Friday, December 23, 2011


Every year around this time, I begin to worry. I worry that we won’t have the money or capabilities to afford gifts for our children. I worry about that a lot. My husband tells me over and over that gifts are not what Christmas is about. He’s right. Yet still I worry. I’m sure even to the point of selfishness. And every year, God proves to me that He is in charge. We’ve never had a Christmas where we walked away in want. For that I am truly grateful.

In fact, it amazes me (understatement) how many blessings are bestowed upon our family at this time of year. This year is no different. Friends, family, and anonymous donors flabbergast us as the days roll by. Cookies, candy, gift cards, even money, are placed in our hands with only “A Friend” or “Use this wherever you are in need” scribbled on a note or card.

At this time, we aren’t able to do a lot for others, but I certainly try through cards and food and any gifts I’m able to purchase. I want to give back.

Now, you would think that, with all the good coming our way, I wouldn’t have a whole lot of complaining to do. But if you do think that, you don’t know me very well. Sad to say, but I’m a whiner, and what I’m usually whining about is inequality of communication access for poor, little, old, Deaf me.

Why can’t I go see the movie I want to see? Why do I always have to settle for what they’ll give me?

Why can’t I join the group of Christmas carolers and sing my heart out?

Why doesn’t Santa Claus at the mall offer an interpreter so I can sit on his lap and tell him my inner-most thoughts? OK. That one hasn’t actually happened, but I wouldn’t put it past me.

Case in point…I hate being left out. I hate that I have to ask for assistance. I hate that I can’t enjoy things in the same, full way that many can. I hate, I hate, I hate.

Well, Bah! Humbug!

So, anyway, I’m cleaning up the kitchen yesterday afternoon and my 11-yeear-old daughter charges in. “Santa Claus is at the door.”

“Huh? What does that mean?”

“It means that Santa Claus is at the door. He just tapped on the glass and shouted, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’”

Immediately I’m thinking child predator in a Santa Claus suit. OK. Not really. I walk into the living room and, sure enough, there’s Kris Kringle at the door, waving at me through the glass.

Now, we have people come to the house pretty often. Aside from a pair of Jehovah Witnesses, there’s never ever been a signer. So, I’ve simply come to expect that anyone who comes to the door—especially ones who are shouting with laughter through the glass—are obviously hearing individuals.

I smile and open the glass door. “Hi! What can I do for you, sir?” I state. No hand motions in sight.

Santa starts to speak. Afraid that he’s going to get chatty, I immediately point at my ear, shake my head and let him know I’m deaf. He looks scared. So, turning away, facing in the complete opposite direction of his eyes, I offer my son up to interpret for him. Santa doesn’t say anything. In fact, if I’m right, he looks pretty darn confused.

He gently hands me a card. I ask who it’s from and my kids say he said, “A friend.”

“Wow! Well, Merry Christmas!” I shout and he leaves us all standing at the door, wondering what in the heck just happened.

It doesn’t really matter what happened next. Suffice it to say we were overwhelmed with the goodness of the Lord with the gift that was inside that card. After a lot of talking about who we thought he might have been, we give up for the time being. An hour later, my teen girl runs into the room and signs, “He had a Deaf accent!! He had a Deaf accent!! I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, because I couldn’t understand some of the stuff he said, but that’s why!”

So, here we had a nice and caring man, donning a Santa Claus outfit, who was, by all speculation, deaf, come to the door and I didn’t sign a single thing to him. I put that poor man in the same predicament I was whining about just earlier that same day. A Deafie had created inequality of communication access with a fellow Deafie.

I feel awful. I really do. And, no, we don’t know for sure if that man was, indeed, deaf. But the fact is, why did I presume that the person would be hearing and prefer oral communication, even when it’s the opposite of what I want? I complain that people can’t sign, and those who say they can, usually mean they can show me the ABCs over the course of 15 minutes. This man, if he was deaf, came to our door, “knowing” and expecting that he’d be able to chat. Maybe. Guess that just goes to show that it can work both ways.

I’ve learned my lesson though. I won’t assume people are hearing anymore. Besides, we all know what happens when you “assume.” You make an “ass” out of U and Me. Well, how’s that for Merry Christmas?

Monday, December 5, 2011


Since many people are new to my blog, here is my GUIDE for you that I posted last December. All others, read again. It's here for you, too!


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.

Friday, November 18, 2011


When a person is born without or loses one of his five senses, the focus by many is on the loss and how, after the fact, that poor person misses or loses so much. Whether it be losing your sense of taste and not being able to enjoy chocolate anymore (yum), losing your sense of touch and not being able to decipher if something is too hot to hold at the moment (ouch), or having gas and not being aware that the people laying on the floor around you are, indeed, laying there because of you. Any way you look at it, it’s a loss to those who have all five senses working full-strength.

However, it goes without saying that losing your sight and losing your hearing may cause the most reaction from that person and those around him. The long-lived question of, “Which would you rather lose…your hearing or your sight,” almost always renders people feeling that losing your sight is the biggest problem. And I agree it would be traumatic, but so would be losing your hearing after you’ve spent decades enjoying music, having casual conversations, and such. Both would be traumatic. And, face it, there are very few people with both of these senses who wouldn’t really care if they lost one.

People think that, because I lost my hearing after I learned to speak, I am missing so much out of life. And I agree that it takes some working on to not go totally bananas. Before deafness I was a professional and amateur actress doing musical theatre. Not exactly something I can pursue anymore – especially living in the mid-west, in a spot where there aren’t many theatres around.

Movies aren’t as wonderful of an experience, but, now being deaf for a long time, I enjoy captioned movies just as much as I remember enjoying movies when I could hear. Finding theatres that offer captions for first-run movies is a bummer though, so I admit it grates on my nerves.

Plays and musicals are definitely not as exciting as I knew them to be. Watching an interpreter (when there’s one provided) and watching the action on the stage at the same time can be difficult (though there are theatres that directly address this situation by having the signers actually on the stage acting with the hearing actors). I miss theatre. I do. I also miss being able to sing (well). I used to have a great voice. I can say that now, because I no longer can control my voice and when I sing, dying dolphins would sound lovelier. I’ve told my kids over and over how well I used to sing, but, after hearing me as they’ve known me, I think they need more proof. I will say, though, that I took one of my kids to see an UNinterpreted production of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” last year and believe I enjoyed it every bit as much as my daughter did.

Then there’s small talk. Something I can no longer participate in with hearing people…at least not casually. I never liked small talk before, but have found that it does feel a LOT more isolating when you can’t joke around with people as easily. I still have a lot of sarcasm in my conversations, but many people don’t realize I’m just being a silly smart-mouth and just think I’m basically a witch.

But last night changed things for me. Made me see something more about my life.

One of my kids was going to be playing two different instruments in the school band concert. Because there’s no choir at this school (GASP!), it was a totally musical night—not something that really interests me anymore. And, no, if you’re wondering: feeling the musical vibrations in my butt does NOT excite me. After knowing and then losing music, vibrations and lights just don’t compare to what I know those hearies were hearing.

Anyway, she was supposed to play the xylophone in one song. The first time for her. I wasn’t thinking much of it. I mean, it’s the xylophone. I remember playing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on that thing as a kid. Ooooo. (That was a sarcastic ooooo, if you missed it).

But when it came time for her to do the song with the rest of the band, I was flabbergasted! Amazed! Tickled pink! Stunned! I don’t know much about the song, but she was the star. She was banging on the instruments, going back and forth between two of them. Her sticks were flying and all eyes were on her. This was no, “Mary.” This was like Flight-of-the-Bumblebees-fast. And she ROCKED IT. I didn’t need to hear to know that.

After the concert, people she or we didn’t even know were running up to her and saying how COOL she was and I just stood there and glowed. That’s my daughter, I would’ve said if anyone had actually talked to me. She was good. I got to see it. And, even with the absence of sound I knew, I had witnessed something truly great. Do I feel like I missed out, because I’m Deaf? Not. One. Bit.

Yes, losing a sense is very traumatic if compared to never having the sense from the start. I guess I’ve been deaf looooong enough to be OK with it, though I know many who aren’t. One of these days everything is going to be accessible to people with a variety of  situations—including deaf people. I don’t know if I’ll still be alive when that finally happens, but I do know that I’m not going to sit around and be sad about it and waste my life concentrating on what’s been “taken” from me. I mean, really! If I were doing that, I would have missed my rock-star-daughter’s solo. And that would have been a travesty.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Last week, I attended a deaf convention. It was for an organization that claims to focus on people with adult-onset hearing loss (late-deafened adults, LDAs). I attended a few of their other conventions in the past, but it’s been five years since the last one. I wasn’t sure how it would go. I had talked with LDAs and had always felt like the bulk of them spend 99% of their time trying to stay in the “hearing world” and “fix” themselves. I don’t see my deafness that way. When I lost the last of my hearing a long time ago, I accepted that I was then completely deaf and I went about joining the “Deaf world.”

Anyway, I thought it would be a great experience. I thought I would meet tons of people who signed and, at the same time, knew (and accepted) what it was like to be both a hearing person (in the past) and a deaf person (in the present). That wasn’t what I found though. Instead, I found CIs galore, amplified telephones, and people talking to each other a mile a minute. It didn’t take me very long to realize that I didn’t fit in there. And this upset me greatly. Seems that organization has followed the trend of such groups as Hearing Loss Association of America, and it was just a bunch of people who tried to pull themselves of as Hard of Hearing at best.

When I moved to West Michigan ten years ago, I went about trying to find the Deaf community and meeting people. I have met many, many wonderful people in the process. But one thing stands out, and that is that I did not grow up here, did not go to school here, and am not really part of the cohesive group here. Part of that is circumstantial (in general, the Deaf crowd grows up together and stays pretty close) and part of that was my own darn fault (I am extremely shy and self-conscious, so I don’t jump into groups and make friends easily). However, the fact remains that I’ve met so many great people in the West Michigan Deaf Community. I thought this other organization would be even easier.

I figured, here are people who grew up hearing or hard of hearing and learned to speak before deafness. But this group wasn’t full of “deafies.” Far from it. And, because I am a deafie, it was isolating and painful.

Trying to find out where you fit in in life and groups can be a very painful process. Sometimes things go your way and it’s easy, but most of the time you have to have some real cojones and a ton of resiliency….things I do not possess. So where do I fit in? Where do I go to find people to bond with and grow with and have fun with? Am I so scared of my surroundings that I give off an aire of witchiness? Is there something about me specifically that turns people away? Or do I just have a very poor ability of finding the right people? Not sure.

But I do know that I am Deaf. I am bi-cultural and bi-lingual and I accept that I will never hear again. I need Sign Language to communicate and do not possess lipreading skills that are worth very much. I use a Video Phone and teach ASL and hang out watching captioned movies and talking in places with good lighting. I am Deaf. And I’m OK with that. I don’t want to be “fixed.” I just want to be accepted.

Friday, October 21, 2011

WHAT THE F*** DO YOU KNOW?!?!?: Should ASL Profanity Be Openly Taught?

I recently went online and decided to look up any new Deaf- and ASL-related books available on Amazon. One of them caught my eye. It was a book on the “dirty words” in Sign Language. It made me consider whether it was appropriate to teach the profanity of ASL to new students or not.

I’ve heard the debate. When James Woodward came out with his two books, “Signs of Drug Use” and “Signs of Sexual Behavior,” there was quite a bit of an uproar regarding whether that inside knowledge should be thrust out there for anyone to learn. The simple fact is that many people just want to know the profanity. They think it’s funny. Now I can call my teacher an A-hole without him knowing, or whatever. Many Deaf people felt that ASL, being their language, shouldn’t be something just given out, but rather knowledge earned.

But there is a need out there for those who are serious about learning the language…especially interpreters-in-training. They do need to know that information. How can you possibly interpret in a courtroom if you don’t know the signs for sexually-oriented concepts? The trouble lies with who has control of and access to this information.

I’ve seen people say that if a person is serious about learning ASL, then they should find a Deaf friend and ask them how to do the mature words. OK. Good idea…if it’s possible. Some people are not sure how to bring it up and some people don’t know a Deaf person well enough to ask. Although an interpreter has to overcome a lot of feelings of embarrassment (especially working with culturally Deaf people who are known for their candidness and bite), it doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to say, “So, Jared, can you please tell me in what contexts I would use this sign for F--k and which times this sign is better?” May seem easy if that kind of thing comes naturally to you, but most of the time it doesn’t.

The book in question seems to have gotten some pretty good reviews—even from Deaf individuals. So, I’m inclined to think it isn’t as controversial over 30 years after James Woodward had to deal with the uproar. I took a look inside and the pictures are poor enough that I feel you would need to already have a working knowledge of the book in order to understand the descriptions anyway. Nevertheless, I ordered it. It’s titled, "Dirty Sign Language: Everyday Slangfrom "What's Up?" to "F*%# Off!" I’ll check it out and see what my side is on this debate. In the meantime, what do you feel about teaching sign language students the “dirty” words?

Sunday, October 9, 2011


As a teacher of ASL, I've been told many reasons (or excuses) for why a person cannot learn to sign. Sure, there's the usual, "no time," or, "too old," both of which is a matter of opinion, but very often people will tell me they can't learn to sign because of a disability they deal with on a daily basis.

I don't buy it though. Yes, there are definitely exceptions to the rule, but, in general, I don't think simply having a "disability" excludes a person from the world of ASL.

In fact, I've worked with students with various types of circumstances, including dystonia, dysphonia, MS, MD, autism, Asperger's Syndrome, apraxia, and mental retardation, and have yet to have a case where I advised them that contining to learn was useless.

Anyone can learn to sign if they truly want to. Sure, it may take a little extra time and effort, but it'll happen. So, don't let a barrier in your life cause you to miss out on this language. You can do it!!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011


The other night, I was laying bed, watching the auditions for the new show, “The X Factor,” when something hit me. It was my teenaged daughter, Mollie, trying to get my attention with a sock. Apparently, I was so engrossed in the show that I didn’t notice her standing in the corner, jumping up and down and waving her arms. She’d been doing this for the past five minutes, but, hey, I was watching an interesting segment!

See, there was a young man on the show. He was the only “normal-sized” member of an all-dwarf family (those were the terms the family used). It really melted my heart, because what I observed was the ease the family had with each other. This guy (who, if I remember right, was still a teenager) thought nothing of getting down on his knees for a big mama hug or looking down to have a totally natural conversation with his father. Am I starting to sound ignorant yet? I am ignorant of that culture and life. But really! It was the naturalness that struck me (aside from the dirty, balled-up sock I had to peel out of my hair). He never knew any different, so there was no judgment of the things he had to do with the members of his family.

That made me think about my own kids. Youngsters, ages 11, 12 and 14, who signed before they ever spoke and think nothing of living in both the Deaf and Hearing cultures. Standing in the room, jumping up and down, pelting their mother with slimy, old pieces of clothing, is never given a second thought. It just is what it is. It’s a fact of life around here. Sign Language is no more embarrassing for them than back-flips are to clowns. OK. That made no sense. I’m not in the mood to Google other comparisons at the moment, so just go with it.

Seriously though. I love the fact that the kids aren’t embarrassed about the differences in our family. Even my teenager likes to hang out with my Deaf friends, “because they’re funny and have funny faces.” Hmmm. OK, maybe that one isn’t the greatest example. She just likes the animation of ASL, but those are the words this genius chose to use, so I typed them.

Stomping on floors, “speaking” through windows, using facial grammar, heck, even jumping up and down in the corner of the room for five minutes, are natural expressions of needing to communicate. I like that. I like that I’m not seen by them as weird or embarrassing. Well, yes, I am, but it has nothing to do with my deafness and that’s my point. All moms are weird and embarrassing to their kids at some point. But I’m not more so. And that makes me happy. Mom is Deaf. We need to do this and that to have a full and rich relationship with her. It just is what it is. Now, someone come over here and do my laundry, so I don’t have to deal with dirty socks in my hair anymore.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

DON'T CALL ME THAT! Are Some People Too Sensitive In Regard to Terminology?

People have their opinions. Anyone who reads my (or anyone’s) blog will clearly know that. Opinions exist about everything from the President of the United States to the price of gas to whether Kim Kardashian’s boobs look real. OK. I actually don’t have an opinion on that one.

One thing that’s been discussed in many different ways is what terms are acceptable when referring to minority groups. Political correctness has become the goal for everyone as each person strives to decipher what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s polite, and what’s downright rude.

The Deaf Culture considers itself a minority group of sorts. Not disabled—just a group of people who cohesively use a language other than English to communicate. Where hearing people might consider a Deaf person communicatively handicapped if they walked into a room of hearing people talking; those same hearing people would be equally handicapped if they walked into a room full of Deaf people fluently signing in ASL.

When a hearing person refers to a Deaf individual, there begins a debate of which terms can safely be used and which terms should be laid to rest. Terms such as “deaf and dumb” or “deaf mute” are obviously no longer considered couth. I know many Deaf people who are oodles smarter than any hearing person I’ve ever known. And I’ve yet to meet a Deaf person who does not have fully functioning vocal cords—thus they are not definably “mute.”

Even the term “hearing impaired” is frowned upon by the Deaf Community. I mean, who wants to be labeled “impaired” about anything? I certainly don’t. Nope. The terms of choice are simple: “Deaf” or “Hard of Hearing.” No, “Deaf” is not derogatory. It’s a statement of fact. I’m proud to be called that and personally have never had an occasion when it didn’t sit right with me. I’m Deaf and proud to carry that label.

For those who are unable to understand the spoken work without aid but are not comfortable with “deaf,” “hard of hearing” is a pretty generalized phrase that should sit OK with most.  Of course, as I said before, everyone has their own feelings and sometimes it’s just easier to ask a person what term they prefer. If in doubt, no worries. Why even refer to a person based on their hearing status? Call them by their name. That’s usually safe. Usually.

Then there are people who take things to an extreme (in my opinion). People who say, “Don’t say, ‘can’t hear.’ That’s so negative!” or “Don’t say, ‘has trouble hearing’—you’re just focusing on what’s wrong.” But, dude! Sometimes you have to use words that might point out someone’s inability (“Don’t say, ‘inability!’”) to comprehend certain sounds (“Don’t say, ‘sound’!”). Whatever.

Like Bill Cosby once said—“ “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Terminology is a personal thing. You gotta go with what feels right. If a certain person requests you use a certain word, then use it. What do you like to be called? Me? I prefer “Michele.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


There is a certain give and take in the Deaf community regarding how the deaf work with the interpreters. One of the ways that a Deaf signer can acknowledge that he or she understands what was just said is the old-fashioned head nod.  This doesn’t just take place with interpreters, but whenever conversing in sign. It’s kind of like the equivalent of  the “Uh-huh,” “Sure,” and “Oh,” used in verbal conversations.

When I’m out chatting with a fellow deafie, that comes natural to me. But it’s never really come natural to me with interpreters. Well, I guess it depends on what’s being talked about.

Just as some hearing people have a hard time keeping their eyes open in a long church service, I often have a difficult time nodding incessantly during the sermon. Yes, I understand. Yes, I understand. Yes, I understand. AAAAHHHH!!!!! It drives me crazy!

Yesterday, I was at an appointment for my daughter. It was her, my hubby, and me, and then there was an interpreter. I’ve worked several times with this particular interpreter, so she kind of knows that I tend to just sit there sometimes (usually when my brain is fried from too much external stimuli). However, the professional we were with had never used an interpreter before. At least I’m assuming.

Not only did she stop quite often to explain to the interpreter things she didn’t need to know, but, after virtually every one of her sentences she would stop and look at the interpreter. Then, when the ‘terp was done signing, the pro would turn and stare at me. She was looking for…you guessed it…a head nod.

So basically, yesterday I was forced to nod my head more than I usually do. I’m very sore. I think I need a chiropractor. I don’t know which was more painful, nodding my head every 45 seconds or pretending I was listening when I really wanted to take a nap. (Some of us deaf folk are pretty darn good at sleeping with our eyes open.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011


One of my very favorite movies is the Johnny Depp film, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” If you’ve never seen it, shame on you. Now, go out and rent it immediately. In the movie, Gilbert’s (Depp’s) mother weighs on the upside of 500+ lbs. She doesn’t really ever leave the living room and, in fact, hadn’t left the house in years. The husband is dead, so all of the kids work to constantly serve her and the family’s needs.

While Gilbert is pretty embarrassed about his mother’s size, he understands that kids are curious. So, when little kids ask if they can be boosted up in order to look in the window and see the “circus lady,” Gilbert gives them a boost. Then they run off with their friends, bragging that they’ve had the chance to see her. And so it goes…… (Oh, there’s a whole lot more to the movie, in case you’re wondering and have never seen it. Seriously, go rent it. After you finish reading this blog post, of course.)

Stepping away from this movie and into my life, there are a few similarities. No, I don’t weigh 500 lbs, though sometimes I feel as if I do. But there’s something about me that fascinates the kids in my neighborhood. Can you guess? Yep. I’m Deaf.

Wow! Amazing! Right here in Grand Rapids, folks! You think you’ve seen it all, but have you? Because you haven’t lived till you’ve seen the deaf lady on the block! Check her out. Who knows? You might even get lucky and catch her moving her hands around. She does this to communicate in an alien fashion. That’s right! She can express herself with simple hand waves and code! Step right up to the window, ladies and gents. Let’s take a gander!

Two days ago, my daughter met a new kid on the block. Apparently a family has moved into the apartments across the street. I don’t know how the subject came up, but my 11-year-old told the new girl (age 12) that I am deaf and it just blew her mind.

I didn’t mind that at all. I mean, I am deaf. I’m not ashamed. Besides, if they become friends, she needs to know. But what happened next was a bit on the “whoa” side. Standing in my living room, signing with my husband (we were having a small argument), I glance outside to find a small group of kids have gathered on the sidewalk outside my house. I looked at them and they stared back. Finally, I waved and then dramatically shut the blinds.

No harm no foul till I finished our discussion and happened to look up. There she was…the new gal…with her face plastered against our front glass door. Apparently shutting the blinds didn’t deter her. She was gonna see the “show” one way or another.

Seeing that I knew I was already a bit upset because of the argument, I wasn’t prepared to see her there and I admittedly got upset and yelled at her as I shut the door in her face.

So, now I have a new family across the street that must be terrified of me. Us “death” people (as we’re commonly known) are downright scary. And now she’s seen it as a fact. All I need to do now is gain 300+ lbs and pick a spot in our living room. I’ll make sure to pick a spot that is visible from the window though. Just as long as I can sell tickets. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

SHARING MY DEAFNESS -- "The Hazards of Working the Drive Thru"

Checkers. She wanted Checkers for lunch. Or in some places they call it Rally’s. But what she wanted was definitely those spicy french fries slathered in warm, saucy cheese and bacon. But it’s July. I mean, man, it’s hot outside. The last thing I wanted to do was park and get out of my air conditioned car. But she said, “Please,” so sweetly. It was the least I could do, right? No way. It was too hot, I tell you.

“I’ll help you in the drive thru,” Mollie signed to me as I weighed the options. I mean, sure, I could have gone through the drive thru and just told them at the window that I’m deaf and need to order face to face. But I’ve never been one to test waters. So, I took her up on her offer.

There I was, face-to-face with the speaker and depending solely on my 14-year-old to let me know when to speak.

“I need an order of french fries with cheese and bacon added, please.” I spoke into the speaker as best I could, but apparently they couldn’t hear me or understand me (one of the two). I repeated. Mollie said they still didn’t get it. I raised my voice, “I’m deaf and I’m going to pull around to window and order there.” Don’t know if they understood me that time, but it didn’t matter, because I was taking the initiative.

Pulling up to the window, the girl inside looked extremely confused. When she opened the window, using the same decibel level I just got done using at the speaker, I shouted, “French fries!!! I need french fries!!”

The girl stared at me, looking totally flabbergasted. She then left to take care of my order.

Mollie gently placed her hand on my leg. “Mom? Do you realize that you just screamed at the top of your lungs at that girl?” So that’s why she looked so shaken. I’d just blasted both of her eardrums out. But we got our fries. Yes, indeedy. Sure, the girl will be deafened for a good two hours, but I had to do it. I needed those fries. Offering her the name of a good ENT, I paid the girl.

“Sorry if I screamed at you,” I sheepishly said.

“What???” she screamed back. Hmmm. I guess my work here is done.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Oh, to learn a new language! If you’re one of the millions of people who have decided to learn a foreign language, perhaps you’ll consider learning American Sign Language. As you may know, ASL is a totally foreign language from English and it takes just as much time and dedication to become fluent in ASL as any other foreign language, like, say, Japanese.

As people begin to learn a language, there are inevitable mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can get you in a heap of trouble, too. Almost as much as bluffing, if you aren’t sure what’s been said or how to say what you want to say, guessing can cause chaos…not to mention a pretty bad reputation.

So, as you begin to study ASL, please be aware of some of the signs that can get mixed up in a shuffle. Here are a few of the signs I’ve seen confused with each other:


It’s true that some of the above signs are frequently rearranged. Check them out and see if you are guilty of a mix-up to two.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Being born without a right ear, I grew up making sure that whomever was with me always stood on my left. It was more for the sounds I could hear, but there was an additional benefit. See, because I’m lopsided, I always tend to walk to my left. So, naturally, I would put people over there to soften my inevitable fall.

This wasn’t anything unusual for me. I always preferred things that would help me when I would plummet into them, whether walking or riding my bike. My entire life, I’ve always been terrified to use the brakes on my bike’s handlebars in fear that I would press the wrong brake and flip the bike. So, I’ve always done the logical other choice…when I’m ready to stop, I aim for a bush.

This can get very ugly, but it serves the purpose. Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t a bush to brake my fall. In these cases, I aim for the person I’m riding with. See, in all likelihood, they’re already stopped at the bottom of the hill, waiting for me to join them. And join them, I do. And, depending on how steep that hill was, I always pray on my way down that they will stay there and let me ram my way to a stop. Otherwise I just brush pass them into oncoming traffic and, although I eventually will stop, it usually isn’t very pretty.

I’ve met many deafies who have uneven balance. Whether it’s Meniere’s or just lopsidedness, like me, many times they have had to hang on to things in hopes that they would not fall.

So, if this is you, I wanted to share my tips. Bush or pal—either one will do the job. And the fatter the pal, the better. If you’re lucky, you’ll bounce off of them into a standing position and all will be solved. Me? I’m plenty soft, except where my own adventures have formed welts. But you get the gist.

So, good luck to you. And if I happen to run into you while biking, just let me say, oops. Sorry. This area definitely needs more foliage.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Whenever I get into a grouchy mood, I always make sure I let my husband know by telling him, “I’m a Magoo.” In case you don’t know him, Mr. Magoo was a very happy-go-lucky, almost blind cartoon character from when I was growing up—and before. Although, in general, he was a pleasant guy, I always think of Magoo from when he played the part of “Scrooge.” I pretty sure he got grumpy (not 100% sure though, but it’s enough for me…and Kenny knows what I’m talking about anyway). Therefore, when I say, “I’m a Magoo,” he knows what I mean: I’m in my hate-everything mood.

In fact, I’ve been a Magoo for quite some time this summer. Summer is usually a total Magoo season for me. I’m stuck at home with three kids who are always “bored,” with no money to go anywhere but the library or Speedway for a slushie, and with no friends to hang with. To add to that this year, I’ve been in charge of planning my parent-in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary. And, after months of planning and sending out invites and buying decorations, the time has arrived for the party. It is to be held on the 16th of July (one week and one day from today).

There is a pretty big difference between my family growing up and my husband’s family growing up. My family is a bit more formal, while his parents are pretty low-keyed and easy going (when it comes to hanging out).  So, for MY parents’ 25th anniversary, we had a pretty fancy schmancy party. That was about 15 years ago. And this year, for KENNY’S parents’ 50th anniversary, we rented a pavilion at a nearby park, invited family from all over the country, and will be having a BBQ. To make matters even more casual, when my mother-in-law found out about the party, she immediately decided she would be the one to prepare the lunch.

And so the plan is for us to decorate, have lunch, do a toast, eat some cake and enjoy ourselves. At least, that’s my hope….for others. For me? I’m a Magoo. Sure, I’m excited about the decorating and I really hope they have a wonderful time. But that last part – “enjoy ourselves”?? That would include “me” and that’s one I don’t know if I’ll be able to do.

There I’ll be. One solitary deaf member of the family standing around in silence while 100 other hearing people surround me. I’d say, of the 100 people that are going to be there, only four of them have been around me since I became stone deaf. No one can sign. I can’t lipread. I am not a people person. All of these things make me cringe a bit when thinking of what’s to come.

So, I did what I normally do when I’m feeling something I’m thinking is wrong: I went to the library and got myself a book on happiness. Didn’t like it. Nothing they said made me happy. Phooey on them.

Then I got a book on optimism, but I never read it because it’s probably not any good anyway.

Next was a book on how to tolerate being around anyone annoying. I couldn’t read it. The picture on the cover annoyed me and the inside picture of the author made me very unhappy and pessimistic.

Finally, I got a book on appreciation. It wasn’t bad, though it probably wasn’t very hard to write. I mean, it’s not like the author had to work very hard to say, “You got it better than you think you did, so stop whining!” Yet, it did make me feel a bit more in place. (But it wasn’t making me appreciate anything either). Kidding…….

We leave for Illinois on Monday. The party is the following Sunday. I will have paper and pen in my hands, a keyboard sitting on the side of the table I’m sitting at, and a book to read as I hide in the corner. That’s my plan. But there’s gotta be more advice out there on having a relaxing time and making communication not as difficult besides, “Ask them to write,” and such.

Perhaps you have some advice for me? How to smile and actually enjoy myself for the long party and the visiting before and after (we’re talking days). Other than, “Stick close to your husband and kids so they can interpret for you.”

So, if you have any advice, now would be a great time to give it to me. I may be a Magoo, but, if I remember correctly, he was all ears (well, all head anyway). And I’m all eyes. Hit me with it!

Monday, July 4, 2011

THE DELIMMA: Does Correcting Someone's ASL Cause Friction?

Independence Day is almost finished and I’m left with the remnants of a BBQ gone awry. Actually, since “awry” means “off from the expected course,” perhaps it doesn’t apply here. I mean, if I’m going to have hearing guests in the house, I should expect some trouble. Yet, time after time, I keep my fingers crossed (which, by the way, makes it very hard to sign) in hopes that this time things will be different. But, I can honestly say, although I’ve tried to keep my optimistic self in hand (another hard way to sign), most of the time, things do go “awry.”

We’ve had this couple over a few times. In fact, we don’t really have that many friends that we hang out with and this couple seems to be one of the only ones available at any given time. They’re a nice couple, don’t get me wrong, but they’re also kind of hard to talk with…literally and figuratively.

After we had hung out a couple of times, Kenny and I decided that, with the sign language class we were teaching in the near future, we would invite them to attend for free. This way, they learn to sign and I can socialize with them without a lot of problems.

That was the theory, anyway.

In the class, the female part of this boy/girl couple caught on pretty quickly. She had taken another workshop with me in the past and seemed to have learned well. However, the male half simply couldn’t get his hands to match what his mind was trying to express. If you’ve ever taken an ASL I class, you know what I’m talking about. It’s those few students who, try as they may to express that they’re feeling perfect today, end up signing that they’ve been feeling their penis all day. And so it went for ten class sessions.

Fast-forward four years and picture that very same person trying to remember “all” that they’d learned and then have a conversation with me. Let’s just say it isn’t pretty. So I sit and smile, counting the ticking of the clock and trying to be as hospitable as is possible when what I really want to do is go stick my head in the oven and pray the gas line is leaking.

So, there I am. Four years after the class, the girl seemed to do OK. She messed up quite a bit, but I could understand her enough. The boy sadly struggled to the point of disappearing off with my husband whenever possible, so he wasn’t put in the awkward situation of having to make conversation with me.

They arrive for the 4th with a two-liter of soda in hand and two loads of laundry to do in our washing machine. They smile and we hug (because it’s what we’re supposed to do, I guess).

Awkward silence.

“Just put that soda down anywhere. Glad you could join us for the BBQ,” I said/signed, trying to make them feel welcome. All of that lasted a total of 30 seconds and then the silence returned.

“IT GOOD SEE YOU. THANK YOU FOR DO-DO US. WE DECIDE YOU NEED GOOD MORNING” (Translated: It’s good to see you. Thank you for INVITING us. We HOPE you’re HAVING a good DAY.”)

“It’s nice to have you here. Anything exciting happening with you guys lately?” Kenny signed and spoke so all were included.


The conversation would have continued in this manner had I not faked the need to pee and run off to the bathroom to hide for the first fifteen minutes of their visit. Yet, when I came back into the room, things kind of went back and forth between what I just described and them totally ignoring me. I preferred the latter in this circumstance.

So, what do I do? What is the polite thing to do? Should I nicely and casually try to correct them? Or should I let it go, because I know they’re not out in the Deaf community and I’m the only deafie they know?

At first, I tried for the first option. I repeated what they said, only in question form and with the correct signs. I thought they would appreciate it. I mean, I was, after all, their former teacher. But I suppose “former” is the key word there. They didn’t take well to the correcting. A slight scoff and a stare off to the side of the room were pretty “telling.” It was saying, “Hey! We don’t have to sign to you AT ALL. Take what we’re giving you. We’re not here for a sign language lesson!”

Good point.

And so the question pops up…when faced with a person you know fairly well, and who has asked for signing help from you in the past, is it proper to correct them or just let it slide (unless they directly ask)?

My sister told me at my Grandma’s funeral that she was Satan. She meant that she was paranoid, but got the handshape WAY wrong. At the same funeral, my mother told me not to cry because “GRANDMA is WITH QUEEN.” She meant that she was with the Lord, but Queen came out and, just to be honest, it was just what I needed to kick the crying I was doing. Here I am at a funeral surrounded by Satan and the fact that my newly deceased grandmother has gone to England to practice waving and riding around in a carriage. Not a bad scene, Grandma.

In those instances, I did correct them….after I stopped laughing. But I did it jokingly and with love. Were they made to feel embarrassed? I hope not. I don’t think so. Who knows? But, in that instance, too, I had to weigh the benefit of correcting them with the idea of whether it would be beneficial or just me being superficial.

I want it known that I DO appreciate people who have a basic knowledge of sign language trying their best to include me in the conversation. I’m not mocking that and saying it shouldn’t happen. But when the mistake is made over and over, when does the point come where I should stop them and show them the right way? And, after I do that, what should happen if they continue to sign it wrong anyway?

The way I see it is, I’ll show them the correct sign simply by signing it myself in a sentence. If, after that, they continue to do it wrong, I’ll just chalk it up to their decision not to learn. And, if in doing that, it makes days like today go “awry,” well then, so be it. I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. Ninety minutes into the BBQ I was hiding in my room with my laptop. Live and let live I say. But sign and let sign? Eh…that depends.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

STEREOTYPING: Do You Stereotype the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community?


ster·e·o·type /ˈsterēəˌtīp/ : Noun: A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

I’ve done it. Admit it, so have you. In fact, I’d have a hard time believing anyone who says that they've never once in their lifetime applied a stereotype to another person. It’s a sad, sad fact that that’s what happens all too often in the world. And, while I’ll honestly and sheepishly admit that I’ve stereotyped certain individuals, I can also honestly say that I’m ashamed. That makes everything all right. Right?

I preach and preach about not doing that very thing, and, yet, there I was on Father’s Day, at a restaurant filled to the brim with different people and groups to judge. And judge, I did. Shame on me.

Tables filled up with lazy people (heavyset and people who chew with their mouths open), racists (bald white guys with tattoos on their necks), and people who could no longer care for themselves (the elderly). Isn’t that just awful of me to write "out loud?"

Think about it. You see heavy people, bald people, tattooed people, people wearing culottes and hair bonnets, or people of different ethnicities. You see them and you immediate get a thought going through your brain. A thought that says, “I know these people. I know their type. These people are people who…(fill in the blank)." For most people, I would like to hope, it’s a passing thought that you don’t pay much attention to. But for some, maybe not.

Are you reading this and thinking, “Not me. I never stereotype people?” Hmmm. Well, if it’s true, you are definitely someone I’d like to be friends with. A person of character. A little delusional, maybe, but well-meaning.

But even though I find it hard to get out of my head (at the first moment), who am I to judge the judgers when I become upset by those who stereotype me?

I’m Deaf. People don’t usually really judge me before they find that out. That's because there's no way to tell I'm Deaf till I start signing. But once that’s discovered, watch out. All of a sudden I can’t drive, speak, make love, learn, laugh, comprehend, or interact. I was sent away for school where I learned how to use ASL and lean on others in this society. If I’m lucky, I can read at a 3rd grade reading level and learn to do manual labor. If the cards are in my favor, I will meet a hearing man who will take me under his arm and protect me from the confines of this world. Perhaps I will have children, but they will be cursed with deafness and amount to very little.

Sound like the ideas of anyone you know? I hope not, but it’s likely you think it does.

And then, maybe, by a long-shot, they’ll get to know me. A college-educated, published author with a keen sense of humor (I think I’m hilarious), who is only THE best driver on the road (don’t question this—just accept it). I speak as clearly as a hearing person (though I’m told some hearing people don’t speak so clearly), make love just fine (I would like to hope), learn quickly (E=MC2) and am able to function just fine in this “Hearing World” (I  HATE that term) we live in. I’m not a stereotype. I’m just me. And that should be enough for anyone.

So, as I sat judging at the restaurant and getting irritated at how many tables were staring at us, enjoying the hand show as we tried to enjoy our meal, I realized that I was wrong. I’m wrong to stereotype. Just as wrong as those who stereotype me.

The next time you see someone or witness part of a circumstance, ask yourself, how would you feel if the roles were reversed? Could that have been you? And if you reacted in a way perhaps too familiar, would that make you a stereotype?

The Bible talks about the splinter and the plank. If you don’t know what I mean, look it up. I have a splinter. That much I know. But it wasn’t till I was trying to leave the restaurant that I noticed that plank sticking out of my eye. It ain't easy walking through a swinging door with that thing. What? You say you don't have one? Hmmm.

So, tell me? Do you stereotype? Do you judge me or any of the million of people with hearing loss? If so, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love for you to come forth and leave a comment telling me just what I am and how I behave.  Because, I for one haven’t the faintest clue. It depends on my moods and feelings. In fact, I’m not quite myself today. Maybe I’m you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Imagine you’re working somewhere when a person from another country comes up to you for help—a country whose language you do not know. They can speak a few words of English, but you cannot speak their language. What would you do in order to communicate with them? Would you start making up gibberish while laughing at them? Would that be the professional or polite way to go? Of course not!

So, it really bothers me a great deal when I go into certain establishments and they do that to me.And, unfortunately, it happens a lot.

Last week, I entered the library to pick up some holds and look around a bit for relaxation. I took my time and enjoyed myself. But, like virtually all of my experiences out there among the hearing, it turned awry when I had to go to the desk to check my books out.

The woman took my books and started the process. Along with that, she decided, as most people do, to make small talk. I pointed to my ear and said, “I’m deaf.” She did the popular, “Oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I’m so sorry,” bit.

“It’s not your fault,” I usually retort. I was hoping to get out of there as quickly as possible. Why are so many hearing people sorry I’m deaf? Yes, I do know what they meant, but when you start to get that line every time you leave your house, it gets frustrating.

Then it happened.

I imagine I must be living in the 60’s and 70’s where the disco ball revolves flashes around the ceiling, because all of a sudden she started waving her arms and flashing her hands and laughing as she’s doing it.

Unfortunately, it happens a lot. Hearing people tend to think that, since they do not speak American Sign Language, the next best thing is to act like they do. They start to go into these…convulsions…slapping their arms about and laughing like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. And, I must say, it ticks me off.

If these people had lights attached to their arms and hands, they would get the same result as that Japanese cartoon many years ago that had a strobe light and sent many viewers into epileptic fits.

You know, if you don’t know how to converse in someone’s language, don’t resort to making fun of it. It might be that you’re trying to show them that you wish you knew how to use their language, but the result will always be the same.

Don’t mock us and we won’t mock you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


One of the most common mistakes of new American Sign Language students is the practice of using the manual alphabet any time they do not know the sign for a word. This is not a good idea! Fingerspelling is exhausting to watch. Even more important is that it is one of the most difficult skills to learn and smooth and readable fingerspelling doesn’t usually emerge until well into the learning of the language. The key, if you do not know a specific sign, is to try to describe it, use a different word, gesture, point, mime, write…anything but fingerspell. Fingerspelling should be used as a last resort as well as for proper nouns, and concepts that do not have a particular sign. The exception to this rule is some rare places that still use the Rochester method of communication. This is the practice of fingerspelling every word (except AND). This is not a widely popular or liked way of communicating though.

  1. Use the hand you write with. That is your dominant hand. The only time you would use the other hand is for emphasis when you are much more advanced. If you are ambidextrous, pick which hand you will use to fingerspell and consistently use that hand. Do not go back and forth.
  2. For practice, hold your right wrist with your non-dominant hand to make sure that your palm is facing out.
  3. Do NOT bounce your hand/arm. Holding it (#2) should help you.
  4. Palm should ALWAYS face out towards the receiver except for the letters “H” and “G.” With these letters, the palm faces the signer.
  5. Speed is not important. Do NOT make it a goal to fingerspell fast. Work on being smooth and on making the letters of the word you are spelling flow together without being choppy. Speed will just naturally develop much later.
  6. Do NOT say the letters you are fingerspelling as you spell – whether it is to yourself or to the receiver. This is a TERRIBLE habit that is very hard to break. When you fingerspell, especially when you’re new and not fluid, it may be necessary that the deaf person watch both your hands AND read your lips. Deaf people cannot lipread letters. Say the word as you sign it. Also, saying it to yourself creates a mind-set of each letter individually, instead a word as a whole.
  7. Fingerspelling is NOT a substitute for a vocabulary word you don’t know. Always use fingerspelling as a last resort. Mime, gestures, using other words, and writing are all better alternatives that fingerspelling everything you don’t know.
When reading someone’s fingerspelling, try to see the whole word instead of looking for letters. When we read print we don’t look at each letter. The same thing applies here.

Below is a chart from online to help you learn the handshapes for fingerspelling. It's not the best chart I've ever seen, that's for sure. Contrary to the picture, all letters are signed palm OUT except “G” and “H,” which are palm IN. Practice everyday and be sure to check out this site to practice your receptive skills!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


One of the things that people studying sign language need to learn about is the people who actually use the language—the Deaf Community. They even have classes just about Deaf Culture and I definitely recommend one, if you get the opportunity.

Within the class, undoubtedly one thing that will pop up is attention-getting procedures. Most of you should already know these things. Lightly tapping (NOT POKING) the person on the shoulder; flickering the lights; stomping on a wood floor; etc. I’m sure you all have your own special way of getting your deaf and hard of hearing friends’ and relatives’ attention.

I thought I had experienced them all, too. With three young children, it’s amazing what they will do to try to get my attention while not having to get up out of their chair or miss part of the television program they’re watching. I’ve seen my 11-year-old jump up and down on the couch, doing jumping jacks and banging on the wall. I’ve watched this with my peripheral vision, so she doesn’t know I’m actually watching. It amazes me that she’ll continue to do this for 10 ten whole minutes, when all she has to do is walk 8 feet and touch me on the arm. To be honest, it’s fun. I love making them squirm. And squirm, they do.

Still, I was met with an interesting surprise the other day. I was at the neighborhood Speedway (which is basically just a really big gas station with eats inside). I left the kids in the car as I rushed inside to pay for the gas and pick up a couple of Little Debbie snack cakes as treats. This is when things went awry.

I paid for the gas and the cakes and turned to leave when someone grabbed my shoulders and started turning me around. At that exact moment, I got pelted in the forehead with…you guessed it…a snack cake that I apparently had left behind. I’m serious! No touching my shoulder gently. A big thud and I was cross-eyed for three minutes—stunned and unable to comprehend what just happened. I’d been caked.

So, I’m thinking, maybe now I’ve experienced it all. Although something very strong inside tells me I’ve got lots to look forward to in the future.

Sunday, March 20, 2011



When I begin an American Sign Language class, I try to make sure that everyone not only learns sign language, but perhaps most importantly, also learns about the population who uses it. Deafness is something that almost always shocks hearing people when they delve into such things as Deaf Culture and Deafhood and what they mean.

There are several capacities to our culture that many hearing people tend to shut their eyes to. However, not all are avoiding the subject; many are simply misinformed.

Deaf history is also very important to learn about if you’re interested in learning our language, so that people can see how far we’ve come in the past decade. We still have a heck of a ways to go though. And, inarguably, one of the biggest figures in the past movements of the deaf and hard of hearing was Alexander Graham Bell.

AG (as I will call him) is known by many individuals, organizations, and doctors, as a huge supporter of deaf and hard of hearing people. I mean, hey, he had a deaf wife, a deaf mother, and he invented the telephone as a way to try to help deaf people communicate. Thanks, man. Appreciate it. Didn’t work at all for us and actually caused more oppression, but, hey, you accomplished something. Right?

AG’s known in the Hearing world as a supporter, yet he is known in history to be anything but that. In fact, you see, AG was completely against Sign Language. He was completely against many things related to the deaf and hard of hearing. He was a strict oralist and, oh yeah,….

Ever heard of eugenics? Does World War II ring a bell? Hitler? Nazism? Well, remove one Adolph Hitler and replace him, at another time and place, with AG and you’re pretty close in deciphering his attitude to this “defective race.” Yes, I said “defective.” So did he.

See, AG had this theory that, if the country could keep deaf people separated and they didn’t socialize with each other, things would be easier. Deaf people would eventually disappear. If they could make a mandate that deaf people cannot marry, (and why not throw in some sterilization of deaf people?), they’d have the “problem” covered.

His reasoning? If deaf people didn’t have children and they stayed away from each other, “those kind of people” would eventually die off.  Nice. Kind of gives you a warm, tingly feeling, don’t it?

But, thankfully (times a million), his ideas didn’t stick for the entire COMMUNITY. Sure, there are definitely areas where oralism rules supreme, but there are also lots of places where ASL is accepted and Deaf people are simply a minority with their own language and customs.

As you can see, AG Bell, is one of the most well known advocates against Sign Language and yet ASL prevails. As George Veditz said a long time ago (1913), “As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs.” It’s true. I guess I just wanted to get rid of people’s notions that AG helped the signing community. He may be, in my opinion, one of the most notorious figures in Deaf History.

Monday, March 14, 2011


It happened (again) just a couple of days ago. I’d had my fill of things to deal with and I just wanted to be left alone. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible. I had to go to my daughter’s school and help out with the popcorn. I mean, hey, it was “Popcorn Friday,” and they needed me. I only had to be there until all the popcorn sacks were filled and ready to be delivered to the various classes. So, I arrived and I knew where to go. I checked in with the secretary, Karen – she knows me. She waved, I waved, we parted.

Then I get to the popcorn machine. I looked at the list of volunteers that day and it said, “Stacey M” and me, so I decided to wait for Stacey, because I’d never done that before and I had no idea how to even start the popcorn machine…much less actually make the popcorn.

I hadn’t been at the machine more than three minutes before the PTO chairperson approached and told me…something. I ask how to work it and she mumbled with a few things. I explained I’m deaf; she mumbled even more. Not to mention that, while she gabbed, she’s also repositioned things and got things ready (I’m assuming). Then she looked up, smiled, and patted me on the back as she walked away.

What should I have done? I knew even less after she left than I did before she showed up in the first place. I played with a few doohickeys to see if any of them would create power and allow the machine to become THE POPCORN MASTER. Yeah, yeah, it’s supposed to be “MAKER,” but I like “MASTER” better. It makes me feel tall. Don’t ask.

The fact of the matter is I’d been standing there for a half hour with no idea what to do. Then, behold, Stacey M. showed up. She was babbling and smiling and, I’m guess apologizing for being late. She flips the switch and the MASTER comes to life. Hallelujah!

But as we stood there, filling up bags, Stacey starts to make small talk. Oy vey! Small talk is not my forte. I mean, I can’t hear a thing. They only reason I knew she was talking was because he lips were flapping and she kept giggling at something only she thought funny.

That’s one thing in my life I wish I had – the ability to make small talk with hearing people. If I can even get someone to talk/write for me. It happens very seldomly though.  Actually, it never happens. If someone doesn’t know I’m deaf and starts talking and I let them know, they usually walk away (in my opinion, because they felt uncomfortable or embarrassed by our different languages).

So, if you become deaf today, and you have no residual hearing, no lipreading abilities, etc., what do you do? Announce to the world you’re deaf and not to talk with you? OK. What happens if they do that…if they smile and nod and ignore you. Is that better? Or do you feel oppressed because they don’t want to try? It’s a catch 22 and I hate it!

To engage in conversation or not to engage in conversation (or attempt to engage in conversation). That is the question. (Was that really a question? Sounds like a fragmental statement to me). Truth is, with me, it depends on the circumstance. There have been many times where I simply shook my head and pointed to my ear to let others know I’m deaf. That usually sends them running and then there’s no need to put forth that effort. But there are many times where I will be bored or I’ll see someone I vaguely know and I’ll wish we could converse. Like I said, a catch 22. 

What I do is I evaluate the situation. Where am I, with whom am I, why am I there with whomever (that’s a very strange word…whom), how long will I be there, stuff like that.

I think hearing people underestimate the power of small talk in this world. It’s a part of daily life for most people. But what about those who can only make small talk with a few people? Can I not go to the grocery store, stand in line, and make a sarcastic, yet, utterly witty comment? Most days I don’t want to anyway (I’ve never been good in face to face situations), but there are many days when I want to make fun of someone or show the person behind me the new tap dance move I’ve invented. Or perhaps even do the moonwalk down aisle 13 with the woman in the yellow shirt. But I don’t.

Small talk can be very tricky. Very irritating. And very liberating. I hate things like that.