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.
Something I get asked often is how my parents became deaf and if I’m worried that my children could be deaf. Deafness happens in so many ways and I actually think it’s really interesting to hear everyone’s stories because they can be so unique.
With my mom, she had a fever of 106 at 4 months old, and that essentially melted her hearing away. However, doctors didn’t know she was deaf for quite some time. My grandma would take her to the doctor because she was concerned that her daughter wasn’t really reacting to noise. Every time she would go to the doctor, they would call my mom’s name and tap on the bed that she was on, thinking she was reacting to the sound, when really she was reacting to the movement. It took my grandma hiring specialists to finally realize that she was deaf.
My dad was born deaf and there wasn’t really ever an explanation that we knew of. We recently learned that his mom had a fever during her pregnancy and that caused stress on the pregnancy and he lost his hearing from that. The doctors didn’t predict that he would be deaf, but thought he might have learning disabilities.
Because of how my mom became deaf, I don’t have a super high chance of my children becoming deaf, but because of the advances in technology and because of my upbringing, I know that having deaf children won’t be a difficult thing for me to deal with.
Growing up, my brother was a bit of a practical joker and loved scaring me. But not only did he prank me, but he often pranked my mom.
The most memorable prank is when I was about 16 or so. It was an early Saturday morning and I walked into the kitchen to get breakfast. In the room next to the kitchen, my mom was talking to a friend on her video phone. Suddenly, my brother came into the kitchen and yelled, “Get down and be quiet!” I’m not really sure why we needed to be quiet, but I was not quiet. I could not stop laughing as my brother army crawled across the dining room and under my mom’s chair. He got as far under her chair that he could and then grabbed her legs and scared the crap out of her. I still cry of laughter to this day. My mom didn’t find it as funny as we did.
We often would hide behind doors and scare her as she would walk into rooms, and normally I’m awful at pranks because I can’t help but giggle and I tend to shift around and just make a lot of noise. With a deaf mother, I can be as loud as I want as long as she isn’t wearing her hearing aid.
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.
A question that a lot of people ask is “How do you figure out a sign for your name?” The answer is easy. You make it up. When you introduce yourself to someone new, you spell out your name and then let the person know what your sign name is.
I have a funny story with my name, since I didn’t make my original sign name. My parents decided that my nickname would be the letter T being shook back and forth. For people that don’t know sign language, this makes no sense. Well, that sign also means bathroom. My parents decided to nickname me bathroom. I’m still salty about it.
I’ve now changed my name to a T being squiggled down my face like hair, because I used to do a lot of fun things with my hair but now I’m too lazy so it doesn’t make as much sense. Sign names are fairly easy to make up and there really isn’t much to it. I’ve created names for friends of mine based on things that they enjoy. I have a friend that drinks a lot of beer, so we combined the sign for beer with the sign for S, which is the first letter of his name. So if you want a sign name, it’s really easy to come up with and it’s fun to get to have creativity with it.
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.
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.