So I had written about my experience learning how to speak and sign, but I wanted to talk about the opposite of that. My parents are still learning how to speak to this day, because they often mispronounce a word, so I teach them how to speak. I mostly do this with my mom, but if she can’t say a word correctly, we’ll sit together and I’ll slowly say the word and have her copy me. If that doesn’t work, something that she’ll do is put her hand on my throat while I speak and compare the vibrations from my vocal cords to her own.
However, there’s also another side of learning to communicate. By that, I mean that my hearing friends have to figure out a way to communicate without just relying on me to interpret. I often forget that not everyone understands my parents, so I don’t always interpret for friends until they struggle to understand and it clicks for me. One example I have is of my boyfriend. In the 3.5 years that we’ve been together, he has recently gotten much better at understanding and figuring out other ways to communicate other than just having me be the middle man.
So you may think that things like acting onstage may be hard for a deaf person and that they may only be able to get parts as deaf people, but I’m here to tell you the opposite. There is a whole world of deaf theatre that most people would be surprised about.
As a kid, I distinctly remember going to see deaf shows and how much I loved it. How it works is that every character on stage will sign, although they don’t all talk. The cast is also not all deaf, but some were interpreters or coda’s like me. People that didn’t talk had voice actors in the front row speaking for them while they act and dance.
Something that many people have probably seen in their life is that you don’t clap for deaf people. Instead, applause is shown by raising your hands above your head and shaking your hands, almost like you’re trying to get water off of them.
A lot of hearing people that have never encountered a deaf person tend to get very nervous during their first meeting. I’ve had a lot of friends keep me around as a barrier and interpreter, which is fine, but there are chances that you may run into a deaf person and want to talk to them, and I want to give you tips and tricks so that communicating is as easy as it can be.
- Be Expressive- A big part of sign language is facial expressions, so when you don’t know sign language, really use those facial expressions to communicate. If you’ve ever seen me talk, you already know that I have a very expressive face and it’s one of the easiest ways to get something across.
- Speak Clearly and Confidently- I can’t say this for all deaf people, but most of the deaf people I have encountered in my life rely heavily on lip reading. It’s natural to them and when you mumble or cover your mouth, they may not know what you said. Also, with the confidence part of this, make eye contact, and make sure to have a true face-to-face conversation.
- Take Your Time- Try not to speak too quickly, and feel free to ask someone to slow down as well. Don’t worry if they ask you to repeat something more than once and don’t be afraid to ask someone to repeat something. Be patient and communication will become easier.
- Be Resourceful- If you aren’t feeling confident about speaking to someone, use things around you. A pencil and paper goes a long way and I know many deaf people who carry them around to help with communication.
If you run into a deaf person in public or at your place of work, try to use these tips and things will probably be a lot easier, and you both will be a lot happier that communicating wasn’t an issue.
Growing up, I knew a lot of the deaf community in the suburbs, and that’s because of something called the Western Suburban Assosciation of the Deaf, or WSAD. WSAD is a huge community with lots of fun events for deaf people, and it was the only time I ever communicated with other CODA’s.
There were two events that I looked forward to every year. There was a big deaf picnic during the summer that I always liked, and it was how I ended up meeting one of my good friends. The other was candlelight bowling. Every year around Christmas, WSAD would host a Christmas bowling party and it was what I looked forward to every year.
WSAD is how my parents have also met a lot of their friends because there are a lot more deaf events than you may think. There is a deaf bowling league that my dad is involved in, there’s a big deaf day at six flags, and deaf ice cream socials. I haven’t been to a deaf event in many years, but I remember loving them as a child and I remember being really excited to go to everything every year. These events are a great way to immerse yourself in deaf culture, and there’s even a huge deaf expo at Harper College every year that I definitely recommend checking out if you’re interested in this world!
So, as I’ve said many times before, growing up was very different for me. For example, my mom or dad couldn’t just pick up the phone and call me out sick from school. They would have to use the TTY and relay service that I mentioned in another blog post and call that way. Something that I contemplated many times was calling myself out of school since no one could truly prove that it was me and not my parents. I was always way too scared to do that though, so I was a mostly good kid and went to school.
One experience that I had difficulty with was when I was 17 and in the car with friends when we got into a pretty bad car accident. All my friends were able to call their parents and have them tell the paramedics that they didn’t need to go to the hospital since none of us were badly hurt. However, I couldn’t do that. I had to have my mom actually come to the accident, which luckily was only a mile away from my house. I’ve had a lot of experiences with things like that, where I have to do a lot of explaining that my mom can’t just get on the phone and give permission for something. I remember being really happy that we weren’t far away, and that my mom could easily drive the five minutes to me.
I’ve had a lot of experiences where I have to pose as my mom on the phone because the phone company or whoever I’m talking to for her won’t let me make decisions or changes for her, even though she’s deaf and can’t just get on the phone and authorize something. I definitely understand the reasoning, but at the same time, it can be a hassle. Although my parents being deaf has always been an easy way out of a telemarketer conversation. I would always answer the phone and when they asked for a parent, I’d say they were deaf and I would always get lots of apologies and a quick end to the conversation.
There are a few stereotypes about deaf people that I want to address. I do want to say that if you’ve thought any of these, that is totally okay. It’s not a bad thing, but these are just some common misconceptions that I wanted to talk about.
The first and biggest stereotypes is that deaf people can’t talk. While there definitely are deaf people that might not be able to speak and there are people who choose not to learn to speak, like Nyle Dimarco. Most deaf people that I know have grown up in mostly oral households and all speak. Their voices aren’t very easy to understand, but they do speak. My parents did help teach me to speak, even though their speech isn’t perfect.
Another stereotype is that deaf people can’t hear anything at all. There are ways to help a person hear slightly and one of those ways is with hearing aids. My dad doesn’t really use a hearing aid, but he does have very little hearing without it. He can hear some things, but he is mostly deaf. My mom can hear a little more and wears a hearing aid more often. Every deaf person is different and some may not have any hearing at all, and some may still have a little hearing left.
Although Sign Language is a non-verbal form of communication, there is still a decent amount of slang that still happens. Now the slang that I’ll talk about is not known to everyone, these are just things I’ve encountered in my community.
A few years ago, my dad came up to me and threw up the shocker and asked me if I knew what that meant. I’m not going to explain what the shocker is but you can look that up yourself. It’s not a very cute meaning. Hesitant, I told my dad “Do you know what that means?” He responded by saying “It means hi!” I’m not sure how many people actually used this, but it makes sense. The shocker does the sign for h and i at the same time, but I frantically told my dad to never use that in public.
There are many little signs my family use, such as the rocker sign for bullshit, like bull horns. I also made up many signs when I was younger, because I didn’t know the actual sign, and because of that, it’s become like slang in my family. Slang happens in all languages and varies between everyone, and obviously there are cultural lapses in slang, such as using the shocker just to say hi. It’s not the greeting I’d really like, so luckily, I’ve never seen it after that first instance.
I’ve talked about the TTY, but I wanted to touch on the influence of technology on deaf life. Again, this is just what I grew up around, so obviously not all deaf people may have this exact experience.
Growing up, my parents always had the newest technology before most people that I knew. I remember my parents having pagers to reach each other, but I also remember being way too young to understand what it really was.
The next communication device I remember them having was a T-mobile Sidekick and a Blackberry. I loved the Sidekick. I was that kid that was constantly taking my mom’s phone to play games. I was basically the epitome of “You got games?” This was also the era of flip phones, and I remember feeling extremely cool because my parents had cool and high tech phones and I could do so much on their phones.
My parents moved on to Iphones once they became even more popular, and technology has really helped and also hindered their lives. Once again, referencing one of my favorite comedians, Keith Wann, he mentions how talking has turned into just texting and ignoring real life. This is actually one of my favorite jokes and I share it often with people.
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.