Sunday, January 30, 2011


The Whitman’s were due for dinner and, knowing I would be the only deaf person here and that they don’t use sign language, I tried my best to brace myself for what was to come. As Dr. Phil would say, “This wasn’t my first rodeo.” I had my paper and pen, but, because my husband, Kenny, was going to be there, he was planning on interpreting. That was nice of him, wasn’t it?

As the guests arrived, Kenny and I stood at the door to welcome them. What I found myself face-to-face with was an elderly woman with blood-red lipstick that seemed to follow the wrinkles in the skin above her upper lip (making it seem she had a bright red mustache) and a man with a Frito-catcher around his face that would rival even Old St. Nick himself. Wow! If I were ever going to need a pen and paper or an interpreter, tonight would be the night!

We said our hellos, hugged, hung up their coats and got them a drink. I should have gotten me a stiff one, too. While all of that was taking place, Kenny engaged in a nice conversation with them, making sure to sign his part. But, honestly, I was not all that interested, so I busied myself in preparing the dinner table.

After I was done, all four of us sat down at the table to eat. This can be looked at as gross or upsetting on so many levels. First and foremost, there’s the fact that here sat at least two people who don’t understand why talking with their mouth full bothers me more than it seems to bother other people. What planet did they come from? Where in the Solar System does it say that it’s considered polite and OK to spit out their mashed potatoes at the same time they’re spitting out their consonants? Ew! That has always been a pet peeve of mine and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with being deaf and paying more attention to their faces and lips. Besides, what lips?

The bulk of the frustration I was dealing with was our chitchat. As the four of us sat around, Kenny would interpret what they were saying and he would be sure to sign what he was saying. The problem I ran into is the pattern it left:

They speak.
Kenny turns to me and signs what they said.
All people in the room watch me for my reaction to what was said.

All night long, they would talk and, when Kenny went to include me, everyone got a expectant face and wanted to know what I thought. I despise being the center of attention. I mean, make me some wallpaper that kind of blends into the paint and I’d be very happy. But when we have people over who don’t sign, this is what happens.

Sure, I could ask them to write to me instead of having Kenny interpret, but it seems a little odd to say, “You know, I hate it when my husband signs to me. Can you write that down?”

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems redundant when he could have just as easily told me what was being said. It just bugs the bejeebas out of me when everyone wants to look at me for a reaction. I mean, sometimes I don’t have a reaction. I’m not going to look all excited and responsive with every single sentence. Just let me hang out. Don’t put me on cue. It’s just too much pressure. You know? I feel like it’s almost a, “Let’s see how the Deaf woman reacts,” kind of thing.

Kenny (signing and speaking): How many children do you have?
Guest (speaking only): I have three kids.
Kenny (interprets): Three children.
Everyone looks at me to see my response.
Me (signing and sometimes speaking): Wow! Three kids? That’s great!

But, really, what’s so great about it? I have three kids. I’d gladly give away one or two sometimes. But I don’t think me having three warrants a “great” response.

So, I tried another scenario:

Kenny (signing and speaking): Where do your kids go to school?
Guest (speaking only): They attend Grandville Middle School.
Kenny (interprets): Grandville Middle School.
Everyone looks at me to see my response.
Me: I nod my head with no real expression on my face. (Thinking: OK. Let’s move on.)

I mean, who cares? He’s just being polite. Why must I have a polite and positive reaction to every single thing we talk about? It’s exhausting!

I just want to be another face in the crowd. I want to socialize with people who are involved in my hearing kids’ lives, but I can’t be expected to do cartwheels and the Victory Dance after every tidbit of information.

Yes, I used to do theatre and such, and yes, I know what being on cue means. But No, I don’t like being in the spotlight and on cue all the time.

The question is (besides asking them to write something down), how do I get involved in the conversations with hearing folk (like in a group) who are standing around gabbing? Kenny interprets and that helps break the barrier down, but then everyone wants to see him sign to me and my reaction to that and that’s just annoying. That’s the word. Annoyed.

I’m a friendly person. I enjoy other people’s company, but I find socializing with hearing people who don’t sign to be just too tricky. Hey, people! Talk to me, involve me, but, please, don’t place such a huge expectation on me. I am not on cue.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


One of the most commonly asked questions from students who just started learning about Deaf culture is, “Why is the word ‘deaf’ sometimes spelled with a capital ‘D’ and sometimes with a lowercase? Which is it?” Good question! Especially for people like me who put correct grammar and writing skills on a pedestal.

The concept is pretty simple. The lowercase “d” is used when speaking about a person’s audiological ability to hear. For example, “That woman is deaf in one ear.” It has nothing to do with culture and ways of thinking. It’s simply a way to describe a person’s severe to profound hearing loss.

But then in walks Deaf with a capital “D.” What does that mean? Well, just because a person is deaf (audiologically speaking), does not automatically make her Deaf (culturally speaking). A capital “D” is used to indicate that a person is part of the Deaf community and has grown up in that culture. It tells people that you’re fine with and happy to be audiologically deaf and you are also involved in the Deaf Community.

Here’s a few scenarios…

John was born deaf to Deaf parents. He was raised in their culture, with their language, and is comfortable and proud to be Deaf.  John is Deaf with a capital D.

Melissa was born hearing, but, at the age of two, was stricken with meningitis, which deafened her. She had not yet started talking. Her parents were hearing, but educated themselves on how to work with a baby who cannot hear. They learned sign language, albeit English word order, and put Melissa in a mainstream classroom with other deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Melissa then grew up to be proud of her origin and is considered Deaf.

Larry was born hearing and didn’t have any problems until he turned forty-five. At that time, he was in a car accident and lost all of his hearing. He uses lipreading and speech to communicate and is isolated from the Deaf World because he feels he doesn’t belong there. Larry is deaf (lowercase), but not Deaf.

Lastly, look at Susie. She is hearing, but both of her parents are Deaf. She was raised in both the Deaf culture at home and the Hearing culture at school. However, her heart is truly in the Deaf World. Susie, although not audiologically deaf, is considered Deaf with a capital D. She is able to sign fluently and is involved with the Deaf community all the time.  She is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) and is culturally Deaf.


Many people are audiologically deaf, but do not participate in the Deaf community. This happens often with Late Deafened Adults. Perhaps they don’t feel they have anything in common with those who grew up deaf, or maybe they’re uncomfortable with the notion and don’t want to accept it. Most LDAs don’t learn sign language and don’t acknowledge openly that they can’t understand you. Either way, they are audiologically deaf, but not Deaf cultured.

So, as you can see, big D, little d is not as confusing as some make it out to be.

One last thing: It is important to note that being deaf is not enough to be considered Deaf. Most who are culturally Deaf attended schools for the deaf, use ASL as their first language, and enjoy getting involved in the events.

So, which are you?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


It seems to me that “baby sign language” (as it is often called) has been popping up everywhere I go. Being a Deaf, ASL teacher, I get asked a lot of questions about this topic. One of the most frequently asked is whether baby sign language actually works. My short answer is: Yes, it definitely works if you do it correctly. My long version would more like the following…

Just like American Sign Language, the first thing you need to take into consideration is that not all baby sign language classes are created equally. Who’s teaching it? Are they fluent in ASL? Do they use it on a daily basis? The teacher needs to have some experience on the topic. Unlike learning true ASL, it isn’t imperative that the teacher is a native signer, but they must have rudimentary ideas of what you need to equip yourself for this experience.

Another very important question, and arguably the most important question of all, is whether the class is teaching ASL signs or not. There are several classes out there that do not use actual ASL signs. They have their own system of signs, use “home signs,” or just flap their hands around and hope something impressive comes out of them. It is vital that your class teach ASL signs. Now, don’t worry about the word order if all you’re wanting is to communicate in sign with your hearing baby. Grammatical structure of ASL isn’t necessary in this situation, but all situations are different.

Of course, I do have an opinion on this matter (who, me???). I personally feel the use of ASL conceptualization is the way to go as opposed to Signing English.  I’m not talking word order here. You should be able to sign and speak at the same time, but you can’t do that if you’re using ASL. (This is only in regard to a hearing parent wanting to sign a few words with their hearing kids.) Anyway, there are several books and DVDs out there to show you how to work with your children, but some of them do not use ASL.

As a teacher, when I teach Sign With Your Baby or Toddler classes, I am certified through Northlight Communications. Sounds fancy, eh? All that means is that I use the Sign With Your Baby method of teaching. And all that means is I teach ASL signs and conceptualization. It’s what’s right. You must do what’s right in this world…OK, I got off on a tangent.

Introducing sign language to your baby can be a lot of fun, but so many people take it so darn seriously that it loses the very essence that makes it something useful. People become frustrated that they think their baby’s not picking it up fast enough or that all their hard work is for nothing. Don’t despair! It’s not all in vain. You must remember that baby’s will generally start signing around the 7th month. Seven. Not two weeks, not two months, but seven months.

Also, if a parent is teaching their child a sign and the child starts moving his hands in an odd way whenever the subject comes up, this doesn’t mean he’s signing it wrong. They’re babies. They’re not going to sign fluently and clearly at first. Just hang on, have some persistence and know that, eventually, if you continue to sign it correctly, he will pick it up. Just be patient!

Another thing I’ve found in teaching is that most parents are so eager to start using the sign language that they want to know all of the signs now. No, not now…yesterday. They want to immediately be able to pick it up and be fluent. Come on, guys, this is just totally illogical. You don’t pick up German quickly and easily (unless you live with Helga the former barbarian), and you won’t pick up ASL that way either.

So pick out three words (MILK, MORE, EAT), and begin to sign these three words any time it is appropriate. Sign and say it clearly and try to keep it near your face. You can use these three in many situations: the baby’s hungry and wants to EAT; The baby’s drinking milk or breast feeding; The baby’s finished his food and wants MORE, etc. Just use those three. After you’re comfortable, you can start using three more. Just don’t try to cram too many signs down your baby’s mouth.

Again, I say this to all hearing parents of hearing babies. If you have a deaf child, you will want to use ASL – not baby sign language.

If you start signing as soon as your child is born, there will be no problems getting them to copy you. Just be patient and do not, under any circumstance, get frustrated with them. Another good tip is to make sure that the baby knows what you’re signing about. If you’re looking across a field at the sunset and there’s a cow grazing, you sign SUNSET and the baby sees the cow and thinks that’s what you’re signing. You have to make sure you’re clear as to what you are expressing.

Another great way to teach sign to your baby would be through music. If you go to the Sign2Me/Northlight Communications site, they sell a CD called “Pick Me Up” that has the signs and the songs together. No, this isn’t a commercial. I personally think it’s a little expensive, but it’s one of the best ones out there.

Know your baby or toddler. Know their personality. Know how they learn. Experiment. Play. And just, generally, have fun. This is supposed to be a fun experience for everyone. And, believe me, the day your baby signs MORE to you after finishing his mashed carrots will be one of the most memorable ones in your life!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

TELL ME YOUR SECRETS -- A Deaf Person's Lack of Privacy

The Deaf Community is a tight-knit group in which deaf and hearing alike can get together and socialize. The hearies in this group consist of many different people, not the least of which are the interpreters in any given area. 

As a member of the Deaf Community, I often find myself friends with the very people who provide interpretation for my appointments, entertainment, education, etc. That, in and of itself, is great! Any person I can get to tolerate me enough to have a conversation, is more than welcome to come my way! And there are some awesome interpreters around here. Oh, don’t get me wrong; there are a few doozies….

I once went to see a doctor and the interpreter couldn’t understand my signing or keep up with the doctor’s speaking. The doc and me ended up writing back and forth while the ‘terp sat there and watched/read. Wow! And she got paid for that?? But that’s another blog entry all together….

Anyway, it seems to me a little unfair and awkward that interpreters in my area know so much about my private life via ‘terping for my appointments. And, believe me, my private life is frightening at times. Heck, I’m frightening at times.

But there’s one particular aspect of my life that I don’t really want to share. But, because this is a blog of my experiences, I’m just going to open myself up here to say that I am disabled because of a severe mental illness. Yes, I’m stone deaf, too, but that doesn’t strike me as a disability when compared to what I have to go through because of a brain disorder.

So, this morning, I wasn’t doing very well. OK. I was doing terribly! I had an emergency appointment to see my psychiatrist and there was, of course, an interpreter scheduled. I definitely have a first choice in interpreters, but sometimes that person isn’t available and, today, that was the case.

One of the effects of my condition is that it becomes difficult for me to show expression in my face. My voice becomes monotone and quiet (so I’m told), too. It’s a total 180 from what people usually see in me. Usually I’m full of zest and friendly and chatty. I usually take care of my appearance, wear clean clothes, and put on make up when I have an appointment. But, because I’m relapsing, I did none of that today—well, this week, in fact.

I shuffled (literally) into the office lobby, registered, and sat down.  My interpreter arrived about two minutes after I did and I could tell she was in a good mood and ready to talk about our latest adventures. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even look at her. I just sat there, husband beside me, staring into space. Barbie (the ‘terp) was a little put back. However, I will say she was totally professional and kind about the situation.

When it came time for me to talk with my doctor for a medicine change, I had to relay information about my condition and recent experiences to him. This is something very personal and that holds a great amount of stigma. I haven’t shared my disorder with anyone except my immediate family (husband and children). And I certainly didn’t want someone whom I love hanging out with at Deaf events, finding out how sick I am by listening to me ramble on to my doctor.

It just doesn’t seem right for an interpreter to know everything personal about me, because they’ve been at the appointments; and yet I only know what they’ve felt comfortable opening up and telling me about them. Why do they get to know it all?

I guess it’s a dilemma that will go on forever. We deafies need interpreters and, in order to understand, someone has to sit in and listen to our private thoughts and problems. Professionally, I have yet to meet an interpreter who has taken that knowledge and done something disrespectful (that I know of). Actually, that’s not true. But I’ll save that for another post, too.

However, interpreters are only human. You sit in and listen to someone talk psychotically and it’s going to affect you. You’re going to have feelings about what you’re hearing. I’m not saying everyone will harbor those feelings, but everyone will have some. ‘Terps included.

So, here I sit in my living room. After spilling my beans, my life, and my secrets, I sit here naked (metaphorically—the other option is just plain old creepy), knowing that Barbie knows my soul is warped. I’m not afraid she’ll go off and tell people. I know she won’t. But I hate the fact that she knows now and there weren’t a lot of options to stop her (or someone who was called to interpret) from knowing.

Perhaps video interpreting will become popular and I’ll have ‘terps from around the country—not people down the street that have a potluck on Memorial Day. But until then, I need to figure out how to accept that my secrets won’t always be my secrets. If I get an STD (I won’t—don’t worry), there’s going to be at least one person out there in the Deaf Community who knows, because they interpreted the appointment. And if I’m crazy, there’s going to be someone out there who knows that, too.  Check.