The purpose for today’s blog is to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about deaf people. These five questions came from the most searched terms related to the keyword “deaf” according to SEMrush. Please note that I am answering based on my own personal experience as a lowercase deaf individual who has profound hearing loss but has never been a part of the Deaf community.
1. Can Deaf People Drive?
Yes, and I just ran over the last person that asked me that question.
But seriously, why wouldn’t a deaf person be able to drive? If you’re deaf-blind then okay I can definitely see why you wouldn’t be able to drive (no pun intended), but this question specifically calls out deaf people, not deaf-blind people. While being able to hear things like sirens would certainly be beneficial for driving, it’s not actually a requirement so long as you can see.
Did you know most deaf people actually have really strong perceptive vision? My boyfriend is always amazed by my ability to spot a car coming from miles away because I can always see the lights out of the corner of my eye. Since deaf people can’t hear, they rely on the eye sight to make up for it. What this means in terms of driving is that deaf people will always be alert and aware of their surroundings and they will be able to see the flashing sirens, even if they can’t hear them. Some may even argue that BECAUSE deaf people can’t hear they will actually be more careful and cautious drivers. That of course is up for debate. I’ll let you know the verdict on that one once I receive my license. 😉
2. What language do deaf people think in?
Seriously? This question is so dumb it makes my brain hurt.
Deaf people think in the same language(s) they speak in. This goes for all deaf people including those who are deaf with a lowercase d, those who are culturally Deaf and use sign language, and those who are non-verbal. Just because you’re deaf does not mean you lose your ability to think or that the way in which you think is any different from that of a hearing person.
Also, those who are non-verbal may still be able to understand spoken and written language and will still very much have a native language (or maybe even more than one). I think that one thing that most people get wrong about deaf people that are non-verbal is that they assume that because they are non-verbal they must be dumb. In actuality, most deaf people that are non-verbal choose not to speak with their voice because they can’t hear themselves speak and it’s a self-conscious thing or not something they feel comfortable with. Some of them may not have had speech therapy, so they may be aware of the fact that their pronunciations may seem strange to someone who is hearing which may make them feel uncomfortable. Others may have limited hearing and not like the sounds of their own voice. Whatever the case may be the important takeaway here is that even non-verbal deaf individuals can be highly intelligent and most often are.
Similarly, some people may be under the wrong impression that culturally Deaf individuals that are fluent in sign language must not be able to think in that language since sign language is a non-verbal language. This assumption is also false. I could be wrong, but I have a hard time imagining deaf people thinking in terms of signs. Rather, I think they think like you and me do in their own native languages.
It’s important to note here that sign language is not a universal language; there’s actually many variations of it. American Sign Language most closely resembles the French written language, but there’s also British Sign Language, South African Sign Language, Afghan Sign Language, and hundreds others even including Jamaican Sign Language! While not a verbal language, they still hold many of the same structures as verbal and written languages do including having verb tenses, parts of speech, subject-verb agreements, etc. When deaf people think I believe that they are thinking in terms of these sentence structures even if they aren’t actually hearing spoken language.
3. Can deaf people talk?
This kind of goes back to what I was saying in my last answer. Generally speaking, the answer is yes nearly all deaf people are CAPABLE of talking. However, some Deaf people may choose not to talk with their voices.
It’s important to note that many Deaf people, and even myself as a lowercase/non-culturally deaf individual hold the belief that you don’t need to use your voice or to speak to communicate. “Talk” means to say something verbally, but “communicate” means to simply share or exchange information, news or, ideas. There are many ways in which a person can communicate. Many Deaf people prefer to use sign language to communicate, but even that isn’t their only option. For me personally I prefer to communicate via social media, E-mail, text messages, and hand-written notes.
4. How do deaf people think?
With our brains, duh.
This bothers me though since so many people think that deaf is synonymous for dumb or learning disabled. Yes, some deaf people have other disabilities including learning disabilities or lower IQs, but as with all things in life, this doesn’t mean ALL deaf people have learning disabilities or low IQs.
In fact, there are many deaf people who are highly intelligent. Some of the smartest deaf people include:
- Laurent Clerc – The first deaf teacher in America who founded the very first school for the deaf in North America. He was extremely influential in showing that not all deaf people are “deaf and dumb”
- Thomas Gallaudet – a teacher whom Gallaudet University is named after; he co-founded it with Laurent Clerc
- Heather Whitestone McCallum – The first, and quite possibly to this day only, deaf Miss America. She is an influential advocate for deaf rights and she also served on the United States’ National Council on Disability in the past.
- Juliette Low – The founder of Girl Scouts in America
- Rush Limbaugh – An American talk show host and Republican political commentator
- Alexander Graham Bell – Inventor of the telephone
- Vinton Cerf – the “Father of the Internet”
- Thomas Edison – A famous inventor
- Helen Keller – The first deaf-blind woman to earn a bachelor’s degree. One of the most famous women in US history.
Deaf people think in the same way that non-deaf people do. I know it may sound strange, but like I said earlier, you use your brain to think…not your ears.
5. How do deaf people date?
Girl meets boy.
Boy meets girl.
Girl likes boy.
Boy likes girl.
Girl asks boy out.
Boy asks girl out.
Girl and boy live happily ever after.
Boy and girl live happily ever after.
But no, seriously. Dating is dating is dating is dating. It really doesn’t matter if you’re deaf or hearing, it’s all the same.
With that being said, some deaf people only date other deaf people. This may be due to them having a lot in common with their hearing loss and being able to relate well to one another. Those who are capital D Deaf may choose to only date others who are either capital d Deaf or even lowercase d deaf because it fits in with their culture. These individuals use sign language as a primary language and likely attend a Deaf school and exist in Deaf world. They may have limited access to mainstream society, so this is probably what they are most comfortable with.
In my own personal experience I’ve only ever dated people who are hearing. It’s not that I am against dating another deaf or even Deaf person, it’s just that I never really met one that I was romantically interested in and now I have found my forever person who happens to be hearing. This is likely because I’ve always been mainstreamed and lived in the hearing world. I do not know any sign language and I am not a part of the Deaf with a capital D culture. Dating a hearing person comes naturally to me and is what I am comfortable with.
Just as non-hearing people have their preferences and likes and dislikes and turn ons/turn offs and deal breakers and makers, so do deaf people.
But when it comes down to actual dating, it’s pretty much the same. Deaf people still like to go out to eat, watch movies, go bowling, go golfing, go shopping, etc.
Some deaf people may prefer to go to places that are quieter so it’s easier for them to hear. Well-lite places may also be helpful so that they can see and read lips or see signs more clearly if they use sign language as a primary means of communication. But for the most part, deaf people are just looking to have a good time the same way hearing people are.
I hope my answers to the five most commonly asked questions on being deaf helped to shed light on what it’s really like to live without hearing. The most important thing I hope you take from today’s blog post is that the deaf can do anything the hearing can do except hear. We all want to be treated the same as a hearing person would be treated because we *are* the same. Our ears don’t work but we still have the same needs, desires, passions, interests, and lifestyles for the most part.
Hey guys! Long time, no blog! I have been a little bit more active on my other blog, KimErskine.WordPress.com lately. Feel free to check that out if you get a chance. It has a lot of book reviews if you’re into that kind of thing!
There is one big thing that has happened since I last blogged on here…
I graduated with a Master’s in Writing degree from Rowan University! I technically graduated in December of 2018, but since Rowan only does commencements in the spring I had to wait until this coming semester for commencement. I technically could’ve walked last spring, but it didn’t feel right to me to walk when I still had two more courses to come back and take in the fall, so I waited.
Attending graduation ceremonies with cochlear implants was a very different experience then my graduations prior with just hearing aids, which is what I’ll be focusing on in this blog today.
My commencement ceremonies at Rowan University took place on Saturday, May 11, 2019 and Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The first ceremony was an all-college University ceremony that included literally everyone – all majors, undergraduates, graduates, etc. This was naturally a huge and informal ceremony that took place on the University’s football field. The ceremony on Wednesday was for my department – the College of Communications and Creative Arts – and was the more formal ceremony where my name was called to receive my degree.
The first ceremony was a bit of a disaster. Since I was graduating with my Master’s degree, I wanted to look a bit nicer and get more dressed up than I did for my Bachelor’s degree. This resulted in me making a special appointment to see my hairdresser to get my hair curled before commencement, buying a few new dresses, and a new pair of shoes.
My favorite store to shop at is Burlington. I always get great deals on name brand clothing there and I am kind of obsessed with buying shoes. They have never let me down before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything, right?
I should’ve known better when I saw the label name was Chinese Laundry, but the shoes were cute and actually comfortable which is a rarity for dress shoes, so I shelled out $25 and bought them.
This was my first mistake.
Upon arriving in D-lot at Rowan University I quickly discovered I was not in the right area. I walked all around by the parking lots and football field asking for directions on where to go. Most of the people were a bit less than helpful and said something along the lines of “Somewhere by the engineering building – Masters’ are in the front” or simply “I don’t know”. With so many people around, this took awhile to find.
My shoes unfortunately did not make it for the full journey.
I was walking pretty fast because I wanted to get where I needed to be before everyone started walking in. Right as I just about found the right spot I tumbled down onto the ground, scraping my knee and dropping everything in my hands in the most ungraceful way imaginable.
When I fell, my right cochlear implant processor flew off and my left one on my dominate ear was bumped so the magnet came off. I couldn’t hear and was trying not to panic over losing my cochlears. Fortunately, I was able to find them both rather quickly and to put them on. A girl I never saw before came running to my rescue as several other strangers stared at the scene I was creating. The girl offered me a hair tie for help. Confused, I thanked her and said I was fine.
Then I tried to stand up, only to realize the strap on my shoe was broken. The girl was offering me her hair tie in an attempt to try to “fix” my broken shoe by creating some kind of a band with it. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, but was still a nice gesture. Hey, she tried, right?
Embarrassed, I tried to keep my cool and tell myself I could just rip it off and wear my shoes as strap less sandals, no big deal.
But when I looked down I noticed that strap also was broken. The entire shoe has fallen apart in every way imaginable and was completely unwearable.
My mom who went with my dad and boyfriend to find their seats sent me a text to make sure I found where I needed to go. The text read, “Are you okay?”
“No. My shoes broke.” I wrote back as I tried to hold back tears.
Not long after I was reunited with my parents and boyfriend. Mom offered to take me home, saying I didn’t have to go through with the ceremony. It would be starting in just a few minutes so going home and getting a new pair of shoes was not an option. “No, I have to do this. I can’t miss my graduation,” I said.
Then my mom looked down at her feet and took her shoes off. “If you can fit in these they are yours,” she said. She was about two sizes smaller than me so I wasn’t sure if would work, but I was desperate.
Fortunately, I was able to get the shoes on. They were very tight, but better than no shoes. My mom attended the rest of my graduation ceremony barefoot and I think this is the moment I truly realized what a mother’s love was.
I would like to say the rest of the University ceremony was smooth sailing, but that would be a lie.
I was worried about how I was going to wear my cap with my cochlear implants. Hats don’t usually work for me because they knock my cochlears off. I tested it prior to the ceremony and found that I could place the magnets over top of the cap and it would stay in place.
However, as my shoes proved – just because something worked at home didn’t mean it was still going to work at commencement.
My right cochlear was fine but my left one would not stay in place. I spent a majority of the commencement ceremony fidgeting and trying to fix it. Another challenge I had is that I had a ton of bobby pins in my hair to keep my cap in place. Naturally, bobby pins are made of metal which tends to get stuck to the magnet. Even when I had my cochlear positioned correctly it would often still give me trouble by sticking to the bobby pins and limiting my ability to hear.
There were multiple times throughout the ceremony where we were asked to rise then sit down, rise and sit down. At one point our commencement speaker, Shaun T (AKA the guy who created Insanity) asked us to do a bunch of these like dance movements. On a normal day in normal circumstances this would be no big deal. However, the chairs at commencement were so tightly packed together that you literally couldn’t move without touching someone. The people on my sides kept accidentally bumping into me and even the slightest touch caused my cochlear to fall off or get bumped out of place.
By the end of the ceremony I was so annoyed by constantly adjusting my cochlear that I decided to just completely take it off and use my non-dominate right ear to get by.
This solved all problems with the main ceremony then, right?
The main University ceremony ended with a literal bang as confetti was shot at the students from the stage. Confetti is fun and festive, so no big deal right? Wrong again. The problem with the confetti is that it was REALLY LOUD. Think confetti party poppers…it was like that. Since I was graduating with a Master’s degree I sat in the very first row closest to the stage. When the confetti shot out it scared the crap out of me but also physically hurt me.
The thing with cochlear implants is that while it took me from about 0% – 93% total hearing, it is still not natural hearing and it never will be. The way I use sound involves a lot of brain power as my brain needs to process what it is hearing before I hear it. This is why after a loud and noisy day working in the city I often come home so exhausted. The confetti was so incredibly loud and unexpected that my brain struggled to process it and it physically hurt me.
I really wish the University could have some how warned us about the confetti and how loud it would be ahead of time. The way the stage was designed you couldn’t tell there was confetti inside of it ready to be shot out. Had I have known ahead of time I could’ve prepared for it by taking both of my cochlear implant processors off so I wouldn’t hear it and be affected by it.
The University ceremony was a bit of a hot mess and a disaster. I was certainly glad for it to end and to have a drink afterwards. Lord knows I needed it!
The one good thing about all of my troubles with the main University ceremony is that it prepared me for and made me even more excited for my college ceremony that took place a few days later. This one went MUCH more smoothly. I chose to wear my fancy baby pink silver glitter converse sneakers and I packed an extra pair of Converse in the car just in case. I have had dozens of pairs of Converse over the years and they have never failed me. This time fortunately was no different.
The volunteers this time around were generally much more helpful and happier to be there which made me all the more excited and helped me to find where I needed to go more quickly. Given all of the trouble I had with the first ceremony, I decided to redesign my cap for the second one to say “Not today, Satan!”. Many people commented on how much they loved that and asked to take pictures.
My graduating friends were all present for this ceremony as well, so it was a lot more fun and I wasn’t alone. We all had fun catching up and taking pictures with each other prior to the start of the ceremony.
Since I had so much trouble with my cap with the first ceremony, I changed the position and placed my magnets inside of the cap rather than outside of it. My cap fit snuggly and was secured with bobby pins that were away from the magnets. This secured everything in place. I never once had to readjust my cochlears during the ceremony. I was able to just enjoy the ceremony.
I enjoyed Trymaine Lee’s speech far more than Shaun T’s. This could just be because he didn’t make me move and I related more to him being a journalist. Also, the fact that I wasn’t fidgeting with my cochlear implant the entire time certainly helped.
I have no memory of previous graduation speakers. I remember that Steven Sweeney spoke at my last graduation. I remember finding most of my previous graduation ceremonies to be boring because I couldn’t hear them.
Trymaine spoke about his experiences as a journalist and how growing up he was taught to always believe that he was somebody – something he instilled in the minds of the graduates as he had them complete the phrase, “I AM Somebody!” As a deaf individual, growing up and even to this day I was often told that I wouldn’t amount to anything. I always had the support of my parents of course, but my classmates would say things like “You’ll be lucky to be a 7-11 worker.” I never forgot these words and have dedicated my life to proving these individuals wrong and I think that is largely why Trymaine’s speech resonated so much with me.
This ceremony went smoothly all around including at the end. I was prepared for confetti this time around, but very happy that there was none (my ears/brain says “Thank YOU!”, Rowan).
After the ceremony I had the challenge of finding my family and boyfriend in the crowd of people. I actually called my mom to try to find her – something I never could’ve done in the past since I couldn’t hear on the phone!
While my combined graduations had their downs and then ups, it’s an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. I don’t think I would have ever went back to school to get my MA in Writing had it not been for my cochlear implants and I know I couldn’t have succeeded and managed to graduate with a 4.0 if it weren’t for them. God opened my ears to hear and in doing so, he opened many doors to my future, too.
Next step……………………………………………………………………………………………….to be determined.
Hey guys! Hope all of my East-coast friends are staying warm and dry in this crazy snow storm!
I don’t know if it’s the snow or what, but I received an incredible surge of inspiration and had a major Eureka moment in regards to the opening chapter of my memoir. I thought a better opening would be something more reflective in which I show what is going through my mind moments before I received my first cochlear implant tied in with flashbacks on my life before I was implanted and the time when I was first diagnosed with profound hearing loss (the yellow brick road chapter).
This needs A LOT of work still, obviously, but I’m pretty happy with the first 1,000 which are the new words that I added today. I am also in the process of interviewing my mom for more details with the original yellow brick road chapter. She said she’d need some time to think about many of the questions I had as she tries to remember, but I’m hoping to get some answers from her soon to better flesh out that chapter/add more details.
Regardless, I hope you enjoy the revised opening chapter. Feel free to leave a comment on this post letting me know what you think!
Entering Into a Technicolor World of Hearing
I’m lying in a hospital bed at Jefferson University hospital in Philadelphia. There is an IV inserted in my right arm and Mom is standing to my left. Dad, who has never been a fan of hospitals, is outside in the waiting room. Everything looks like your typical hospital setting except for two things:
- I am not sick or injured.
- I cannot stop smiling.
My journey begins now. Today I will receive my first cochlear implant, and if all goes well with the surgery and recovery, next month I will be activated and Lord-willing, hear, like a normal hearing person, for the first time in my life.
If this works, my black and white and sometimes sepia world will become technicolor and I will not just hear the sounds I’ve always heard, but I will be able to understand what those sounds are and hear them the way they are supposed to sound. Conversations will sound like actual conversations (without me needing to exhaust myself by practicing heavy lipreading). I’ll know when music is playing, and it will sound like actual music. I may even be able to hear what a flute sounds like. I’ll be able to go to the movies without having to awkwardly ask for a pair of caption glasses which A. The ticket salesman won’t understand, or B. won’t work anyway. After the movies, I may be able to go out to dinner with my friends or a date and order my own food without awkwardly staring at another person as if to say, “Please lend me your ears, I can’t hear a thing the waiter is saying.”
If this works, my world will forever change, hopefully for the better.
If this doesn’t work, I risk losing the approximately 7% total residual or natural hearing I have left in my left ear. This residual hearing is currently being amplified by hearing aids.
Amplify [am-pluh-fahy]. Verb. – Increase the volume of (sound).
Notice how it doesn’t say anything about clarity or being able to understand or comprehend what those sounds are. That’s what’s missing. Hearing aids amplify sound, but they don’t give me any clarity. My cochlear implant is supposed to fix that. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll lose my ability to even amplify sounds. I’ll be left with absolutely nothing in my left ear — silence.
I made a list of the things I want to do post-cochlear implant activation, should this work. It looks like this:
THINGS TO DO POST-COCHLEAR IMPLANT ACTIVATION
- Get caught in the rain.
- Experience church in a whole new way.
- Watch movies without captions.
- See a movie at the drive-in.
- Hear a flute, bell, violin, and any other instrument I couldn’t hear before.
- See an orchestra.
- See a play.
- See a ballet.
- Listen to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety.
- Talk on the phone.
- Order food out on my own (restaurant and takeout/Dunkin).
- See a concert (preferably Good Charlotte).
- Hear my cat meow.
- Listen to the radio.
- Hear a cricket chirp.
I didn’t even want to think about what my life would look like if the cochlear implant didn’t work. Would I be forced to learn ASL? Would I join the Deaf community? Could I manage to get by with the remaining, un-implanted ear? Thinking about what would happen if the cochlear implant worked was fun but thinking about the alternatives was terrifying.
I had faith and trust in God that the cochlear implant would work. I prayed constantly and attended church as much as three times in a single day. For the weeks leading up to this day I had both Gloucester County Community Church and Washington Baptist Church praying for and with me and even met with the deacons and deaconesses at both churches.
“God is going to give you an incredible gift. Now it’s your job to figure out how you can use it to serve the Lord,” the deaconess at whose name I cannot recall told me as I met with her in the chapel at GCCC.
I was so excited to begin my new life as a hearing person that as the date of my surgery came closer, sleep became more and more difficult. I’d stay up for 20 or more hours at a time, keeping myself busy by binge watching all 9 seasons of How I Met Your Mother and when I got bored of that, I’d clean everything in sight. I no longer had any concept of time.
“Do you really have to clean your toilet at 3 in the morning? I’m trying to sleep and all I can hear is your toilet flushing,” Mom complained.
“No more cleaning. I don’t wish to smell all of your chemicals first thing in the morning,” Dad pleaded.
Last night, I could hardly sleep at all. The Patriots played the late night 8:15pm game against the Colts.
“Don’t stay up too late, you have a big day tomorrow. You know the Patriots are going to win anyway,” Mom warned.
“Oh, let her stay up. She’s just going to sleep through the surgery anyway. Does it matter if she’s tired?” Dad said.
I stayed up for the whole game and then spent most of the rest of the night in bed, browsing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on my phone. By 5:30 AM, I was wide awake, dressed in my brand-new button down fleece pajamas (mom said there was no sense in wearing real clothes, I’d be better off being comfortable and I’d need to wear button downs to avoid pulling shirts over my head post-surgery anyway), and ready, a full two and a half hours before I was scheduled for surgery.
Now the day is finally here. Dr. Wilcox just came in to tell me everything would be okay and to instruct the anesthesia team to begin. I have a plastic mask on my face, covering my mouth and nose. I can hardly keep my eyes open anymore as I feel my body surrender itself to the anesthesia.
When I wake up, I’ll be a cyborg.
In another month, I’ll be activated, and I’ll finally be able to hear, Lord-willing.
If this works, I’ll be able to hear for the first time in my life, or at least, the first time since my mother discovered I was deaf at the mere age of two.
When I was two, Mom would call out my name, but I never responded. When she mentioned it to my pediatrician during my next checkup, the pediatrician thought it was just a phase or a case of the “terrible twos”.
“No, I know my daughter. She can’t hear me,” Mom would argue.
When my mom clapped behind my back and I didn’t flinch, she knew something was wrong. Against my pediatrician’s advice, my mom took me to see Miss Terri, an audiologist at Cooper Hospital in Camden, New Jersey.
After performing a series of hearing test, Miss Terri confirmed what we already knew: I had hearing loss. What we didn’t realize was how severe my hearing loss was. Miss Terri explained that my hearing loss was profound, meaning the only sounds I could hear were those that were at a volume of 90db or higher such as airplanes, helicopters, firetrucks, and possibly a lawn mower. Hearing aids were recommended to amplify these sounds, but my ability to hear and comprehend sounds, even when amplified, would always be a challenge.
After being diagnosed with profound hearing loss, I made the journey to Camden once every two weeks for speech therapy lessons. Mom and I would drive from our small condo in Washington Township to the big city every other week. On our way in, we’d pass endless food and street vendors selling everything from hot dogs to pretzels and even random t-shirts. It amazed me how at 9 o’clock in the morning people would still be out selling lunch foods. Everyone always had a smile on their face and seemed happy to be working.
“Mom, I want to live here one day. I love the city,” I said on our way in for my appointment.
“That’s because you don’t understand what this city is really like. It’s not safe,” Mom explained. I’d understand it more when I got older and would see individuals hauled off by police for God knows why on more than one occasion. But as a child, it was a magical place with audiologists and speech therapists that thought the world of me and were helping me to hear and speak well.
Cooper Hospital had many departments and was easy to get lost in. Fortunately, they developed a system to help speech and audiology patients find their way around. By placing strips of yellow tape on the floor, patients could simply “follow the yellow brick road” to their appointment. Every time I had an appointment I knew to look down at the floor for that yellow tape and I’d sing along and skip to the tune of, “Follow, follow, follow follow follow the yellow brick road!”
Since speech and hearing worked so closely together, my appointments were run by both my audiologist, Miss Terri, and my speech therapist, Miss Vicki.
Miss Terri would always start my appointments by testing my hearing. She would lead me into a gray, audiology testing booth that was no more than 50 feet wide while my mom waited and watched outside in the hall. Miss Terri would then crookedly place a special pair of headphones over my ears and hook some wires up to my hearing aids and hand me a button.
“First we’re going to test the beeps. Push the button whenever you hear a beep. We’ll start with your left ear first before moving to the right,” Miss Terri explained.
I’d smile and nod and occasionally give a thumbs up to let her know I understood. I loved pressing that button. It felt like I was playing a video game where hitting the button was the equivalent of shooting the monsters and bad guys and freeing the victims. I never even noticed that the button didn’t get pushed half as often as it should have.
Once that portion of my hearing test was completed, I would be given a series of words that I’d have to say back.
“Say the word hot dog,” Miss Terri said.
“Hot dog,” I answered.
“Say the word baseball.”
“Say the word airplane.”
“Say the word ice cream.”
“Terri, I’m sorry but I have to stop you,” mom interrupted.
Miss Terri and I both looked up. I was doing so well with the words, what could possibly be wrong?
“She’s not actually hearing you – she’s reading your lips,” said mom.
“I can fix that,” Terri said as she grabbed the sheet of paper with her word list.
“I’m going to cover my lips now. I want you to focus on what you hear, not on me.” Miss Terri said. I was nervous, but knew I had no choice but to try my best. I nodded in agreement.
“Say the word kite.’
“Say the word chair.”
“Say the word sub.”
“Say the word third.”
“Say the word ran.”
I didn’t know what Miss Terri was saying, I could only guess, but I knew I was wrong.
When Miss Terri finished with the hearing test, it was on to either Miss Vicki for speech therapy where we would do different activities. One of my favorites involved using what I liked to refer to as the “magic mirror”. It was a long, oval-shaped mirror that rested in a tan wooden frame on wheels. There was nothing actually magical about it; it was just a regular mirror that I was allowed to draw on with magic markers, but I always loved this activity. I was never allowed to draw on the mirrors at home. I thought that this mirror was special since I could draw on it and the markers would wipe right off when I was done. As a two-year-old, the only logical explanation for how this could work was that it must have been magic.
Before I could draw on the mirror, Miss Vicki put me to work by having me practice my speech.
“Okay. Let’s practice our “Sh” and “Ch” sounds,” she’d say. “We’ll start wi“Sh!” I said. It was easy for me to think of the sound as a syllable, as if Miss Vicki was the teacher and I the student, getting yelled at for talking.
“Very good!” she said. “Now, I’m going to give you a word. Can you say “choose”?
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, not shoes like on your feet. Choose like when you choose something to eat,” she said.
“Shoes!” I said.
“No, look in the mirror. You want to move your tongue up a little bit and touch your teeth,” she said.
“Tooze,” I said.
“Try again. Remember, you only want to touch your teeth a little bit, not a lot.”
“Choose?” I said.
“Yes, that’s right! Very good! Want to take a break and draw on the magic mirror?” she asked.
I nodded yes and reached for the bucket of magic markers, choosing the pink one first, my favorite color. I drew a big heart on the mirror with several smaller hearts for arms, legs, and even eyes. My little heart person, my favorite thing to draw.
When I finished my masterpiece, Miss Vicki would continue with our lesson.
“Okay, Kimmy. We’re going to play a game now,” Vicki said.
“You’re going to take this ball and throw into the trashcan across the room. But as you throw the ball, I’m going to give you a word to say and I want you to imagine your voice going with that ball. As you throw the ball you’ll want your voice to get louder. Got it?” she said.
I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I really understood, but the idea of throwing a playing a game sounded like fun. The game sounded like basketball, a game I’ve always enjoyed watching my dad play.
“Okay. Your first word is suitcase,” she said.
“Suitcase,” I whispered as I threw the ball.
Vicki threw the ball back to me. “Try again,” She said. “Remember, Mr. Loud Mouth. Your voice travels with the ball.”
I took the ball back from her and paused as I remembered Mr. Loud Mouth. “SUIT CASE,” I said.
“Very nice! You got it!” she said.
Being a toddler with profound hearing loss was easy. Nobody asked any questions about my hearing loss or questioned anything that I did or didn’t do. My parents couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my hearing loss. My sister paid no mind to it. And my audiologist and speech therapists couldn’t help me enough. I was a toddler without a care in the world. The only thing that made me different from any other toddler in the world was the fact that I couldn’t hear. I was able to live my life in black and white or sometimes sepia. My world was full, but not always beautiful or complete. The older I got the more I realized that living as a deaf girl in a hearing world was a lot like living in a world without color.
Today I watched Heather Artinian’s Georgetown TEDxGeorgetown Talk, “Not the Hearing or Deaf World”. Heather Artinian was the star of the popular documentary Sound and Fury and its sequel, Sound and Fury: 6 Years Later. As the daughter of two Deaf parents, Heather grew up in Deaf culture and was taught to speak with ASL from an early age. Some of her other family members like her cousin were also deaf, however, they supported and got a cochlear implant (or two, not entirely sure to be honest). While Heather supported Deaf culture and was proud of her cultural heritage, she also had many hearing friends and was eager to be a part of the hearing world. At the mere age of 5, Heather knew that she wanted a cochlear implant.
However, her parents were not fully supportive of her decision. Instead of allowing her to get the cochlear implant, the family moved to Maryland which has many more Deaf individuals than her hometown in New York did. They lived there for about 3 or 4 years until her Mom got very sick and had to go back home to New York. During her time in Maryland Heather grew up in a comfortable Deaf environment where she was taught at a Deaf school and ASL was her primary language.
When Heather returned back to New York ASL was no longer the norm and doing the simplest of things like trying to order food from a restaurant was a difficult and frustrating experience for her and her family. Heather wanted to be able to communicate with her hearing friends and to be a part of their world. This is something I can relate to very much. I feel like in many ways Heather’s story is my story. Anyway, as Heather desired to be a part of their world she once again longed for a cochlear implant and this time her family didn’t fight it on it – they allowed her to get her first cochlear implant when she was 9.
Heather has since went bilateral and she is doing very well. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and currently attending Harvard Law school. In her talk Heather focused on bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds and what I loved is that Heather isn’t concerned in being in either the hearing or the deaf world – she wants to be in the Heather world which is a little bit of each world.
Watching Heather’s Ted Talk honestly made me think about my own life and where I am with always having lived in the hearing world and now wanting to learn ASL. People think it’s weird that I never learned ASL and I never belonged to Deaf culture but I didn’t really know about it since everyone I know is from the hearing world so it makes sense that I would want to be a part of that world. Sometimes I feel almost guilty for not belonging to Deaf culture. I’ve had people in a round about way also say that I’ve turned my back on my own culture or I don’t even know who I am or am supposed to be since I’m so out of tune with Deaf culture. Then there’s another part of me that wonders if I’m doing a disservice by wanting to learn ASL. Is this offensive to the Deaf community? I went my entire life trying to fit in to the hearing world and going bilateral and I think being able to hear now is the greatest thing ever and sometimes it’s mind-boggling to comprehend that some people wouldn’t want to hear even if they have the ability to with cochlear implants…and yet here I am after going bilateral wanting to learn ASL and join in the Deaf world. Is this okay or is this cultural appropriation? Have I’ve been missing out on a big portion of my life by not belonging to this culture that I maybe should have been born into? Has my entire life been a mistake for choosing not to belong to this culture? There’s so many questions I don’t have the answers to and may never have the answers to.
Why do I want to learn ASL and why now? Maybe it is because I wonder if maybe I’m missing out on something. Maybe I do want to join in with Deaf culture or maybe I just don’t know yet but I at least want to see what is there. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to go against or abandon the hearing world I worked so hard to get into. It means that whereas Heather wants to live in the Heather world I want to live in the Kimberly world. I want the best of both worlds. I don’t want it to be hearing world and deaf world – I want it to just be 1 world where everyone can co-exist.
I loved Heather’s Ted Talk. I think she is a very smart girl (she’s studying Law at Harvard after all…) and what she says really makes sense. She doesn’t just reject the hearing world the way some Deaf individuals do (I’m looking at you…Mark Drolsbaugh…) she embraces it. Heather wants to make the best future for herself and she knows that in order to do that she needs to learn to adapt to the world around her and the world around her is primarily hearing. However, Heather didn’t forget where she came from. She was never about abandoning Deaf culture. I do get the impression she prefers the hearing world hence why she chose to live with her grandparents, attend a hearing school, and notably didn’t sign during her presentation, but it will always be a part of her and something she is proud of. Heather successfully balances both world to create one universal world that makes her who she is – Heather Artinian. I think we can learn a lot from her and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.
I was so inspired by Heather that I sent her the following message on LinkedIn:
My name is Kimberly Erskine and I am an adjunct professor and graduate student at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. I was born profoundly deaf but always lived in the hearing world and got by with lipreading until receiving cochlear implants in 2015 and 2016.
For my MA project I am writing a memoir about my cochlear implant experience. I have been doing extensive research on Deaf culture and ASL as well. Some of my research involved watching both of your documentaries. I also just finished watching your Georgetown TedX talk tonight. I just wanted to say you are a huge inspiration for me and I believe many other deaf/Deaf individuals as well. I admire the way you chose for yourself which world to belong to – the Heather world – and how you’re working to build bridges in both the hearing and deaf communities.
I don’t think I ever had a choice but to belong to the hearing world. I was offered to learn ASL at a young age but declined because I didn’t know anyone who was Deaf and learning to adapt to the hearing world made more sense to me. I never knew that Deaf culture was its own thing. Once I got older and began to learn more about it it completely fascinated me though. I am trying to learn more about it and hoping to learn sign language (I am applying to take an ASL class as independent study this Fall) so that I can meet more Deaf people and communicate with them.
I can understand how challenging being in both worlds might be for you at times. Sometimes people look at me weird for never having learned ASL or belonging to Deaf culture. They think that means I don’t know who I really am or they don’t understand my sudden interest in Deaf culture now especially since I can hear with my cochlear implants. Maybe in some ways I’m also still trying to figure it all out. I really loved your Ted Talk though because it was so relateable to me. I saw a lot of myself in you and your presentation.
I honestly really hope Heather responds because I think she is really cool and would like to make friends with her haha. We shall see…
This week I read 1 Corinthians 14 and it made me think a lot about the history of American Sign Language actually. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is talking to the church of Corinth about speaking in tongues. He acknowledges the ability to speak in tongues as being a spiritual gift from God, however, he strongly urges the church of Corinth not to practice the speaking of tongues unless everyone can do it. Paul explains this by stating, “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.” Men that possess the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues can use it to speak to God, yes, but they shouldn’t use it to speak with the rest of the congregation because they won’t be able to understand him. When we enter the church it should be to honor and glorify God and to help our brothers and sisters and Christ to do the same and to better come to know God and his words. If we can’t even understand what the members of the body of Christ are saying then how can we really come to know God and learn at church, let alone properly worship him in his home?
Paul went so far as to suggest that speaking in tongues could be the equivalent of just making noise without understanding what that noise actually means in verses 7-11. Here he states:
And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me (1751).
Wow, definitely a lot of things going on in these verses! Let’s look at the first part of this first, verses 7-8:
“And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
A deaf person may never hear the sounds of a pipe, harp, or trumpet. You could blow that trumpet as hard as humanly possible and that deaf person may never prepare himself to battle if that’s all he has to go on because he’ll never know. To him, the sound of a trumpet is completely meaningless.
For me prior to getting my cochlear implant, I missed out on many sounds. I’ve discovered many of them since getting my cochlear implants, but every day I am also still learning more and more sounds. It’s not uncommon for me to jump a little in class as a train goes by or someone talks or fidgets or I hear an unknown sound. I’m constantly trying to define the source of the sound and what it means. This is what the congregation must’ve been like back in Paul’s time when they tried to understand what the speaker was saying when he spoke in tongues that they did not understand.
I also relate this to ASL. The Deaf community needs ASL so that they can understand what is being said in the church. To them, the verbal communication means nothing. They have no idea what the pastor is preaching without the use of ASL. They will never hear the gospel or understand the message that day. The pastor might as well be speaking in tongues because they’d never know otherwise. Here, Thomas Gallaudet’s arguments for using sign language in the church makes sense.
But hold that thought…
Thomas Gallaudet and the manualists didn’t just think that the use of sign language in the church would help the deaf to better understand sermons; they took it a step further. Gallaudet along with the other manualists felt that sign language would bring the deaf closer to God. In Tracy Morse’s dissertation, “Saving Grace: Religious Rhetoric in the Deaf Community,” she quotes Douglas Baynton’s Forbidden Signs when she says:
For manualists, this view was interpreted in Protestant terms: sign language was an original language and meant “closer to the Creation,” not inferiority (Baynton “Savages” 98). However, for oralists, sign language was associated with lower evolution or “inferior races” (Baynton Forbidden 9). Oralists made arguments that deaf students needed to learn spoken English and lip reading or they would be viewed as animals or savages (Morse 51).
Now, let’s look back to the scripture and focus on verse 11 which states, “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.
The word “barbarian” here is what stands out the most to me. Do you know who else really loves the word “barbarian”? Alexander Graham Bell who was NOT a manualist like Thomas Gallaudet, but rather an oralist that believed that the deaf needed to move away from sign language and instead learn to speak verbally and read lips and live in the hearing world.
So, what am I saying here? Do I think that this verse is saying sign language is barbaric? Absolutely not, but at the same time, it could be absolutely so. So it’s a yes and a no for me.
Here is what I think that verse is saying, or what the core message Paul has for the church of Corinth is:
We need to speak in a way that people can understand what we are saying in church so as to not cause confusion or anything that can inhibit man’s understanding of the gospel and man’s ability to honor and glorify the lord.
Back in the time of the church of Corinth, speaking in tongues was a barrier for people in the church because it might have benefited the person speaking it, but it did not benefit the church. Paul is calling for the unity of the church – everyone needs to unite as the body as Christ and work in a way that best serves God and not themselves and that involves speaking a universal language they can all understand.
What does this mean for the deaf in the church? Should they be forced to lip-read and practice the oral method? No. I think the deaf should have a right to hear the sermon in a way that is the most accessible to them. Many churches offer the hearing loop to help hard of hearing and deaf people to hear (depending on the degree of hearing loss of course). If a deaf person needs an interpreter, they should have access to it.
If the majority of church attendees are Deaf and rely on sign language, then perhaps that church should consider doing full sermons primarily in ASL, as that is what will benefit that church and help the attendees to learn and honor and glorify God the best.
We don’t have to worry too much about the speaking of tongues in modern day. 1 Corinthians 13:8 says, “Whether there be tongues they shall cease”. People cannot speak in tongues today (I acknowledge that many claim they do – I have my own feelings on that but I’ll be nice and go the route of “no comment” on that…). I think that whereas the church of Corinth had to worry about the speaking in tongues today our issue is more or less about what language or what style/tone to use in church. I think it all depends on the congregation and choosing what is the most accessible to your church goers.
Going back to the discussion on the deaf community…
In Baynton’s Forbidden Signs he explains how many oralists feared that by relying too heavily on sign language the deaf community would isolate themselves from the rest of the world. He stated:
Like their contemporaries in other fields of reform, oralists worried that the lives of people were diminished by being a part of such communities as the deaf community; they would not, it was feared, fully share in the life of the nation. The deaf community, like ethnic communities, narrowed the minds and outlooks of its members. “The individual must be one with race,” one wrote in words reminiscent of many other Progressive reformers “or he is virtually annihilated”; the chief curse of deafness was “apartness from the life of the world,” and it was just this that oralism was designed to remedy. Apartness was the darkness manualists redefined for a new world (Baynton 32).
Sign language was (and still is) very different from spoken English or any spoken language, really It’s different from what the majority is speaking and when people can’t speak our language, either they or we miss out. Isn’t this the same as what was going on in the church of Corinth in a way? Paul wanted to see the church of Corinth come together to honor, serve, and glorify the Lord and to unite as the body of Christ. Speaking in tongues was something very few church members could do that caused a separation or divide between those who could speak and understand it, and those who could not. It became a distraction that kept people from coming to know God.
Is sign language a distraction that keeps the deaf from doing things in their daily lives? It is obvious that it causes a divide from the hearing and the deaf worlds. In the church, it can make things better for the deaf and I can see how it can strengthen their personal relationships with God, but if we only signed and didn’t speak spoken English, the rest of the congregation would suffer. I don’t see sign language as being a form of language that brings a person closer to God in the sense of it’s a superior or holier language than standard English. I think it’s just another language that for some is their primary and therefore the best and for others is just another language in the world that exists but one they don’t partake in or use in their daily lives.