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


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” 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.