—both musicals (which were my specialty) and straight plays.

So, when I saw that a theatre close-by was showing a world premier of the production, “Sleepy Hollow—A Musical Tale,” AND I found out it was going to be interpreted, I quickly bought out five seats in the interpreter’s section and announced to my husband and children that we were in for a treat!

Our tickets arrived in the mail a couple of days later (the theatre was close, but still not close enough to drive just to pick up tickets). I was so hyped!! I was ready to enjoy an afternoon of live theatre and be included as well. We’d seen “The Miracle Worker” a few months prior, but it wasn’t interpreted. Although I did know the story and could follow the story line, I admit it was a bit boring to sit there and watch people talk to each other in silence. I got enough of that hanging out with hearing people, anyway.

The afternoon of the play, we arrived a little early. We’d never been to this theatre and didn’t know just how large it would be…or if it would be difficult to find our seats. There was no need to worry, however, as the theatre was relatively small and finding the spot at the front of the stage, where two people stood all in black, didn’t take a rocket scientist.

When we got to our row and found our seats, I was a little surprised to find that we got the very first five seats. I’m not sure why I was surprised though. It’s not like there’s usually a large crowd of deaf and hard of hearing theatre patrons at the shows. But seeing as this was the only interpreted performance, I guess I thought we wouldn’t have been first. Usually, that would be a good thing. This time? Not so much.

I was seated at the very far left of the stage. My 10-year-old daughter desperately wanted to sit next to me during the performance. So, the two of us are waaaay over on the side and the two interpreters were right smack dab in front of us. Not like in central view. Oh, no. They were practically standing in our laps. Not only was it very difficult to watch them sign so close up, but my daughter (nor I) could see nothing but them. We couldn’t see the stage at all. I felt so sorry for her and tried to get her to trade places with my husband, but she didn’t want to, and, quite honestly, neither did my husband. I didn’t blame him.

After the first act, we had a short intermission. One of the interpreters asked if we could see OK. When I explained that I couldn’t see a thing but big, black shirts and waving hands, she suggested we move up a row (which was empty) and sit in the middle, in front of the stage. This would put us in the very front row. I didn’t want to, but my daughter did (and she didn’t want to do it alone), so, like a good mother, I obliged.

The second half of the show was worse than the first! Oh, the performance and singing and show itself were quite amusing and entertaining (so, I was told), but I had to rely on secondhand comments for that information.

As we sat in the front row, I had to turn my head completely to the side to see the interpreters, leaving it impossible to watch both them and the show at the same time. And, as if the theatre were taunting us and trying to get back at us for suggesting they’d done a poor job of seating, the end of the show involved a huge smoke sequence, where tons of smoke was pumped out into the audience. And, being in the center of the very first row, all I can say is I couldn’t breathe for a good minute and a half. My face turned as blue as my shirt and I think my eyeballs began to protrude from their sockets. It wasn’t pretty, or enjoyable. And I didn’t know why the smoke was coming, because I couldn’t see the interpreters to explain what was happening in the show!

But I survived. I survived it all. The interpreters. The show itself. The seating. The smoke. The complaints from everyone in the family about the bad seats. I survived it. But would I do it again? I’m not so sure.

It seems to me that it would be much easier on everyone if theatres were built with the intention on accommodating everyone. Of course, that’s not always going to happen. Not to mention that I’m quite certain this theatre was built long before the ADA came around.

Next month, there’s an interpreted production of, “Annie.” A musical I adored as a child and adore even to this day. However, it’s at that same theatre. I know what I would be getting myself into. Seems the balcony’s first row seats would be much better to watch the interpreters, but I don’t think that’s how it works. Do I brave the weather and attend a musical I know will be less than enjoyable for me because of the seating? Or do I stay home and rent the movie, pointing out the differences between that and the actual play? Oh, I guess it’s a moot question. With Christmas coming and being poor anyway, it’s not like we can even afford the seating. But the question still remains…. What can we do to provide appropriate and comfortable seating and accommodations for the deaf and hard of hearing live theatre patrons?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

WHAT'S IN A NAME?



As I laid in bed, just a few hours after having a total hysterectomy, two women entered my room. The interpreter had left for the evening, but I had my handy dandy notebook with me, just to the side of my bed.

The duo that walked into my room consisted of an older lady (probably in her 60’s) and another woman in her mid to late 40’s. Apparently, the older woman (we’ll call her Myrtle) was teaching the younger one (let’s say..."Betty") how to draw blood. Perhaps they chose me to use as the pin cushion, thinking that, because I was Deaf, I would not scream and curse the skies as she repeatedly jabbed me with, what seemed like, a jumbo-sized knitting needle.

So, they entered the room, and Myrtle began to speak. I immediately let her know that I was Deaf and needed her to write to me. For some reason it didn’t register for her. She repeated whatever it was she was trying to tell me. I motioned over to the paper and pen. I couldn't reach it, because it's across the room and I’m practically dying from the pain, but I did let her know where it was. She continued to jabber on. I, again, told her where the paper and pen was, this time adding a bit of an edge to my facial expression (think Clint Eastwood meets Nurse Ratchet.) Again, no luck. I then told her  just what she could do with the pen and paper when she did finally find it. She wasn’t amused.

She began to yell at me. I began to cry. Betty stood there smiling like someone had glued her upper lip to her upper gums. It wasn’t pretty. And I didn’t reciprocate. No one in the room had a clue what to do next.

Finally, Myrtle gave up on communication and moved over next to Betty. She was explaining what Betty needed to do in order to suck out any remaining blood in my system. Betty listened carefully, looking terrified the entire time, pulled out a needle that looked like one of those plastic needles they give toddlers to play with when sewing cards together, and began to hack at my arm in full force, blood splattering everywhere.

All the while, Myrtle smiled evilly and glared at me. It was obvious she was enjoying this way too much. Betty kept touching my shoulder and apologizing. “Just one more time,” I believe she said….over and over again.

When all was done and there was no more blood left in my body to collect, Betty smiled and bowed repeatedly as she exited the room. Kind of like they do in China. Myrtle, on the other hand, walked over to the pen and paper (GASP! She found it!!), wrote something down, and left. No. She didn’t hand it to me. She just wrote it and left.I heaved a huge sigh of relief and began to wipe the blood out of my hair.

Finally, my husband came back into the room, having left to go get some hospital coffee (which is very different than just regular coffee). I asked him to read me the paper. He read it and looked at me with a very strange look.

”What does it say?”

“Thank you, Ms. Thomas. We hope you recover from your knee replacement surgery quickly.”

Bummer.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

CAREFUL: DEAF PEOPLE CAN YELL BACK!


This morning, I went to the gas station for a tea, like I do way too often! The cashier at the counter was not one I’d met before. He was obviously very tired. He looked at me, scratched his head, and mumbled… something. I looked at him questioningly and I motioned my finger to my ear while shaking my head—indicating that I'm Deaf.

He didn’t miss a beat. He leaned across the counter, moistened his chicken lips and yelled, "DO YOU HAVE GAS????"

I looked over at him, glanced around at the other staring patrons, and yelled back, "NO! MY MEDICATION IS STARTING TO WORK, THANK YOU!!!" The look on his face was priceless!

This isn't the first time this has happened to me (even with the same question). I’ve always had a witty retort. Sometimes I’ve whispered them out of the corner of my mouth, but usually I’ve just kept them deep inside the eccentric confines of my head. But this morning I was feeling good. Didn’t have any worries about the day. And I decided to finally express myself in the way I felt I should. I finally decided to yell back. And, I’ll tell you something: It felt wonderful!!!

No, shouting at a deaf person will not help rectify his hearing “problem.” But it might get you a reaction you’d better be prepared to receive.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

TO DARE TO TRUST



Yesterday, I was as prepared as I’ve ever been to present a beginner’s Deaf Culture/Sign Language workshop. I had my notes, I had my handouts and I was prepared to present the material in a witty and fascinating way.

The workshop was to be presented in American Sign Language with two interpreters voicing for me. I was ready. So, I turned on my wit; I turned on my charm; and I was prepared to dazzle and delight the audience with my terrifically sarcastic personality. (I was prepared to be humble, too.)

Then it hit me. “What if…..?”

It wasn’t too long ago that I did a similar presentation. I was just as prepared and had asked an interpreter to attend and voice for me. When she arrived, I gave her a copy of my outline and explained to her that I wanted the workshop to be light and relaxing. Since she already knew me pretty well, I told her to keep in mind my personality and try to be a little silly and fun in her voicing. She nodded and signed that it would be no problem and that I shouldn’t worry.

So, I decided to just go up there and have fun!

I began my workshop with the usual information about who I am, what Deaf Expressions is, what we will be doing….you know, ordinary stuff. As I introduced my husband, Kenny, and myself, I joked around. I teased him about his “creative” signing when he doesn’t know a sign, and I poked fun at myself as well. I was funny, darn it! But the audience just sat there. Their eyes were glazed over and a few even placed their chins into the cup of their palms and started to drool. Laughter? Smiles? Zilch.

I continued on with my presentation. Perhaps the audience simply didn’t think I was as much of a hoot as I thought I was. I began talking about Deaf Culture and telling some hilarious anecdotes about my experiences and the experiences of my Deaf and Hard of Hearing friends. Nothing. No reaction from the audience whatsoever.

Well, that’s not completely true. A few looked a little confused and glanced at each other. A few tried to stifle a yawn. A few more continued to drool and struggled to keep their eyes open.

As I was signing, I looked over at the interpreter and was shocked to find that she wasn’t even talking. I’m signing like crazy, making jokes, having fun, and the voice interpreter is struggling to understand and barely getting by.

It was about then that I decided we needed to call a break. While people were waking up and discussing things they found more interesting than my material (like the life of Justus von Liebig—Father of biochemistry, who recorded minerals in plant ash and proposed the law of minimum), I approached my husband and asked him what was happening.

Apparently, the interpreter, who I had entrusted with my voice, not only was struggling to keep up, but also had absolutely no personality whatsoever. All of my jokes and witty retorts were bombing, because no one was hearing them! What a nightmare!!

You know, when a Deaf person goes somewhere where they need an interpreter to voice for them, there is a lot of trust they have to give. Interpreters are trained to read ASL and express it with their voice in the manner that it is signed. If I’m mad, my interpreter had better sound mad as well. If I’m confused, I expect my interpreter to show that with their voice. And if I’m being light and funny and joking around, my interpreter should be highlighting that with her voice…especially if I’d taken the time before the presentation to specifically let her know that that is what I planned to do and that was what I needed from them.

And this interpreter knew me. She’s been around me a lot and knew how unserious I usually was. She knew how much I liked to have fun and involve my audience. She’d been to plenty of my workshops. She knew my style. At least I thought she did. And she had said it was going to be no problem. Yet, because of her, my presentation lacked the sense of humor that I wanted so adamantly to express.

Think about how difficult it is. It’s hard! If I go to an appointment and am immensely offended about something that is said to me, and I feel very strongly that I should stand up for myself, yet the hired interpreter is a timid person and afraid to sound “rude” or “mean,” what can I do? Chances are pretty good, that I’m not even going to know if she expressed it like I meant it. I have to sit there and live with whatever she says or does. If she doesn’t voice for me in an authoritative way, I get walked on and no one but me ever knows just how ticked off I was about it.

Trust. That’s what we have to do with our interpreters. Sure, we can request specific ‘terps who we feel comfortable with. But you have to start somewhere. You have to work with the people before you can start to feel comfortable with them. Not to mention that who we request isn’t always available. We are bound to deal with whoever is sent our way at some point in life. And that total stranger, we have to trust deeply. It’s downright scary!

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate interpreters. (Most of them, anyway.) But I have found very, very few, who have been able to voice for me in the manner I intend for my signing to be taken. And it stinks!

If you’re an interpreter, you go to school, you practice, you take the exam, you get certified, but don’t stop there! With each and every appointment you are sent to, to act as a go-between between the Deaf or HOH person and whomever the meeting is with, it is vitally important that you get to know that individual and respect them and their personality. Don’t just voice however you would say things. Don’t just think, “Well, I got the idea across for the most part.” You have to BE that person’s voice.

Can you even imagine how scary and difficult it is to have someone else that you don’t know well express your ideas with their voice? If you don’t think it’s a big deal, try it. The next time your kid’s teacher wants to have a meeting to discuss your child’s shortcomings, hire a fellow interpreter (who you have not yet met) to voice for you. How confident can you be with this new person? Would you entrust a stranger to speak for you? Probably not. Yet, we deafies have to at times.

Be careful! Be courteous! And be clear. If you’re not sure what the Deaf person wants to convey…if you’re not 100% sure of their attitude about the information…ask!!! Because what you think you need to express and how you actually express it could make all the difference in the world to that person.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"I'M NOT ANGRY!!! REALLY, I'M NOT!!!!!"

It’s inevitable.

I decide I’m going to use my voice. I start off easy, making sure that the vibrations in my throat feel even and steady. I continue to talk, starting to get involved in the conversation. After a couple of minutes, I feel at ease and begin to just speak as I normally would. I start to notice something. People begin glancing at each other in a questioning manner. They look at me with eyes that seem a bit uneasy and confused.  Then it happens. I realize what they are thinking. They are thinking, “Is she angry?”

It’s inevitable.

I could be as happy as a clam and just super excited about the topic we’re discussing. People think I’m starting to get ticked off.

I could be unsure of something and need to ask for clarification from a specific person. That person thinks I’m challenging what they are saying.

I could be tired and too exhausted to breathe. People think I’m frustrated and annoyed.

It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing. They think I’m upset! And I’m not! I really am not!

Oh, there are also times when I am upset, but it’s not the right atmosphere to show it. Too bad for me. They already think I’m mad when I’m feeling fine. Imagine how I must sound when I want to wring their necks!

I’ve tried breathing exercises. I’ve tried holding my throat throughout an entire conversation (Boy, does that look unusual). But most of all, I always explain to the person I’m speaking with that I cannot hear my own voice and, if I sound angry, I’m not.

Doesn’t matter. Hearing people base a lot of input on how it sounds. Even if I say I’m not mad, if it still sounds that way, that will be their first (and usually only) assumption.

I’m not sure what else to do. I suppose I could turn my voice off for the rest of my life, but why should I have to do that? Sometimes voicing is convenient. However, if, in the end, they all think I’m about to growl, “Them’s are fightin’ words,” maybe I should just keep my mouth shut!

Disclaimer: Despite what this blog may “sound” like, I was not angry, upset, frustrated, nor ticked off writing it. (HUGE SMILE)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

MY ADVENTURE WITH PEPPER SPRAY



Working third shift at the hotel had its advantages. My hearing loss wasn’t really an issue, as all I really needed to do was make sure all went smoothly. But it also became very difficult to stay awake. It was boring! I had to find things to do to amuse myself.

A week prior, a friend and I had been discussing a local mugging in the neighborhood. She had told me that there was someone going around, preying on younger women (which I was, at the time). I was very disturbed by this, as I had to walk to and from my car very late at night and very early in the morning. To help me feel safer, she purchased a can of pepper spray and told me how to work it.

As I sat, hunched over, at the front desk at the hotel, I had to do something. My drool from falling asleep was starting to destroy the paperwork beneath. Words were starting to blur from the lake of saliva I was pouring onto it. I decided to find something to occupy myself. That’s when I thought of my new pepper spray. So, I reached into my purse and pulled it out.

I wonder what this stuff smells like, anyway. I mean, how can a spray that smells like pepper be so detrimental to the person I spray it on. Surely it won’t do much damage. And, besides, I’ll bet it smells nothing like pepper. Riiiiight……

I decided to solve the mystery myself, that night at the hotel. So I did what any “intelligent” person would do. I didn’t just go and spray myself in the face. That would be silly. Instead, I sprayed a bit on the wall and walked away for a minute to let it dry.

Sixty seconds later, I walked back up to the spot on the wall and took a long, hard sniff.

“AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH My eyes! My eyes!” With my arms flailing madly in the air, I proceeded to run around in circles in the lobby, screaming in agony and praying I didn’t run into anything, because I was completely blinded.

I was right. It did not smell like pepper.

The scar tissue on my retina and my singed nose hairs should be healed in about another decade.

Moral of the story: If you’re bored and you have a can of pepper spray…read a book.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

MAYBE IT'S THE FANGS...........

 (WARNING: Angry Deaf Woman Venting Ahead!!!)

The church my family joined when we moved to Michigan had a sign language interpreter available for the services. It was nice, but I was the only Deaf member. A couple of years later, the interpreter moved, leaving me without an ability to participate in services or activities within the church. Still, my family liked the church, and so we stayed. Well, I should say, they continued to attend services, while I stayed at home alone. After a while, my husband’s work schedule changed and he had to work Sunday mornings. So, he called another member of the church, and asked if they could pick the kids up on their way there. It worked out OK, but I started feeling like a hypocrite…telling them they need to attend church and learn about Jesus, while I sat at home and picked my nose. (I didn’t actually pick my nose…often…I was just using that as an example.)

So, earlier this year, I decided to embark on a journey of finding a church with a good-sized Deaf ministry, that also had a great youth department and was, of course, Baptist. It actually wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. I found one fairly quickly. It was perfect for the kids: Awesome activities, fun ways of teaching and including them, and lots of opportunities to join in with the crowd and make friends. It had the second largest Deaf ministry in Grand Rapids as well. Cool beans!!

I knew several people in the Deaf ministry (other Deafies, not the interpreters), so that helped make me more comfortable as well. Although people do not believe me, I’m rather shy and going to new places scares me. What if they don’t like me? What if I’m not accepted? This church gave me a glimmer of hope that I would be very much accepted and included.

So…I decided to take the plunge and join the church. I had attended several services: Sunday morning and evening and a Wednesday night Bible Study. For the Sunday morning service, it was a pretty usual set up. The hearing congregation sat in the general area and there was a section set-aside for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to follow an interpreter. That was great! Most of the interpreters were pretty good, too, which can be rare in a church setting.

The Sunday night and Wednesday night gatherings were good, too. Although the Deaf and Hard of Hearing had their own class. They’re not in with the “general” population. That seems good, unless you’re a mixed couple (my hubby is hearing) and want to attend something together. Sure, he could attend the Deaf Ministry, but it’s not as face-paced as the Hearing studies. So, he went to his and I went to mine. Really not a big deal and, to be honest, I kind of liked the small break from him. Just kidding. Sort of.

But I started noticing something. When I was out in the hall alone, with a hundred other members, no one would approach me, much less try to communicate with me. And when I was with my hearing husband or children in the same situation, people would approach the hearing family members and speak to them. I stood there like a tree stump and smiled (fakely) as if I was just simply honored by their presence. They wouldn’t even look me in the eyes. Scared that, if they did, I might try to communicate with them. And then they’d have to communicate back. Heaven forbid! (Considering it IS church, I suppose if Heaven forbade, it would be a legitimate excuse. But I haven’t found anywhere in the Bible where it states to love your neighbor unless they communicate differently than you.)

When they would approach to speak to my husband, I was OK with it. A little insulted that they wouldn’t even look at me though. But when they approached and had lengthy, laughing conversations with my children and completely ignored me, THAT caused a problem. I will NOT be made to feel inferior to my kids. I will not be ignored while hearing people address the ten-year-old, instead of the Deaf mother standing RIGHT THERE!

That really started to get me miffed. But I was in church. “Though shalt not get miffed in church.” I think I’ve seen it written somewhere. So, I smiled and acted like I was just happy they would share my general space and breathing air with me. How flattering. How daring for them! (Can you sense my sarcasm, here??)

Then, this morning, my 13-year-old daughter, Mollie, and I went forward to join the church at the end of the morning service. My husband was working, so he wasn’t around. I’d seen a joining by another person before and knew what to expect:

We would go forward (an interpreter knew and was to come with me), fill out a paper, give it to the pastor, the pastor would announce us (he’d already spoken to my husband, so he knew the deal), and then the congregation would come forward, form a line, and shake our hands to welcome us. Cool. I’d joined a church before. I knew how it went. However, I’d never joined a church without my hearing husband with me. And that seemed to make all the difference in the world.

We went forward, filled out the paper, gave it to the pastor and stood there as he announced us and our joining to the congregation. Of course, he also mentioned that I was Deaf. That’s OK. I am. He then said the usual about coming and welcoming us as the new members of the church and then he ended the service.

This is where everyone gets up, gets into a line, and welcomes us……right??? Nope. Three member of the Deaf ministry came up and shook my hand, two very elderly hearing individuals came up and said, “Welcome”…everyone else shot out of there as quickly as they could get the doors open. Why? No, they didn’t have an emergency or a pot luck to attend (which could be considered an emergency to a bunch of hungry Baptists). They left, because I’m Deaf. They’re Hearing. No need to welcome me. Let the Deaf Ministry do it. And that leaves me with the anger I’m feeling today.

It seems in this world, that people think people who are alike congregate together. In this case, Hearing people hang out with Hearing people, because obviously, Deaf people have their Deaf friends to hang out with. What year is this, people?? I felt like a Black person back in the old South. You hang out with your kind, ma’am. And I’m sick and tired of it!

It happens everywhere I go. People assume that, because I’m Deaf, I’m unapproachable. Don’t worry about her, she’s Deaf. Is she wants a friend, she’ll find another Deaf person to be her friend. OR they think, Well, I don’t know sign language, so I guess I can’t try to chat with them. They’re different, you see. Bullspit!

Just because I cannot hear a person does NOT mean I should be shunned by anyone who cannot sign! I am not an inferior person because I have a communication difference from a Hearing person. I am just as much a person who needs friends and compassion and to feel included at church as anyone else! And I’m tired of being set apart. Tired, I say!!!!

What doesn’t help (on my end) is that I haven’t always been totally deaf. Growing up, I usually didn’t even have to mention my hearing loss, because I could work around it. So, as a “hearing” person, I know how if feels to be treated like another hearing person. You’re treated like a….GASP…human being. A person on the same level. Not an inferior form of the human race. Which is how Deaf people are mostly treated like. And it is really pissing me off!!!

I know how it feels to be treated “normally,” and I know how it feels to be treated as a Deafie. There is a HUGE difference. Difference in politeness, in respect, in equality. And why?? Just because one can distinguish your vocal sounds better than the other?

(Deep breathing………………………)

Look, I’m not asking for special treatment. If ANYTHING, I’m asking for the opposite. I want to be treated like everyone else. Stop being so scared of me! What is the deal with that, anyway? Why are most people so freaking scared of Deaf people? The only thing I can figure that might help us be treated better is to make ourselves less scary. Perhaps we should all buy some files and file down our fangs. Would THAT make you look at us any differently?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW???


After suffering through a trip with me to the hunting store to shop for Kenny’s birthday, I decided to treat my kids to a healthy lunch at Checker’s, a fast food joint. I was exhausted from the shopping trip (trying to figure out what kind of copper arrow is best through my daughter’s…uh…”creative” interpreting, really took the energy out of me), so I decided I would give the drive-thru a shot. My teenaged daughter said she would interpret what they said over the loud speaker and I would answer with my voice. Sounded good to m

“I’d like three cheeseburger meals, please,” I hollered into the speaker after Mollie gave me the go ahead. Blah, blah, blah…Mollie said she couldn’t understand what they were saying. So, I tried it again: “Three cheeseburger meals, please!” Again, Mollie couldn’t tell what the person inside was saying. I became frustrated and yelled, “I’m Deaf! I’m just gonna drive on up to the window!”

When I arrived at the window, the girl opened it and began to speak. I repeated my order for the third time. The girl’s eyes got huge and she looked extraordinarily startled, but I handed her my money, and she closed the window and went back inside.

I looked over to the passenger’s seat and Mollie sat there with huge eyes as well. “What? Why are you guys looking at me that way?”

“Mom, you just screamed your order into that girl’s face like you were talking to the speaker earlier.” Apparently, she wasn’t expecting to be yelled at when I drove up. Poor girl will have that moment of meeting this Deafie burnt into her mind for life.

But how was I supposed to know??? This is just another reason why I don’t like to use my voice – especially in public.

Last week, my family took a trip to the mall to see about clothing sizes. As my children were looking at clothes, I turned to my husband and said something. I had my hands full at the time, so he had no signs to go by.

“I can’t hear a word you’re saying. It’s really loud in the mall.” So, I increased my volume and he said it was perfect. Two minutes later, I said something else in the same “perfect” volume. Everyone within a 30-foot radius stopped and turned to look at me. Wide eyed, I smiled at them, and then turned to give Kenny a questioning expression.

His response: “Well…it wasn’t loud in the mall then.”

How was I supposed to know???

I do have a system to control my volume when I decide to use my voice. I ask the person I’m with to simply give me a pre-decided-on gesture when I’m too loud or too soft. It works well for the moment, but, when you’re out in public, the noise kind of varies, ya know?

And that’s just the volume.

Then there’s the fact that, every time I speak, people think I’m upset with them. Because of my pitch and my breathing (I’m guessing), I sound like I’m in a state of perpetual ticked-offness.  But how am I supposed to know???

And then, of course, there’s pronunciation in general. I’m a writer. Do you have any idea how long I’ve been pronouncing “genre” as gen-er? Yesterday, my son tried to explain that it’s pronounced John-ray. Now, how in the world am I supposed to know that? Just like “pilates.” I’ve always thought it was pronounced pilots. When my hubby corrected me, I thought he was pulling my leg. Trying to get me to say words wrong just for kicks.

But how am I supposed to know???

Monday, September 13, 2010

"YOU SMELL LIKE A DEAF SKUNK!!!"


I was dreaming of the Deaf performer, Peter Cook. We were doing an ASL comedy sketch together. At first, the audience thought it was hilarious. Well, with Peter Cook, that kind of goes without saying. But as I got deeper and deeper into the dream, the audience started to leave. This wretched scent was filling the air and even I began to gag…

“Wake up,” Kenny jostled me from my sleep. I struggled to open my eyes in order to read his signs. But, at 2:30 AM, that wasn’t an easy feat. “The dog got sprayed with a skunk!! You have to get up and start giving her a bath. I’m late for work!”

“Where is she?” I got my fingers to begin to work.

“I put her in the bathroom.”

Stumbling to the bathroom, still half awake, I opened the door and was hit full blast with a smell that would make my Uncle Quimby proud. He was always saying that the bathroom was meant to smell that way. Well, Uncle Quimby, you must be smiling from that golden commode in the sky right about now.

I’d never encountered a skunk before in my life and hadn’t the faintest clue what to do. I picked up a bottle of the kids’ shampoo and poured it over my dog, Maggie’s, head. While I scrubbed as hard as I humanly could, my eyes glazed over from the fumes. Maggie, too, was temporarily blinded by the spray, so we were just two beings, alone in the dark, with a smell that could make even those with the strongest of flatulence cry. And the shampoo did nothing!

I decided that the best bet was to get the dog out of the house. Why was she there to begin with?? Why in the world would my husband let a freshly-sprayed-by-a-skunked dog immediately into the house, through the dining and living room, up the stairs, down the hall, and into the bathroom? But the point was moot. We all stunk… and the house was a disaster.

After getting my dog back outside, I needed to get to the store to buy the magic concoction to use when your dog has been sprayed. All you have to do is mix hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn dish soap together and it works miracles! Forget the tomato juice, folks! That just makes your dog smell like a skunked tomato. But in order to use this miracle solution, I had to go back outside (where the smell still lingered), get in the van (yet another place to add fumes), and venture into a 24 hour supermarket.

I made it to the market OK. I only lost 29 brain cells and the feeling in my right leg. I got out of the van and sniffed myself. Maybe no one will notice, I thought.

As I entered the front of the store, the ten people there scattered like cattle. Screams seemed to ricochet off the walls and made my body vibrate. People were ducking behind counters and running for the chips to hide themselves. NO! Please don’t come near me! What have I ever done to you??? I could hear them clearly…and I’m Deaf…

Never before had I had such a clearing through a store to get to where I needed to be. I was like Moses and the customers were the Red Sea. But instead of a stick, all I needed was to move in their general direction. It was powerful. I liked it. Until I arrived at the check out counter and no one would help me.

I got what I needed, I did indeed get back home in the van, and I cleaned up that dog. But the house is another matter entirely. The damage has been done—to the house itself and everyone in it. But don’t worry about us. We will again walk upright…eventually. And, if I ever do get to do a skit with Peter Cook? I’ll have plenty of material with work with.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"MOM'S DEAF -- LET'S PARTY!!!"


"But I was home on time, Mom! I've been in the bathroom!"

Now, how was I supposed to know if he was telling the truth? No one else was in the house and he's usually pretty honest..as far as I know. So, I let it go. After all, he was home safe and sound. But how was I supposed to set the standards high when the kids have an advantage over me in that area?

Fact is, once they're out of my sight, there's  simply no way to know what's happening. They can tell me how obedient they've been, but how do I really know? I can follow them around and check on them incessantly, but what mother wants to have to do that?

Being a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) isn't always easy, but you gotta admit, there's a lot they can get away with because Mom and/or Dad's ears don't pick up the way other parents' do. And it's hard for me, as a mother, to accept this.

However, as frustrating as the situation may be, it isn't completely without humor....

Saturday, I had a family come to our home in regard to their homeschooled daughter taking an American Sign Language class from me. They arrived right on time. I sat them on the big couch; my interpreting husband sat on the little couch; and I sat across from everyone in a chair.

Now this is a business, so I'm doing my darndest to ensure that the meeting and interview go as professionally as possible. I've told the children to stay in their rooms. I had everything written up and tried to explain what exactly the course entailed. All the while this was happening, the mother, seated at the far end of the couch, kept glancing off to the side, wide-eyed, and looking a bit disturbed. I chalked it up to nerves and continued on.

It wasn't until later that night, when my husband made a remark that the family had probably thought we were animal torturers, that I found out just what the mother's disturbed looks were for.

See, my 10-year-old daughter had a friend over. Her room is right next to our living room. Seems that, while I was trying hard to look all professional and confident, these two rugrats were in her room, playing target practice with the cat!

"Get her! Go that way and stop her!"
"Ouch! She just scratched me!"
"Quick, throw a pillow at her!"

And the entire time, the cat was mewing and screeching, calling for help.

So there you have it. As a Deaf parent of hearing kids, I have to face the fact that there will be times when I'm out of the loop or oblivious to their actions. And this is with a 13, 11 and 10-year old. Just wait till they're all teenagers!!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE


I have a dog. A really cute dog. But a hearing or guard dog, she is not.

When I first got Maggie, an adorable Bearded Collie, from the Beardie Rescue, I had all sorts of plans for her. I had wanted a dog that looked like her all my life, but never could get one. Finally my dream had come true! I had also thought about getting a hearing or guard dog at some point, so, naturally, I figured I could make two dreams come true with one full sweep.

That dream never came to fruition.

Oh, Maggie’s a great dog. She doesn’t bite, hump legs (I think only boy dogs do that anyway), or pee in the house…usually. She doesn’t growl at strangers or drink from the toilet…most of the time. She doesn’t get into the trash or pester me all day for a snack either….for the most part. Come to think of it, Maggie doesn’t do much of anything. Unless you include laying spread eagle on the living room floor and occasionally licking herself doing something.

So, when I set off to train her, I had no idea where this would lead.

At first, I tried the use of signs, but there was no getting her to open her eyes, no matter how much “noise” I made. After a while, I figured I would use my voice at first and then ease her way into signs. Ease.

“Come here, Maggie!” Maggie lie on the floor, not even her ears twitched. “Maggie, come!” She shifted a bit, then sighed a huge sigh and went back to sleep. “Maggie, help me! I’m being attacked! Help! Help!” Maggie opened up one eye, licked her chops and returned to Dreamland.

I had to get serious. Even if I couldn’t have a hearing dog per se, I at least wanted a semi-functional guard dog.

I decided to try it out. I asked a friend, whom Maggie had not yet met, to barge in the front door, while Maggie lay sleeping (again) in the living room. I watched from the kitchen, and when the “stranger” stormed in, I started screaming, “Help! Robber! Thief! Murderer! Rapist! Help, Maggie! Help me!” Maggie slowly lifted her head, glanced at me, glanced at the “stranger,” and went back to sleep.

Nothing was working! It was driving me crazy! Do something, girl! Bite! Maim! Sic! Anything!

Finally, I had one last plan. I decided to fake my own life-threatening tragedy. I mean, she had to do something when she found her beloved owner lying on the floor with blood on her face, right? So, I got out the ketchup, poured it on my face (yuck!), stumbled into the living room, and “fainted” onto the floor in front of where she lay. I began to moan, “Ohhhh….someone…please….help…me….I’m…bleeding.” Then I gave a huge, theatrical sigh and succumbed to my demise.

Nothing happened.

I slowly opened one eye to see what Maggie’s reaction was. She was chasing cars in her sleep. Dreaming away, barking and moving her legs as if to run. I did what any unconscious victim would do. I flicked her really hard on her butt and tried again. “Help…Maggie…”

Thirty seconds later, Maggie slowly got up, stretched her front legs, then her back legs, walked up to me, and began licking the ketchup off my face. When she was done, she gave a good, long yawn, walked across the room, and went to sleep on the couch.

Instead of a victim to be rescued, I was a mid-afternoon snack.

I have a dog. A really cute dog. But a hearing or guard dog, she is not.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I'M FREE -- AND IT'S TERRIFYING!


This weekend, my family is going away to Illinois. Actually, they left last night and won't be home till Sunday afternoon. At first, this seemed like a wonderful treat! Oh, don't get me wrong, I adore my husband and kids, but I've had the kids 27/7 since school got out and I'm downright exhausted! I need a break!

Like I said, they left last night. When I signed good-bye and waved to the van as they rode away, I admit I did feel a little empty. But I was still pretty excited about being alone to do ...nothing... for two-and-a-half days. I waved good-bye, clapped for the dog to come in, and shut the door behind me. And that's when it hit me....FEAR.

I hadn't been alone in that house overnight for years. In fact, I can't remember the last time I was alone in the house for the night. So when it started getting late, I started getting more and more anxious.

I don't think many people realize that it can be pretty darn scary when you can't hear a thing. Turning off all the lights (well, most, anyway), locking the doors, going to bed alone...with no way of knowing if someone was breaking in, knocking on my door to warn me of something, calling me (I only have a small light attached directly to my VP, which is downstairs in the dining room, and I can't afford more), or if there was a storm and a tornado hit.

I am poor and cannot afford signals and such. I have to work with what I have...a text pager and email. I do have a landline phone downstairs for the other members of my family or for emergency calls to 911. I can also call 911 through my VP, but that, too, is downstairs, and I hardly ever use it. I'm talking an inch of dust!

So, if someone were to break into my home, there's no way I would even know...until they killed me. Then I could look down from heaven and smite them. But I have no way of contacting 911 from where I sleep. Also, as amazing at it sounds, the last time a HUGE storm hit (I'm talking HUGE), I didn't even know it had rained till I woke up the next morning, looked outside, and saw trees laying in the street. So, if a tornado warning blares, I wouldn't know it.

So, suffice it to say, it's scary for me to be alone in my home. The only relieving fact is that I do get downtime and things might not go wrong. But is it enough to get me through the weekend? Heck, yeah! I'm alone! I'm alone! I'm alone! No kids! No kids! No kids!

Yea!!!!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

GIMME DEAF POWER!


I believe that Deaf people, not being disabled (except by hearing people who choose to make it seem that way), can have power. Deaf power! Ever since that wonderful day in 1988, when we succeeding in ensuring that the president of Gallaudet University would, indeed, be deaf, I think we’ve been taking more steps to show it. However, the other night at dinner, I got to taste just how far from arriving we are.

It was interesting, actually. The previous day, I had gone to lunch with a new Deaf friend. We entered, gestured that we needed a seating of two, and followed the hostess to a booth. Once the waitress saw that we were Deaf, she was very cooperative. We pointed to what we wanted and figured out a way to convey the rest. It was a nice lunch with a new friend.

Then, the next night, my hearing husband decided to take me to dinner to get out of the house and have some alone time away from the kids. When we entered the restaurant, we were both greeted with welcomes. Because they added more than the usual, “Hi! Welcome,” Kenny interpreted for me. I responded directly to the hostess. She stood there with a deer-in-the-headlights look.

After we were seated, the waitress came up and greeted both of us. We both smiled warmly and said, “Hello.” When she asked what I wanted to drink, I showed her on the menu, making it obvious that I was deaf. That was all she needed to know. For the rest of the meal, anytime she would approach us to ask us a question, she would get my husband’s response and not even look in my direction. Often, she would come when my head was down, ask Kenny how things were, and leave. Never tried to get a response from me. Doesn’t it matter if I’m OK, too? Obviously not to her.

Then, as always, when it was time to get the check, it went directly to Kenny. No asking. No wondering. Sure, that might have been because he’s a male and I’m a female, but I think a lot had to do with the fact that, since I am deaf, she assumed the hearing person would pay for it. Why? My money’s good, too. But that’s how it always goes.

Like it or not, as deafies, hearing people will always give the power back to other hearing people. Doesn’t matter if we’re black, white, male, female, young, old. If we’re deaf and there’s a hearie around, they are the ones other hearies give the power to. And it stinks.

Let’s hope better times for the future.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE?


Standing at the shelf in the crowded bookstore I was completely engrossed in the book I held. It wasn’t until some very elderly lady performed a full body slam on me that I was shaken from my trance. My reaction at the time? Just a bewildered expression on my face. I had said nothing to her. What could I have done in that situation? If someone had been with me, I could have signed to them to let the woman know I was deaf, but no one was with me. Should I have written her a note to ask what the heck her problem was? I’m really not sure. All I know is that, even though that happened some time ago, I still get steamed up about it. What I would say to her if I could go back in time and do it again!

The upsetting part of the whole ordeal is that, if she had simply touched my shoulder, none of this would have been a problem. I would have seen that she needed by and I would have happily stepped aside. The fact is that she must have stood there asking me to move for quite a while before she became so annoyed at my “ignoring” her that she decided to just ram me with all that she had. I simply don’t understand it. Why, in all that time, while waiting for me to respond, didn’t she simply reach out and touch me?

Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon. Oh, the body slam might not be the norm, but hearing people have a very strong fear of being touched or touching someone else. So, rather than be impolite and place her hand on my shoulder, she decided the best bet was to nicely (and quietly, I’m sure, since it was a bookstore) ask me to step aside so she could through. When this didn’t work—over and over and over again—she continued until she completely lost it and tore into me. Makes sense. (Sarcasm.)

As a Deaf person, I’ve run into this question often: How do we (hearing people) get your attention? Most of the time, it seems self-explanatory, but I’m starting to discover that that term may not exist anymore. So here are the basics:

If you’re out there in the world and you come across someone who doesn’t respond to your spoken request, please do not assume that that person is a jerk and get angry. With over 200 million people in American with a hearing loss, there is always a good chance that they may, indeed, be one of them. If you find out later that they’re not, then go ahead and proceed as you see fit. But call me first, so I can watch.

If you’re standing next to the deaf or hard of hearing person of whom you need their attention, gently, but firmly, place your hand on their shoulder. No poking, please. I have welts all over my body from people whose index finger should be considered a lethal weapon.

If you’re not within touching distance, do not throw things at them or even toward them in an attempt to get them to look at you. If there’s someone standing nearer to them than you, ask them to get their attention and then direct them back to you.

In some instances, it may be OK to flick a light switch. Be careful with this though. You will end up getting the entire room’s attention. Not to mention, if you do it for too long, it could be considered rude. Well, actually, anything can be considered rude if you do it inconsiderably.

For example, if you’re sitting with a deaf person at a table and you tap it to get their attention, that would most likely be fine. However, if you bang on the table as hard as you can and do this for a considerable amount of time, that would be considered rude. Not to mention that you’d probably scare the hell out of the person sitting with you.

The best way to get someone’s attention, if it’s possible, is to wave your hand and see if they catch it in their peripheral vision. Deaf people are very visually adept and we notice stuff like that a lot more readily than others.

Some ways not to get our attention? Don’t throw things in our general direction, pelt us with small items, jam your fingers into our arms, stomp on a concrete floor, snap, clap, or blast the television.

One time I was in the hospital and started to walk away from a nurse. I was halfway down the hall when she realized she needed more information. She began calling after me, then snapping, and finally clapping as loudly as possible and yelling short, staccato notes of, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” It wasn’t until my hearing friend came around the corner and saw what was happening that I actually discovered she needed my attention. Duh!

It always intrigues me the way this world works. Getting a deaf or hard of hearing person’s attention wouldn’t seem to be that much of a bother, but apparently anything that isn’t super easy (read: anything where you can’t just yell, “Hey, you,” and everything is solved) is considered bothersome to most hearing people.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

LEARNING AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE TAKES TIME


As an ASL teacher and as a deaf person in general, I’ve found that almost all of the people I encounter who are wanting to learn American Sign Language go into it with unrealistic expectations. They all expect to take a series of classes and then be able to venture out into the Deaf community and converse in sign with little or no effort. And this goes both ways, meaning they expect to be able to relay their messages in sign language and they expect to be able to comprehend all of the messages relayed to them in the signed response.

For a while I thought that the only reason for this was that people assumed that learning sign language would be easier than learning a new spoken language. Many think of sign as simply drawing pictures in the air. Sure, they’ll admit there’s some things you must know the formal sign for, but that should be easy to pick up, right? It’s a primitive language – ones cavemen used – and, therefore, should be self-explanatory and easier to pick up than, say, German.

A lot of people actually believe that. I think that’s because many people generally view ASL as mime or gesturing being the main point, so, I mean, how hard can it really be? It’s like this grand game of charades. When they then go in and decide they’re going to learn it “formally,” it’s hard for them to realize that they’ve had the wrong idea.

I had thought that the idea of thinking that learning a new language would be easy was only usually applied to learning sign language, but then I asked my husband. He said that it often applied to spoken languages as well. When he decided to learn Spanish so that he could readily interact with the people he encountered at the airport (where he works), he signed up for a community class—excited by the prospect of being able to chat with other Spanish-speaking people when the class was finished. He believed that he would have a basic grasp of the language by the end of the class. And when the class ended and he took what he learned with him to work, he was frustrated that he still struggled to interact with the Spanish-speaking community.

I think it’s human nature. People want to know what they want to know and they want to know it at that very moment. Whether it’s how to speak a language, how to play a sport, or how to work the new computer or television, people (generally speaking) don’t have a whole lot of patience. So, when they get the notion to learn a new language, they don’t expect it to be as difficult as it really is.

One common tendency is to take the new vocabulary words you’ve learned and put them in a sentence using the word order of the language you already know…such as the common method of signing American Sign Language signs in English word order. It’s one factor of language learning that truly is a challenge—learning new grammatical rules and sentence structure.

Another struggle is understanding that there is no one way of expressing something. In English when you want to say something, there are many ways to word it. For example:

“I can’t believe that stupid guy over there is giving me a dirty look!”

“There is an annoying man sitting over there who keeps giving me a dirty look and it’s ticking me off!”

“Why is he glaring at me? It’s bugging me!”

“If that guy doesn’t stop staring at me, I’m going to get very upset!”

You get the idea.

Just as English ideas can be phrased various ways and get the same point across, so, too, can ASL. There is no one specific way things absolutely must be worded. You’re learning a language; you’re not taking a biology class. There is no one answer that is the only right answer. There are nuances that you can only learn through interaction and practice.

Yes, of course you can be taught the vocabulary and grammatical structure. And if you study daily and immerse yourself with other signers (preferably native speakers), you can get a very good grasp of the language in about two years. They say fluency comes around seven to ten years of serious study. But you will always be learning. Always. That goes for any language you learn. Heck, even native English speakers take English courses throughout school, attend workshops on the use of English, and major in English in college. We’re always learning. There is no point where you can say, “OK. Now I know it all.” (Although I do know many people who think they do.)

So try to be patient. Don’t expect so much so fast. It’s a language. It’s not a skill like dancing, where you learn how to step ball change and then never need to learn that again. It’s an ongoing venture. But, and this is a big but, it’s a journey that will lead you through many wonderful experiences.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you’re not able to fully converse with a deaf signer after, say, one 10-week class. That’s unrealistic. There’s simply too much to learn to accomplish it all in one course. You might want to have every possible bit of information crammed into every minute of each class in order to feel you’ve gotten your money and time’s worth. But you have to think about this in a mature manner. Use what you learn. Every day. Go where the signers are (and please remember to go where the skilled signers are and not just a bunch of students who are also just learning). Interact in the Deaf Culture. Become involved. There’s no point in learning a new language if you won’t have anyone to share it with. Man, oh, man! How many students I’ve worked with who have said that they don’t want to go to a Deaf event because they’re scared they won’t be able to communicate. But, you have to. It’s scary, but you have to. Besides, why are you learning it anyway if you’re not going to actually use it with people who need it?

So, will you learn American Sign Language in a few months’ time? No, you won’t. Don’t expect that. With you find, in a group of 5 teachers, that they all teach how to say something in exactly the same way? No. There is no one exact way. But will all of your work be worth it in the end? Absolutely. It’s worth it.

But do me one favor: Once you learn it, put it to good use. That’s all I ask.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

QUESTIONS, STUPIDITY, AND ANSWERS


Oh, the questions I’ve been asked! In the course of lifetime (which is longer than I’d like to admit), I’ve been asked some doozies. On the happenstance that you’d like to hear a few, I decided to write down the questions I’ve been asked in the past couple of weeks:
  • How do deaf people drive?

Exactly the same way hearing people do. You don’t need sound to drive. If that were a fact, then what about hearing people who crank the radio up to blasting or people who chat endlessly on their cell phone? The only thing you really use sound for regularly is sirens and such. But that’s why they also have flashing lights. Hello? A good driver, deaf or hearing, uses his mirrors and stays visually alert. Sound is not a requirement.

  • How do deaf people have sex?

Ummm. Would you like a video blog answer to this question?

Or, as comedian and CODA Keith Wann would answer, “The same way hearing people do—loud and sloppy.”
  • How do deaf people talk/communicate?

As diversely as the rest of the population. Some of us sign. Some of us lipread and speak. Some of us stand on our heads and blink in Morse Code. Many of us do snappy variations!

  • How do deaf people read?

Huh? We go through the same school system as everyone else. We learn to read—given the school system does their job—just like everyone else. But because some deaf children are denied access to a language before they start school (meaning they’re forced to figure out how to speak and “listen” when they can’t hear anything, instead of allowing them to express themselves manually in sign and then be taught English later), they can struggle with reading English.Wouldn't anyone??

Just like hearing people, there are deaf people who are English scholars, deaf people who just read well, and illiterate deafies. But, in general, how do we read? With our eyes and our brain.

  • How do deaf people hear music?

Who says we do? There’s absolutely no way of answering that, because it all depends on how much residual (or amplified) hearing a person has as well as their personal likes and dislikes. It’s kind of common sense, here, folks.
  • How do deaf people talk on the phone?

Actually, I don’t consider this a stupid question.

There are several different devices for deaf and hard of hearing people to use in order to use a phone. There are amplified telephones, amplifiers to attach to telephones, captioned phones, TTYs/TDDs, videophones, relay systems, etc. Lots of choices. I won’t go into details in this post, but we have a lot of assistive technology in this realm.
  • How do deaf people wake up?
Again, not a stupid question, but I find it hard to answer when it’s phrased “how do deaf people…”, as if there is only one way all deaf people do something. We’re as much individuals as hearing people. There is no “one size fits all.”

Many deaf use vibrating or light-flashing alarm clocks that shake the bed and blink a lamp when it’s time to get up. But that’s just one way.
  • How do deaf people clap?
Oh, come on! I guess I can read this one of two ways: How do we put our hands together and produce the same sound as hearing people do or how do we applaud something we wish to acknowledge (like a really great play or performance).

For the former? Get a life.

For the latter? Deaf applause consists of lifting your hands above your head and shaking them. The reason for this is that it’s more visual. It’s customary for people (regardless of hearing status) to clap for a hearing person’s performance and use Deaf applause for a deaf person’s performance. It all depends on the applauder and the applaudee (is that even a word?).
  • How do deaf people have their own thoughts?
Wow. I don’t know. I mean, do we??? (That was sarcasm.) I’m thinking (praying) that I must have “heard” them wrong. Let’s try again (and hope it’s what they meant)….
  • How do deaf people hear their own thoughts?
OK. A little better. If a person is born profoundly deaf and has never been able to hear the spoken word in any way, shape, or form, then chances are they don’t hear it, per se, as it would be spoken. How in the world would they even know what it sounds like?

However, that being said, we "hear" our thoughts very clearly. We are able to think our own thoughts and understand what we mean. We’re not imbeciles! How a person “hears” something is individualistic. You’re probably thinking like a hearie and trying to imagine how a deaf person would hear like you. You have to try to think outside the box.

In fact, in this world, when trying to figure out how people different from you can do certain things, you will always have to think outside the box. You have to stop thinking people must do things in the same fashion as you or other people you know. We’re humans. We’re different. And we do different things differently.
  • How do deaf people hear in their dreams?
This is another question of which I’ve been asked many variations. Some want to know if we hear in our dreams or if we sign in our dreams or this or that. Although I’ve never hooked up a brainwave machine to a bunch of deafies to compare, it would seem (ahem) logical that a person would communicate in their dreams in much the same way as they communicate when they’re awake.
  • How do deaf people laugh?
Laughter is a reflex action—not a planned and carefully performed parlor trick. When we see/read/are told something funny, we laugh. How is that hard to understand?

Also, everyone in this world has their own sound when they laugh. Some snort, some guffaw, some giggle, some slobber…you get the idea. So, too, does every deaf person have their own sound when they laugh. I’ve had people talk about how “horrible” deaf people sound when they laugh (I’ve even seen stupid comments about how “hysterical” deaf people sound when they’re having sex). Horrible in whose opinion? Some snot-nosed, cocky jerk, who believes he has the ear of God in deciding what sounds appropriate and what doesn’t? Hmmm. I think it may be vaguely obvious I have an opinion about that.
  • How do deaf people write?
I will answer that question with an impervious retort…. Although some can’t write at all (just like many hearies), some of us (Me! Me! Me! Me!) write extremely well. And there is no question about that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

YOU SAY ORALISM ISN'T PERFECT? RIGHT ON, BROTHER!



As defined at http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/oralism:
Oralism: A philosophy of education for the deaf, opposed to manualism, that uses spoken language consisting of lipreading, speech, the process of watching mouth movements, and mastering breathing techniques.

September 6 – 11, 1880, in the city of Milan, Italy, a group of 164 participants attended the 2nd International Congress on Education of the Deaf (ICED). The Milan Conference was organized by the Pereire Society. This society was a strong supporter of oralism. They organized the Milan conference with the intent to ban sign language. And they secured this outcome by carefully selecting who was invited, inviting the delegates to see the oralist success in a local school, and by encouraging negative reactions to those giving speeches supporting sign language and cheering those supporting oralism.

This convention consisted of 87 Italians, 56 Frenchmen, 8 Englishmen, 5 Americans, and 8 other delegates. Not a lot of diverse representation for an “international” meeting. During the conference there were 12 speakers who gave their opinions on the issues connected with deaf education. Nine of the 12 speakers gave an oralist view and 3 supported the use of sign language.

At the meeting, the members voted overwhelmingly to outlaw the use of sign language as a method for educating deaf children, in favor of the pure oral method. The group also opposed a compromise motion to include sign language along with speech. And thus began an attempt to abolish the language of Sign.

The original resolutions passed at this meeting did irreparable damage to deaf individuals, educators, professionals, schools and communities around the world. Thankfully, perhaps due to the fact that Gallaudet College (now University) refused to abandon the use of sign and to the founding of the National Association of the Deaf, ASL has persevered. Regardless of what the extremists and strict oralists believe, ASL is the language of the Deaf and always will be.

I was ecstatic to find that, on Monday, July 19th of this year, the International Congress of the Deaf opened its 21st Congress with a historic announcement that it formally rejects the resolutions passed at the 2nd Congress. This move in part was due to the letters and actions from advocacy organizations and leaders throughout the world urging the ICED to embrace signed languages and deaf cultures.

NAD’s President, Bobbie Beth Scoggins, had this to say about the monumental proclamation:

"We are elated to see that, for the first time in 130 years, the ICED has joined us in rejecting the actions of its predecessors and moving forward to improve educational systems for the global deaf and hard of hearing community. We are grateful and proud to see the ICED take this important and very appropriate step towards reconciliation. The formal rejection of the 1880 resolutions made in Milan by the ICED realizes a dream that we have had for 130 years. Together with the ICED we have taken the first steps towards a beautiful, bilingual future of cooperation and mutual respect."

Here’s to a new and brighter future for our deaf and hard of hearing students! Let’s let them use what works for each, instead of a contrived notion that oralism is the only way!