There have been a few times at certain jobs throughout my life that I’ve run into deaf people and my background as a CODA comes in handy.
One of the first times that I can remember is back when I worked at a pizza place/Italian restaurant near my house. I wasn’t originally supposed to work that day, but it ended up working out that I covered for a friend, and the stars aligned perfectly. The restaurant hosted a lot of funeral luncheons, and I would often help out by bringing pitchers of soda over. Well, this day, my boss came over in a slight panic and asked for my help. I figured that I would be doing my usual and just filling pitchers and carrying pizzas, but then she informed me that the entire party was completely deaf. I ended up taking everyone’s drink orders and as I was going around, I noticed the priest at one of the tables. His name is Father Joe, and I’ve known him my entire life. I stood there for a minute before he realized that he actually knew me, and that prompted most of the deaf people to start asking me why I knew sign language, and then who my parents are. The deaf community is fairly close, so that’s actually a common question for me. It gets to be surprising how small the world can really be.
Other smaller moments are things like when I worked at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and there was an older couple that were looking for shower curtains and were having problems communicating. I noticed their hearing aids and signed “Are you deaf?” and that sent them into an excited frenzy because they could now easily communicate and their trip took a lot less time than they had planned.
All of my experiences running into deaf people at work have been really positive and it’s really heartwarming to see how much I can help someone, and how excited they get when they see that they’re able to communicate easily with someone and get their errands done just like anyone else.
Most people may think that because I deal with deaf people everyday of my life, it’s easy for me to talk to deaf people that I don’t know. In reality, it’s extremely difficult for me to talk to new deaf people for a number of reasons.
The main reason that I don’t like to approach random deaf people is that I get nervous that I won’t understand a person, or that they won’t understand me. The best way for me to explain it is to say that I’m used to a certain “accent” that my mom and dad have, and because of that, when other people sign, I get flustered by this new “accent” and often times, I’m not totally sure what someone is saying to me.
But also, along with that, when I do see someone having a conversation in public, I tend to stare and try to snoop on others conversations since you can’t just tell that I know sign language by looking at me.
Some of the only times that I have been able to approach someone and use sign language has been certain jobs, and I’ll get into that in next weeks blog!
When it comes to home phones, my set up has always been similar to the norm, but with some added accessories. Growing up, we had something called a TTY. It is essentially a keyboard with a tiny screen. There were a few TTY options, and we had one that had a phone attached and one that was just the keyboard.
With the TTY, there’s a few options when it comes to actually calling people. You could either call someone directly from TTY to TTY, or call them through relay. I hate relay. Nothing against the people that worked there, but it was just always strange talking to a stranger pretending to be your mom or dad.
There is also something that I call TTY grammar. With that little screen, it’s hard to figure out when each person is done with their thought, so when you’re done with a thought, you end the sentence with GA, which stands for Go Ahead. But, if you’re the person speaking on the phone to a relay operator, you have to actually say Go Ahead, which again always felt so weird, but typing this out now, I’m getting very distinct flashbacks. And when your conversation is completely over, you end with SKSK. I have absolutely no idea what that stands for and I have never understood why we couldn’t just say bye and hang up, but I went with the flow.
Now, technology has really grown. Instead of keyboards and random operators, we have Video Phones, also called VP. So now, my mom and dad have video phones attached to the TV and they can basically just chat with their friends whenever. And relay has changed as well. Instead of having random people, the operators have to be able to sign so that they can relay the message.
Another thing to point out about the TTY is that it acted as an answering machine if you didn’t answer quick enough. But the noise it would make if you didn’t answer was this terrible high pitched, robotic beep. I hated that noise and I can’t help but cringe just thinking about it.
So, since my parents can’t hear, you might wonder if my brother and I ever complained about them while they were nearby. And mom, if you’re reading this, I apologize in advance because the answer is yes absolutely, all the time. My brother and I learned how to talk without moving our lips and we would do it all the time to complain about typical teenage annoyances about our parents.
The thing is that sometimes, my mom would slightly be able to hear that we were talking, but she wouldn’t actually hear the words, just a muffled noise. And being the terrible and mischievous teenagers that we were, she wouldn’t actually be able to prove that we were talking and we would just tell her, “Mom, no I didn’t say anything. I’m just sitting here.” When really we were complaining to one another. (Again, sorry mom. Love you)
We don’t really do that anymore, but I can still talk without moving my lips. Not quite as good as most ventriloquists, but it’s fairly impressive still. As a CODA, you learn lots of ways to be sneaky, and my brother and I definitely had many sneaky tactics.
A question that I was asked was whether I listened to music when I was younger. I absolutely did, but I will say that discovering music for me was always very different than any of my friends.
A lot of my friends would tell me how their parents showed them music from their childhood and how they love all of the same music that their parents listened to. When I was younger, my parents didn’t really listen to music for obvious reasons. My dad has never really been interested in music and my mom only had a few things she would listen to. The only things we ever listened to in her car were Cher, J.Lo, and a random tape of Italian songs.
I did always have a love for music though and I remember singing everything as loud as I could when my brother wasn’t around since no one else could complain either. I do think that because of my influences growing up, there’s a lot I didn’t listen to just because no one else listened to it around me.
When I hear other people speaking a foreign language in front of me, I’ve wondered if they’re talking trash about me since I never know what is being said. In the case of my family and I, the answer is yes. We’re usually talking trash.
My mom and I were always the ones that would talk the most trash, things like “Oh, that girl has ugly shoes on,” or “What is going on with that outfit?” It’s not nice, but it’s a little funny and exciting.
One of the worst things is when I want to talk trash, but I realize there’s other deaf people around and that’s too forward and mean. An example of that is Deaf Day at Six Flags. When I was younger, we would go to Deaf Day, and it’s literally just a day when the park is basically full of deaf people because it’s a discount day and there are interpreters around the park. I would always want to either say something rude or just say something that I don’t want everyone to know and I wouldn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just say it out loud because there are still hearing people around, and I couldn’t sign because there are too many deaf people around.
My favorite thing is when someone is signing and talking trash about me or just someone around me, and they don’t realize that I understand everything that they’re saying. I can’t help but just laugh, and try to make it obvious that I may understand sign without saying anything.
A lot of people question how I learned to communicate. And I know I’ve already talked about this, but I wanted to go into a little more detail about how I learned to communicate.
I obviously grew up bilingual, but I learned to sign before I ever learned to speak. I started signing before I was a years old, and although I didn’t know know very much, I would sign things like more, milk, and cookie.
Signing is something that I think is extremely important to teach children because they can communicate before they officially learn to speak and I think it’s important to spread another language at a young age. I plan to teach my children sign language and i hope that they will choose to continue to learn as they grow old, but no matter what, sign language is extremely important for communication even with hearing people.
A question that I thought was really interesting was if I’ve ever noticed hearing people in public that move their hands and possibly make an accidental sign. That happens all the time. Sometimes I’ll see someone just moving their hands while talking, and I always have to stop and stare because I’m not sure if they’re doing sign language or just talking. I notice this happening all the time. And then they continue to move their hands and do things very similar to sign language, and I have to stare until I notice that they’re just speaking. So if you’re a very animated person and you notice someone staring, there’s a chance they just think you’re speaking sign language.
Communicating with my parents isn’t the only thing I use sign language for. I depend on sign language very often to communicate when I’m not able to just talk to someone. I’ve found myself very often responding to someone in sign language if I’m on the phone and I’m being asked a question by someone in person, whether or not they know sign language. It’s something that I just subconsciously do, because its just easy and makes sense to my brain.
I also grew up doing that with my brother, like if he was on the phone, I would sign the word “who?” to him, or if we were at a party together and I was ready to leave, I would sign “ready?” I actually do the same thing with my current boyfriend! If we are at a party or even when we’re at dinner and I’m done and ready to leave, I’ll sign to him.
I’ve taught friends and my boyfriend sign language for this very reason. It is so easy to communicate with sign language when you’re at a bar and you’re going to slip away to the bathroom and you don’t want anyone you’re with to panic and wonder where you went.
A question I get extremely often is “How did you learn how to speak?” The question makes sense to me, but it is also somewhat difficult to explain. My parents were still able to teach me how to speak, but I also had an older brother and an entire family that helped teach us both how to speak. However, having deaf parents did affect my speech.
In first grade, we had reading tests where we would read out loud to a speech therapist, and I distinctly remember being so proud of myself and thinking I was the best reader in the world. I ended up saying my “s” incorrectly and saying “th” instead. Other than that, I never had an issue with learning to speak or read that I can remember.
Things like other family members and tv really helped me learn to speak, and I think it all was fairly easy. I was always fairly good at reading, and I always thought that may be because of sign language, and because I was able to visualize words as signs instead of just words on paper.