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.