After reading some hearing parents comments in the about.deaf forum, I felt a need to express my, and perhaps million of other Deaf people's, views that have not been expressed here regarding being accepted in the Deaf community.
To the mother who proclaimed that more Deaf/deaf people are becoming oral and getting cochlear implants and eventually there will no more need of ASL: this is the very reason Culturally Deaf people feel wary.
I am Culturally Deaf but I was raised by force to oralism. I endured many years of punishments and rejection from my own hearing family, hearing doctors, hearing disapproving relatives and hearing teachers. It was not until I witnessed my Deaf best friend commit suicide that I woke up. Always trying to be fair - having one foot in the hearing world and the other in the Deaf world - I would sometimes feel like the two islands were drifting further apart, and I would end up in the uncomfortable split.
I consider myself Organically Deaf meaning that I refuse to wear hearing aids or become robotized by having cochlear implanted in my skull. I will not do this to please hearing society members who refuse to co-exist peacefully with us and simply become bi-lingual. It's quite embarrassing considering that Europeans will often know five to seven languages fluently and Americans will only speak English, period. Or they will grudgingly learn Spanish or German just to pass college and forget all about it afterward.
Now, taking a step backwards, it's so easy to come up with false theories about Culturally Deaf people who, and this is their birthright, worked so hard to form a self-governing nurturing community. They formed this community to protect themselves from the harmful toxic pressure from the pathologically greedy hearing doctors, insurance companies and governments that insist on 'fixing' something that does not need fixing. Just like I cannot ever force my non-signing hearing family, relatives or hearing friends to learn ASL, or to stop rigid energy-draining signed exact English mode, or go beyond just finger talking (spelling). Now who is inflexible?
Really, think about it. I don't see Deaf doctors inventing wrist-cochlear to implant in hearing folks wrists to become fluent ASL signers. Why are they insisting that we become something we're not and never will be? What is the dire, desperate need for us all to be the same? Out of pity? Worried that we'll not get jobs because we 'can't' speak or choose not to speak for the hearing dominant work force? Why do I never read headlines like: Hearing companies refuses to learn ASL to accommodate for Deaf or HOH employees? It's always this obsessive, twisted perspective of poor hearing parents with (gasp!) a pitiful deaf innocent infant. Not once does it ever cross their mind to accept their Deaf child for who s/he is and adapt.
Now remember, we all need to have a healthy balance.... rigid extremes of only this way or that way are unrealistic. There's a need of a fair give-and-take, not this black and white mentality of force or reject.
Acceptance can be difficult. For example, it took me over four long years to be accepted in the Indian culture. I constantly faced an aloof group of Indian Inipi Ceremony gatherers. Being a white European descendant, I had to patiently attend all of their inipi (sacred sweat lodge ceremonies for spiritual cleansing), never receiving eye contact or smiles or greetings or acknowledgments. The only people who embraced me was a five year old Indian boy who was just as lonely as I was due to not having any other children to play with. The Indian adults allowed me to play with him on a weekly basis. So, over the years he and I developed a bond.
Ironically, one day, after three long years of rejection, I bumped into a fellow Indian participant on a bus. I lamented how the elderly leader had rejected me. He reminded me that even though he's an Indian, just not from their tribe, he also had to earn their respect. Another year passed by and I was still constantly rejected. So I decided one day that it would be the last day I would attend their ceremony and potluck. With dejection written all over my face I walked in unhappily, expecting to be ignored. Suddenly the group of Indians and their spouses and children and well known elderly grandmother looked into my eyes for the first time and said, "I'm happy you're here. Welcome." I almost fell apart right there and they all took turns acknowledging me. Ever since we've been very close and now I get frequent invitations to other sacred events and personal family get together and the like. I have tears now, just remembering this.
Hearing people, oral deaf and hard of hearing people need to show their commitment to be a true member. Too many times, hearing people (especially college students learning the Deaf Culture of ASL if they want to work as an ASL interpreter, etc) learn all they can about the Deaf culture and form relationships with us but then they turn around and spit us out after they had their fill and earned a lot of money. Yet we are judged for being so aloof! Be careful of what you assume! You're only seeing one angle... like the parable of three blind men all concluding the 'facts' about what an elephant looks like. Take off your blinders and take a good hard look first.
For those who lump _all_ Deaf or Culturally Deaf people as being really cold, that isn't true. I am a fervent, Culturally Deaf ASL dominantly individual because this is what makes me the happiest and most comfortable. Signing with my hands means that I don't have to concentrate so hard to pronounce words that I do not perfectly utter. I don't have to face constant criticisms from the rude hearing people who are obsessed with how I sound instead of what I'm conveying.
No language is wrong; all languages are right.
To this day, I still get PTSD flashbacks of being punished for not speaking properly or being yelled at that I'm stubborn, or my skull is so thick that nothing penetrates me. People truly do not realize how abusive a lot of hearing families, doctors and teachers are toward innocent Deaf or hard of hearing children.
Again, all languages are perfectly fine. What needs changing is our rigid attitudes and intoxicating desire to force people to speak only this one language. We all should strive to be multilingual and adaptable and accepting of other cultures (we don't have to like it always, just respect it). For example, I'm fluent in ASL and written English and know basic Italian Sign Language.
In wrapping up this reply, I want to share what one hearing father of a deaf daughter once said to me in frustration, "But you have such a beautiful voice! Why aren't you using it?!" I signed back, "But you have such beautiful hands, why aren't you signing!?"
It didn't matter that I took 11 years of speech therapy and I ended up failing the speech reading test at NTID! It didn't matter I wore hearing aids and speech read as I still misunderstood people on a daily basis. And who took the brunt of constant target as a scapegoat? Me, of course and a million other innocent Deaf or hard of hearing people who tried their damnest to understand. Life is not a speech therapist's environmentally controlled room without any distractions!
One time when I was working in a coffee shop, an immature coworker of mine was unable to get my attention in the noisy hectic work station. So, she hurled a small metal pitcher and it struck my forehead hard.
You don't know what we go through and then you wonder why we're wary?
These examples of discrimination, intimidation, and plain abuse in everyday interactions are what makes Deaf people over-protective. And you're going to whine that it's 'hard' to get accepted with the Deaf community overnight? Deaf or hard of hearing children who have never had the opportunity to truly learn fluent ASL - not SEE, not PSE, not Cued Speech… but true ASL - or had any exposure to Deaf Culture are missing out of some amazing opportunities. I can spot an oral deaf or hard of hearing person a mile away just by looking at their typically tensed body language, constant wide-eyed hyper alert mode, or defensive shielding they are using to evade humiliation. I was once there, and I'll never look back ever again.
Now, if a non-signing hearing person wants to communicate with me, all s/he needs to do is grab a piece of paper and pen and start writing. This way we're compromising. None of this "You do all the dirty work of making sure you understand me perfectly and I'll do all the yakking and making it harder for you." Get off of your high horse and start making an honest effort to learn ASL for your Deaf or hard of hearing children. I met a multitude of Deaf campers at Camp Courage North with half fingers, some with no arms, and some with cerebral palsy and they all fluently signed! Hearing people with healthy arms, fingers and minds have no excuse whatsoever to not reach out to your Deaf children.
My Sicilian grandfather, at the age of 94, was going senile and was half blind and half deaf. After many years of not seeing me, he suddenly perked up and started to fluently gesture from his Italian culture. I guess after becoming deaf and socially isolated, he realized what I went through my entire life. In four short days we spent quality time together. My Nonno defied generation gaps, taboos and his dying aging body and reached across the barriers and communicated beautifully with such ease. Just when I thought I had lost all hope in the entire hearing speech obsessed alienating clan I felt whole once again knowing I am perfectly fine just the way I am. It didn't come from my Deaf peers or Deaf role models ... it was my hearing blood family elderly that embraced me fully.
When hearing parents make an honest effort to communicate using the child's best assets - her or his eyes - it's a constant reminder of "I love you exactly as you are and I wouldn't change you a bit." Deaf Culture and ASL will only die if the Deaf community allows it. We've been here for a very long time. I don't see us disappearing anytime soon.
By: RaVen C. Sequoia © RaVen C. Sequoia January 11, 2009 www.ASLwithRaVen.org
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