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.
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.