Sunday, October 24, 2010


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


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


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


 (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?