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FEBRUARY 17, 2009 3:56PM

Being Accepted in the Deaf Community

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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.

After years of grief from losing my dear Deaf soul mate, I studied the profound impact of hearing societies demands on culturally Deaf people. Many non-signing hearing folks are unaware or unexposed to the complex social structure that culturally Deaf people created to protect themselves and their Deaf children.  

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

This article is not to be distributed or reprinted. Companies who wish to buy this article can contact me for further negotiation.

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I checked out your resume. Go Bisons! I'm a Gallaudet ex-parte, and my wife is a graduate.

Are you ASL-TA certified? Want to swap horror stories about that written exam?
The high school I attended had a hearing impaired department and a good number of the hearing students wanted to learn how to sign (I still do, just can't find a class that works with my schedule). It was very difficult for the hearing students to become a part of this exclusive club.

When I was younger, I worked with the public and I always wanted to be able to communicate with those who were deaf or hard of hearing. When I complete my classes (don't know when) I am going to celebrate.

I have another question? There is a deaf girl at my daughter's dance school, do you know if someone can come out and give the staff ASL training?
Raven, Are you suggesting that ASL should be taught to all people of the world? Your argument doesn't make sense.
"refuse to wear hearing aids or become robotized by having cochlear implanted in my skull"

More on this would be helpful. People have pacemakers put in their hearts, which is also artificial, so what's the core difference? Also, hearing is an important sense, obviously one can live nicely without it, but it is harder, and in a few cases can be even dangerous. "Hey watch out!" from someone out of eyesight etc. Finally, what Thomas said -- if you are talking about the deaf person's immediate community, sure. But, the world? On that, I guess first, we should learn Spanish and a few other languages (including Chinese), given the number of people speaking them.
I had deaf friends in Middle and High School. They had absolutely no interest in teaching me to sign. I did find it completely insane the amount of time wasted on trying to teach them to verbalize so others could (almost never!) understand them. Their literacy and math skills suffered greatly due to the time wasted on speech. This actually hurt their development of marketable work skills. There was so very much more they could have learned by reading instead of being forced to obsess over speech. Nuts! Teachers would just shrug as they went out to their special classes and very few had time or skills to develop a rapport with these students. The kids were even worse, and without adult intervention, these kids were in the permanant pick-on pool with any other kids that did not fit into the strict parameters of "cool enough." With paper, there is no reason to waste all that time on speech- even if you do not sign.

If my child were deaf I would refuse to spend a lot of time on this fantasy of speech. I may opt for the hearing aids or implants- depending on the risk. I would learn to sign. I find this a no brainer and feel that not learning to sign to your deaf child is tantamount to child abuse. Wanting hearing aids for my child does not make me a bad parent or an unfeeling one. My children take medicine, some of it potentially risky medicine, for chronic conditions, and wear glasses. I would like for them to have as many options as possible. They have the option to opt out in the future should they choose. My choices for them are just the best ones I can make for them now.

Having been shut out by deaf folks at times when I was trying hard to communicate in their comfort zone- I must say it isn't always the fault of the hearing. There are bigots among the deaf as well as the hearing. A few deaf parents debating aborting their hearing fetuses are just as disturbing as the handfull of hearing parents contemplating aborting their deaf fetuses.

I know two people who are interpreters who cannot get work in this economy, and I know of no one getting 'rich' as an interpreter. How can you be angry at people for not learning to sign and then be angry at those who learn to? Do you resent interpreters? In ten years or less you will be able to 'read' a lecture using a directional mic and voice recognition technology.

All cultures are prey to the forces around them. No one wants to see cultures die, but many do, and every culture must adapt or die. Without a doubt the hearing world is full of ignorance, fear, and self-satisfaction concerning the deaf. I can only imagine the bs you've had to deal with personally. But I am concerned when I learn of children who cannot sign well being ostracized by those who sign well, and of families/communities dividing themselves over hearing vs non- hearing. There seems to be a universal feedback loop on oppression and alienation. An alienated group turns and finds ways to further deride the original oppressors and back and forth. Is there a truth and reconciliation panel for the hearing and deaf communities?

I wish you the best. I wish you peace. I wish you chocolate.
This was an informative read and extremely well written. I speak six languages and have often wondered throughout my life why signing isn't taught to EVERYONE on the planet. Americans would not have speak so loudly when they visit foreign countries. They could just speak with their hands and keep their mouths shut.
I enjoy silence. I applaud your choice to live in the body and spirit of that which was given to you.
In the late 50's( the NINETEEN 50's.lol), I went to IBM school and, there was a deaf guy in the class.
Even before I knew he was deaf, we made eye contat and nodded hellos.
I sat next to him and asked him something.
He acted as if he didn't hear me and I picked up on it immediately.
The instructor acted as if he idn't have any patience and/or respect for him as an intelligent person.
He taught me to sign and, I helped him as best I could with stumbling fingers, etc to pick up on what the instructor was saying.
I got pissed at the instructor one day and stood up and flat out told him that he's being rude and imperious to the guy next to me.
I told him that I didn't give a shit if he attempted to throw me out of class for insub as, I was going to see to it that his BS stopped.
I explained that I was attempting to help the deaf guy(I can't remember his name) to "hear' what the instructor was saying when his back was turned.
I obvioulsy got to his as because he slowed down the sessions so that I could both learn to sign and help the guy next to me to see/hear what was going on.
Using ASL is just like using a 2nd language in that, if you don't use it almost daily, you forget most of it.
I remember some but, no all of it.
I was glad to be able to help that guy those many years ago.
It also taught me some things about people.
"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."

This is one among many bizarre statements in this blog. If an implant would help me, I'd be MORE than happy to "robotize" myself. Anyway, I'm apparently already doing that by wearing corrective lenses for my astigmitism. (Why can't the world simply be made of squiggly lines so they look straight to ME???) I also have a dental implant so I'm barely human as it is.

But I wouldn't get an implant just to make others more comfortable, though I see nothing wrong with that. I would do it so I could once again hear the sweet voices of my grandchildren, a Mozart piano concerto, dialog at a film, or the thoughts and feelings verbally expressed by others. *I* am the one who is disabled. It's up to ME to do as much as I can to compensate for that. It's not up to the rest of the world to dance to my tune...you know, the tune I no longer hear?

"Hearing people, oral deaf and hard of hearing people need to show their commitment to be a true member. "

I'll pass. If the inappropriate anger of this young lady is common in the deaf community (or is it Deaf Community? I hardly know!), it's not a community I want to be a part of.

Rather than learn ASL, thereby speaking a language few people understand, I'll concentrate on learning to read lips, which seems a more productive use of my time...and, not inconsequentially, of other people's time.
But Americans are loud! Of course that’s relative, in Greece, they aren’t loud. In other places they are. When I first came to Turkey, I was reminded politely to lower my voice many times. Now I think of how many times I’ve been on the back of an Istanbul bus and heard every detail of a conversation between an American couple sitting in the front. They weren’t being intentionally rude, even if many might have perceived it that way. They were simply unaware.

Which brings me to the point – people can be amazingly unaware.
Communication is the most basic human need, perhaps it, more than anything else, is what makes us human. And being part of a “communication majority,” we take our method of communication for granted; anything less tends to be seen as a handicap.

To get an idea (sort of) of what Deaf and hard of hearing people go through when they try to assimilate, think (if you have had the experience) of living in a foreign country where people don’t know your language, and the process of communicating. It can be exhausting. When I first came to Turkey, people would say “Oh, never mind” when I didn’t understand something, or at the first hint of an accent, start speaking pidgin. Or after a fairly involved conversation with some deep vocabulary, point to the table we were sitting at an say “TA-BLE! You know TA-BLE?” I know they were mostly well meaning but it gets old really fast, except perhaps when the postal clerk said "God what a complete idiot" when I didn't understand a quickly-delivered string of numbers. But I could mostly laugh it off because I knew that it would pass as my command improved. Still, I had to be thick skinned, and it was a struggle sometimes not to get a chip on my shoulder.

The thing is, Deaf people know that they aren’t going to get any less deaf. If you try an assimilate, it’s that same struggle, every day; and there is always another person who is unaware, who does all the annoying things. The “never mind,” turning away when someone is trying to read their lips. There are also those for whom anything less than perfect speech is deficient, or who fawns over how well you have learned to speak. All well-meaning, but all irritating, and day after day it’s exhausting. And people do get chips on their shoulders.

Whether deaf or new-language-impaired, you long to communicate in a way that works, where it’s not a constant issue, because you’re human. You just want to relax and use your native language sometimes. For Deaf people, sign language provides that. (It also has its own unique advantages; you’re in the airport, your wife is outside, you have to tell her something. If there’s a window, no problem!)

Of course people have to be able to function in the larger community and nobody disputes that. But we recognize linguistic minorities’ right to choose *how* they associate with that larger world, to what extent, and with whom. I had elderly aunts who spoke nothing but a few words of English, but they functioned perfectly well in their Greek community, they worked, they lived well. No doubt that pissed some people off, and others might say "but you are missing out." They fail to see that they are missing out on something as well, because being part of the majority, they never really had to think about it much.

We look back in shame on the days when we tried to separate Native American kids from their native languages. But deaf kids are still forced into the “oralist” route when the thing they need most is to be able to communicate free of barriers.

Whether it’s a person who speaks another native language or a Deaf person, respecting that right is to me the clearest evidence that you recognize their humanity; restricting that right or assuming to choose for them how and with whom they should communicate is the clearest evidence that you do not.

Cochlear implants - they work well for some people, for others they don't; they can cause headaches and other problems. Consult any deaf forum to read individuals' experiences. But in the end, it's an invasive procedure that has pluses and minuses, and nobody has the right to dictate to another, "You should get implanted, it's for your own good." You can disagree, but in the end you have to recognize each person's right and ability to determine what works best for them; that is true for both sides.
"No language is wrong; all languages are right. "

powerful and true... trans-language, as it were. the connections we make are tenuous at best - but very binding. no chains are acceptable, but chains of language push and pull, are they right? yes they are all right or they are all wrong. it's what allows us to define what we are at some point. what we are Here and Now, not what we were There and Inside. your take is immutable - like sound that is not heard and like wisdom that IS and needs no expression. Thank you for this post and what you have taught me.

peece, love, life, and light,