Friday, June 19, 2015

You Mean You Took ASL I and You're Not An Interpreter Yet?!?!

Ain't life grand? You often said you wanted to learn American Sign Language. "It's so beautiful," you'd always exclaimed. And it is (if you know what you're doing). So, after years of watching "Signing Time" and thumbing through "The Joy of Signing" while you have a free moment on the toilet, you're finally convinced to visit your area's community college and enroll in ASL I. You leave the college beaming--exuding excitement all over the place. (If you exude at my house, I'll expect you to clean it up. I'm just saying...)

Class starts: Depending on which college's ASL class you attend, you learn ABCs, numbering, vocabulary, a few phrases, grammar, and a little about the Deaf culture and communication. You recognize that you're definitely not the best in the class,, but onward you trudge.

The teacher gives the class a mandatory assignment that you have to go to a Deaf event and sign (no talking, please) with some deafies. You do, in fact, go to one at the neighborhood mall. Your teacher introduces you to some very kind, patient and understanding Deaf people, but mostly you find solace with some of the other members of your class.

Finally, you finish! Class is over! Your teacher compliments your hard work and off you go into the world of wonders.  You're bilingual now, right? I mean, you learned a lot. And it wasn't easy! Man, you can fingerspell both your first and your last name! What else could there be? It's not like you want to interpret for the President. You just want to be able to sing songs in sign (how did you like that for alliteration) and chat with the (gulp) "hearing impaired." What more could you possibly need?

But life goes on. And although you continue to work on your fingerspelling and some signs, you seem to fall into a funk and resort back to that sinfully annoying woman on "Signing Time."

Six months after you completed ASL I, you happen to see a table of people in an elegant restaurant, signing to each other. You stare--Trying to figure out if you can understand them. Nope--Not really. You go back to eating, wishing so much you could communicate with them.

Heck with it! You get up and walk over to their table. They see you, so they stop signing and turn to you. "HI, I'M...," you get five out of the twelve letters of your name wrong, but you don't notice. The group at the table looks at each other, confused. One deaf man signs something you understand: DEAF.

"DEAF YOU?" He asks in ASL.

"NO," you sign. "I NOSY." The group breaks outs into guffaws and giggles. What you don't realize is that, though you intended to reply, "NO, I'M HEARING," your hand actually was too high and, well, maybe NOSY was the more appropriate sign anyway.

Later, an elderly woman from the deaf table's group wanders over to let you know (by way of a napkin note) to keep studying and that it will get easier eventually.

And it does get "easier." Well, maybe not. I guess I would rather say you become more proficient the longer you study it. Seriously study it. And what every knowledgeable teacher would tell you, the more time you spend signing with deaf and hard of hearing people (NOT just signing friends from school), the smoother and more fluid your words and presentation will become.

To be totally honest, I gotta tell ya, taking one ASL class, expecting to be skilled enough to engage in even moderate conversation in sign (especially with a native Deaf person), is insane. But the next time you become upset with your signing, thinking you should be learning faster, imagine that it's German you're learning. Would you be so hard on yourself then? Well, a foreign language is a foreign language. American Sign Language is just as complex as any other. Give it time.

So here's what you do: Give yourself a pat on the back for all you've already accomplished, sign up for ASL II, go to Deaf events as much as you can, and, sooner or later, you'll fulfill your wish of hangin' with the crew. Now, go study!

Monday, June 8, 2015

"What Did She Say?"

We walked into Olive Garden and were seated immediately. The place was quiet since we were early for the lunch crowd.

"What would you like to drink?" was the waitress' first question. I knew what she was asking from past experience, so I went ahead and told her I wanted an iced tea and she went on her way. She returned shortly thereafter to take our food order.

"Are you guys ready to order?"

I watched as Kenny placed his order and then the waitress turned to me and started talking. Not knowing what she was saying, I went ahead and started to order. "I'll have the seafood alfredo, please."

"OK." She said more, so I turned to Kenny to interpret. When he began to sign to me, the waitress' eyes grew as big as saucers. I found out what she was saying and answered -- just as clearly as I had before. She looked baffled -- as if finding out I was deaf completely blocked her brain waves. "Wh--what did she say?" She turned to Kenny to rescue her. "I didn't understand."

Kenny signed to me to repeat myself and I did. Still the waitress stood there, unable to comprehend the words coming from my mouth.

After a minute of repeating myself, I was visibly frustrated, so Kenny finished up the order and the waitress awkwardly walked away.

That wasn't the first time a person was fine listening to me till he or she discovered I was deaf. People find out this information and all of a sudden tit's like the clarity of my voices dissipates and they can't understand me. But, despite the frustration, it's really quite absurd and I often have to laugh out loud. What is it in my voice that changes? Do I start to mumble? Do I start to slur my words like a drunken sailor? No! Nothing changes except the other party sees I'm deaf and that I need sign language to understand them. But since they don't know sign language (It's another story if they think they do), they assume we cannot communicate with each other and they have to ask my husband to talk for me. Nevermind, I've been talking all of my life and didn't lose the bulk of my hearing till I was 27!

Because this happens so often when I'm out and about, I have repeatedly asked my family if my voice has changed. Some have said that my voice has gotten a little deeper, but most people emphatically tell me no. My voice is the same as before I went totally deaf.

So why the comprehension problems? I believe it's gotta be in their heads. I mean, isn't one of the first things you learn about the "death" is that we also can't speak? Deaf mute, right? Before I sign, I look "normal." Then I use my hands and POW! I must be a mute. I must be "deaf and dumb."

Well, let me take this moment to clarify. To not be able to hear -- no matter how deaf a person is -- does not in any way automatically mean they're not able to speak! Everyone has a past and you can't know a person's abilities simply by watching and/or guessing.

Remember this blog the next time you meet a deaf person. Assume nothing! Get rid of all the stereotypes in your head. Just because a person has a disability or comes from a culture other than your own, doesn't mean they fall into a set of characteristics you learned as kid or even an adult. Keep an open mind! But I still have to laugh when people, who have been talking to me, all of a sudden can't understand me and need to ask my family, "What did she say?"