The world we live in is such a culturally diverse, yet segregated, space. Amongst the many different classifications for the names of specific segregated groups, until I started classes at Columbia for American Sign Language, I had not known that we lived in such a separated world of the hearing and the deaf. I was ignorant as to how many deaf people the world occupied let alone the the harsh divide that was standing between the hearing, the hard of hearing and the deaf. The hearing are misinformed and the deaf have created a community amongst their own where hearing or even hard of hearing people are not welcomed with open arms.
The first thing I learned when being introduced to the deaf community was that they do not consider being deaf a handicap, but they will accept the term ‘differently abled’. Technology and time have made lives for the deaf practically effortless. Even though deaf and or hard of hearing people have adapted to everyday life, communication is what puts the deaf in isolation amongst the hearing, and many deaf people actually prefer it that way. This disconnect between the deaf and the hearing was very apparent to me when I was required to go to deaf events for my American Sign Language class.
My teacher signed to my class, throughout the year, how accepting the deaf were of people outside of the deaf community and reminded us if the deaf participants signed too fast, at the events, to tell them to slow down and to inform them that we were beginning signers.
My first event had been at a cafe off the red line train stop and I had attended the event with my partner and a couple of close classmates. We all sat down towards the back of the cafe with butterflies in our stomachs and only a month or two worth of memorized introductory signs. My partner, who had not taken a signing class, came as my moral support. I planned on interpreting, what I understood, to her so she wouldn’t sit there clueless and awkward. After introducing ourselves to the ginger-headed, full-bodied man who held the meeting, he continuously signed to our little group that he was clueless to how to continue the event with us, hearing people, present. To an extent I understood his point: ‘he wasn’t a teacher’. It was very odd to me that it didn’t occur to him that he may want to fingerspell a lot more and or slow down his signing. Note: experienced signers sign like they have just taken a bottle of adderall. Aside from that he stayed perky throughout the event and tried to converse with the rest of us as much as possible.
An older deaf man, who joined the group later, scolded me for translating to my partner, without signing. As a beginner, at the time, I didn’t know how to both sign and speak simultaneously, nor was I aware that a deaf person may be offended by such a thing. How would I know know that, right? Common sense. Anyways, I signed back to him that she didn’t know how to sign and that I was translating. He did not care. That was her problem. I learned quickly that night that it would not only offend but set deaf people off. His response had really created and shown me the divide between the two of us and I was not standing on his side. As the event was coming to an end a classmate whispers to me, as we walk outside the cafe, that there was a hearing person at the event aside from our class, who refused to interpret for the students. I was bewildered. “Why” I demanded to know like Jared could actually tell me, “Why would someone who saw us struggling so much not take over to help us out?!” My classmate was just as perplexed as I and we proceeded to get back on the CTA to travel to our next event. At that point I was exhausted and had no hope for my major.
The next event took place at a restaurant. Everyone in my class I’m sure was biting their nails. I sat down reluctantly and looked around the table. Instantly, unlike the first event, I made friends with an older gentleman named Steve, who throughout the night signed to me and taught me new signs for various words.
Just when I thought my worries were starting to settle everyone went to introduce themselves to me. Most of the people slowed down when finger-spelling their names and after each one I signed it was nice to meet them. Then it was his turn, Brian, the hearing man who also signed and introduced himself by signing his name backwards. I was so nervous that I said nice to meet you without knowing that he was taunting me until the woman next to him had signed to ignore him that he spelled his name backwards. I ignored him after that not appreciating his ill-mannered behavior and continued to focus on my new friend Steve who made me feel at home.
Looking back at my experiences, I am still perplexed that the hearing people who attended those events did not want to help the beginning signers. They were hearing! Had they not been us at one point? I still look at those individuals with a lack of respect. Moreover, I was quick to learn, after I contemplated what took place at the events, why deaf people have such a bad impression of the hearing. The hearing, or most of hearing people, do not take the time to learn to communicate with the deaf. We yell at them as if they were not deaf, we talk slower to them as if they are uneducated and can actually lip read, which I found most deaf people can not, we completely avoid communicating with them to avoid awkwardness and we do not consider them in hearing places. I now began to have an anger towards hearing people. I began demanding, to myself, that schools have mandatory classes to be taken in order to have a basic communication between the hearing people and the deaf. Unlike those who sign and those who have a native tongue it can be extremely difficult for a deaf personal to verbalize. Even if a deaf person were to take oral classes their speech would be muffled and not sound like those who have been hearing vowels and consonants throughout their lives.
My partner and I have had deep discussions on the issue between the hearing and the deaf and she has taught herself to sign, with my help, to be able to have the basics down when communicating with another deaf person. We agreed it’s the least we could do.
Accommodation and communication are the missing links between the deaf and the hearing. If we were to stabilize our communication we could be knowledgeable about the deaf and the hearing. We would be knowledgeable about their do’s and don’ts and we would easily accommodate their needs. Then, maybe the deaf would be more accepting of the hearing and those who wish to bridge the gap.
Between smokers and I, I came to the conclusion that I was just the non-smoker taking my fill of second hand smoke, but between the hearing, the deaf and I, I refuse to let the uneducated approach/isolation between the two remain.
Below, I have linked readers to credible articles about deaf culture and deaf people's rights in order to spread the word on what being deaf and being part of a deaf community is like.