Archive for September, 2007

“Sail away from the Safe Harbor”

September 27, 2007

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

My first experience of traveling with Deaf was brought about by the annual East Texas Deaf Festival in 2006. My professors had always encouraged their students to attend, so, with my new-found confidence from socializing with Deaf, I decided to “throw off the bowlines” and “sail away from the safe harbor.” In other words, I was ready to get out of my comfort zone and explore a new world–the Deaf-World.

I asked around to see who was planning to attend the event. None of my friends from interpreting class were going, so I had a dilemma. I decided to ask my new Deaf friends if they were going. Day Day and Jex said “yes,” so I was both excited and nervous. I knew what my parents were going to say about the situation, “Two boys alone in the car with you? No way.” However, they said if I found another girl to go with us, then I could ride with Jex and Day Day (this was before they got to know both of them. In fact, at this point, neither of my parents had even MET Jex or Day Day). So, off I went to find another girl to come along. Finally, I found out that Kula was going with them, so I was ecstatic.

Early Saturday morning, Day Day drove up to my house in his sporty red Rio, and Jex came up to let me know they were there to pick me up. I had never been on a road trip with friends before although many would say this did not count since the festival was only about 45 minutes or an hour away. At any rate, I was excited. At least now I wasn’t nervous about driving with Deaf during the day ) .

My parents were EXTREMELY nervous. Remember all the concerns I had when I first rode with Jex? My parents had the same concerns and questioned me relentlessly. Well, it wasn’t THAT bad, but they weren’t sure about how Deaf drive, or how they talk or listen and drive at the same time. I explained to them that it was not any different than with hearing people. I told them how deaf are statistically better drivers than hearing, how they share responsibility when driving, etc. So, my mom and dad started feeling a little better. However, they still had not met “these guys from school,” so they still weren’t completely okay with the idea yet.

It was funny. After Jex came up to the garage, having seen my parents wave dramatically through the window towards the garage instead of the front of the house, my parents came bursting out the door with beaming faces and began to overenthusiastically introduced themselves (my mom knows a few signs and can fingerspell, so she introduced herself and my dad). So, by the time I got outside, Jex knew my parents’ names already and my parents were anxious to meet Day Day and Kula. We walked quickly towards Day Day’s car and he and kula got out of the car to meet us. I voice interpreted the introductions for my parents since my mom could mostly sign for herself and only needed to know what my friends were saying. After everyone had met, I think my parents felt much more comfortable with me going on the road trip.

The car ride was an experience. I had already ridden in a truck with Jex, so I knew how to communicate while using that form of transportation, but ridding in a car was different. Of course, Day Day drove since it was his car. Jex rode in the front seat, I sat behind Day Day, and Kula sat behind Jex. Therefore, I could only have a direct conversation with Kula, see half of the conversation between Jex and Day Day, talk to Jex if he turned around, and converse with Day Day while he looked in the rear view mirror or used Jex for an intermediary interpreter. It was complicated at first, but now I have started getting used to it ) .

Anyways, we arrived at the Deaf Festival early to help set up the booths only to find that most of the work had already been done. With an hour or two to spare, we decided to get back in the car and go eat at Taco Bell for lunch. Crystal, a girl from my ASL class, had already arrived at the festival as well, so she joined us for lunch. After we ate and visited for a while, we went back to the festival.

The Deaf festival was fairly large that year. They had one large room and one small room reserved for the booths. In the big room, there was a registration table in front of the entrance doors on the left side of the room and a kitchen against the same wall with a long counter where they served dinner. In the middle of the room stood rows and rows of tables and chairs. A short stage was built against the back wall in front of the tables. On the right side of the room, booths lined the walls and more booths could be found in the smaller room as well.

At first, I did not know what to do. I looked at a few of the booths–one was advertising TMAD (Tyler Metro Association for the Deaf), another selling hand-made crafts, and yet another was displaying the Sorenson video phone. When I came to the booth for my home church, one of my ASL teachers, who goes to the same church, saw me and asked if I would help with registration. I mentally debated with myself, “I am in ASL 4. I should be able to do this. No, I don’t know how to communicate with Deaf people I don’t know, so I can’t do this.” Of course, this debate only lasted a second, and I gave in quickly. I wanted to “catch the trade winds in [my] sails”, right?

My teacher, EC, led me to the registration table and showed me what to do. She signed, “Each person gets a free handkerchief because our theme this year is a cowboy theme. Then, each person needs to sign in here. If they did pre-registration, mark their name off this list. Get them to make a name tag and then they need to write their name on this ticket and put it in this bucket for door prizes. People who paid the full amount get this wrist band while the others get this one…” It was a lot of information, and I did my best to remember. I suddenly realized though, as EC was walking away and people began appoaching me, that I did not have the signing vocabulary necessary for the job.

I immediately began making up signs for “bandana,” “name tag,” and “door prizes.” Come to find out, most were either right or close to it. That was a relief. I just was hoping that I wasn’t saying anything bad. At any rate, it was fun and crazy putting Deaf and hearing people alike through the whole process of registering for the festival. The line of people almost went out the door on occasion. Needless to say, I got plum tuckered out. EC came by and took over so that I could have a break, which was welcomed more than she knew.

During my break, I looked around at the other booths, visited with Crystal when she was not interpreting, and chatted with Day Day, Kula, and Jex. I also met JW and a few other Deaf students from TJC. It was enjoyable. EC and I took turns for several hours until people began taking the booths down and everyone started getting ready for dinner.

The dinner consisted of bar-b-que brisket, I think, and baked beans. I did not eat anything though. In the end, I think I am glad that I did not feel hungry because my friends waited for more than an hour in line to get their food and I was tired after working registration.

After the bar-b-que dinner, the entertainment began. There were stories, signed songs, announcements, a lecture, and door prizes. Day Day did a funny story/joke, which everyone enjoyed. The lecture was interesting in that it was quite controversial among the Deaf attendies and several Deaf went on the stage to voice their opinons on the matter (no pun intended). And finally, the door prizes took over an hour to distribute. Everyone would “yell out” which prizes they hoped to win and teased those who won. All in all, it was a fun experience.

When the festival ended, we were the last to leave. Kula and I waited patiently for Jex and Day Day to finish their conversations with the other Deaf, most of whom were leaders in the Deaf community. Once one friend would be ready to leave, the other would see someone else and talk to them for a while, then they would come back, ready to go, and the other would see someone…and so it went for a while until we were all ready to leave.

We all got in Day Day’s car and began our journey home. I had one more burning question in my mind about driving with Deaf. I knew now how to communicate with Deaf in the car during the day–no big deal, that was natural. But now, it was dark, and I could not figure out how Deaf communicated when they couln’t see. The lights finally came on when Day Day reached up and clicked on the overhead to see what Jex had said. My last question aswered, I sat back and enjoyed the remainder of the trip home.

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Journey To The Center Of…The Deaf-World?

September 21, 2007

This is my story about my journey into the Deaf-World that I have come to love. In my last blog, I shared about how I became acquainted with the Deaf-World and learned sign language. I started learning ASL three years ago, but my education was limited to classroom learning only. As I said before, I have no Deaf family, so therefore no one to sign with me. In addition, although my mom and sister know a few signs, I was not able to practice with them either. The only Deaf I knew were my two ASL professors. I did not associate with Deaf people, partly because I did not know any Deaf and also because I was afraid to socialize with Deaf after my experience at the bowling party. I kept my promise to avoid Deaf events, and ultimately Deaf people, for two years. I was waiting until I became a proficient signer before I tried it again. However, I began to realize that the more sign I learned, the less proficient I became. In other words, I realized that I still had and still have SO much to learn. It was not until my ASL 4 class, that I began meeting other Deaf and hard-of-hearing at school, community events, and church. I did not have the gumption to meet these people on my own at first. I did not have any desire to go back to the Deaf-World, at least not yet; I do not know if I EVER would have had the courage to go back on my own volition, but, thankfully instead, I was rather catapulted into the Deaf-World. Here is how it happened:

Almost two years after I began attending TJC and taking American Sign Language classes, I arrived at school for my ASL 4 class. I was comfortable in my routine at this point. I had spent the last one and a half years with generally the same classmates, in the same rooms, with the same teachers, in the same seat. I knew what to expect. After struggling through the first two weeks of school, trying to remember how to “read” my professor’s signs because I had not been exposed to any signing for several months, I would do fine and could understand most anything they talked about.

I was looking forward to this semester because I had recently declared my major (interpreting) and now had a general idea of what I wanted to do for my career (although it WAS NOT interpreting. I know I am weird to major in something I did not want to do). At any rate, I walked assuredly into my classroom that first day expecting to begin my same routine that I had practiced since my senior year of high school.

To my surprise, however, I discovered that a Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing guy, Day Day, (he describes himself as 3/4 Deaf and 1/4 hard-of-hearing) had registered to take the same course. I had heard of him before. Some of my friends from ASL class knew him already and said he was really nice. But, when I met him myself, I felt scared to death. He signed too fast for me to understand him, and thus I knew I was doomed to despair. I knew I had failed in the past one and a half years to learn how to communicate in sign language. I felt so far behind. I knew there was still much to learn and I was beginning to freak out because I had one semester left to learn everything there was to know about ASL and Deaf culture. Those were extremely unrealistic expectations, but that is how I felt. Anyways, I felt that, after having studied ASL for almost two years, I should have been able to understand Deaf people, right? Not really.

I struggled through class, trying to get back into my routine despite the changes occurring in the classroom. My ASL professor was ecstatic to have a Deaf student in the class. She thought it would be helpful to the hearing students to have more exposure to other Deaf students. She even let him tell stories in class for practice. I was so thankful that our professor did not give us a grade for the quizzes we took after Day Day’s stories because I would have failed miserably.

Not that long into the semester, another Deaf guy, Jex (I’m just using their nicknames for now), peeped his head into the room to chat with Day Day. I had heard of this guy, too. The only difference was that none of my other classmates knew him personally because they were completely overwhelmed with his lightning-speed signing. They had all talked about him like little gossipping chicks, all gathered around in a tight circle whispering, “Did you hear about that guy…?” At any rate, my ASL teacher caught a glimpse of Jex standing by the door and her face immediately brightned. She convinced him to join the class for the day–well, okay, for the rest of the semester actually. Now, I was almost ready to give up. Two Deaf guys? I just knew this class would be the end of me.

To give you an idea of how little I understood Jex (since I’ve already told you how little I understood Day Day), I think it took me until about half-way through the semester when I finally understood Jex’s fingerspelling well enough to figure out his name. I also would have failed the quiz after his story too if my professor would have counted it. I felt defeated. However, I did not give up. I was determined to understand Day Day and Jex’s sign and to be able to communicate with them if it was the last thing I did on this earth.

I don’t know how it happened, but during the semester, another classmate and I began going to lunch with Jex on Thursdays after class. I remember the first time we decided to go out and eat, we decided to carpool since there was no sense in taking three cars down the street to Taco Bell. So, Jex offered to drive us in his truck. I already felt very daring because I had never ridden in a car with a guy before, let alone someone I did not know, so already my pulse was racing. However, I felt a little safer since another girl, who I knew fairly well, was going too. As we were walking to his truck, I kept wondering how Deaf people drive. I have to admit I was a little frightened that Deaf may not drive as well or as safely as hearing drivers. I kept wondering: Do they drive the same as hearing people? How can they drive without hearing? How do they talk and drive at the same time? How do they “listen” and drive at the same time without getting in a wreck? Each question increased my anxiety all the more. I felt quite stupid though after Jex started pulling out of the parking lot and driving down the road because it was only then that I realized that Deaf drive no differently than hearing. And why should they? The only necessity one needs to drive is the ability to see.

Later, my mom asked me those same questions I had asked myself that day when I was getting ready to leave on a road trip with some Deaf friends. I told her in a sort of isn’t-it-obvious kind of tone that they do not drive any different than hearing people. I think I should have shown a little more understanding and empathy since I had experienced the same perplexity not long before.

At any rate, going to lunch became an almost weekly event for the duration of the semester. Understanding Jex’s signing improved tremendously although there were still times that, after he would drop my friend and I off, we would both look at each other and ask what he had been talking about. I think this opportunity though, to actually get to know Jex, gave me the confidence I needed to be comfortable with other Deaf as well.

We also had a free lunch every Wednesday at TJC at the BSM. The Deaf students, Interpreting students, ASL students, and my ASL and Interpreting instructors had all laid claim (well, not LEGAL claim) to one entire row of tables in the far right corner of the dining hall (I think the students who did not know sign were a little deterred from sitting with us when they saw so many hands flying through the air). It was great! I got to know Day Day better and I met Kula and several other Deaf students as well. Slowly, I began gaining confidence that it is possible to learn ASL, but I knew it was not something I, or anyone else for that matter, could learn in a day. It is a process–a process I am still going through.

Every part of the Deaf-World was new to me. Driving with Deaf people, eating with Deaf people (can you imagine being perplexed at how a Deaf person can eat and sign at the same time? Well, that was me), celebrating birthdays with Deaf people (I had always wondered if they “sang” “Happy Birthday” or blew out candles), and even the simplest things like watching TV or movies with Deaf people (yes, I DID know about closed captioning, but I didn’t know about open captions or how Deaf watched movies at the movie theater), were all new experiences where I realized my total lack of knowledge about deafness and Deaf culture. I felt like a stupid hearing person trying to fit in where I didn’t belong. You know the type. I felt like I was the equivalent of a computer geek, high school boy trying to fit in with the jocks, or a nerdy teenage girl trying out for cheerleading. However, I was determined not to let my lack of knowledge prevent me from pursuing the very things I was falling in love with–Deaf culture, ASL, and Deaf people. I knew I still had much to learn and so many questions to ask but, with the help and patience of my Deaf friends, my questions about the Deaf-World were answered one by one.

Welcome to the Deaf-World

September 1, 2007
Since this is my first blog, I want to introduce myself. My name is Casey and I am hearing. I am a transfer student from Texas, who grew up homeschooled.
I have a very mixed family of three brothers and two sisters. That is a long story, so I won’t bore you with the details. ) I have spent most of my life growing up in Texas, but my family did move to Oklahoma for a short five years before going back to our home state. At the college in Texas, I majored in Interpreting but soon realized that Interpreting was not for me. I enjoyed interpreting but not all the other complicated additions to it such as the Code of Ethics and some of the regulations and pressures I had to face during my semester of practicum. I managed to persevere though and graduated with an A.A.S. degree in Interpreting Magna Cum Laude. Nevertheless, I loved signing and I loved the Deaf-World, so I decided to pursue ASL for my BA degree. That’s why I am at Gallaudet University.

But how did I become involved in the Deaf-World? You may ask. My family is not deaf. In fact, I do not even have hard-of-hearing family members or distant relations with a hearing loss. In addition, I did not meet a single deaf person until I was 17 years old. So, how did I get acquainted with the Deaf-World? Here’s my story:

I got my first glimpse of the Deaf-World one early August morning my senior year of high school. I had decided my senior year to enroll in a few courses at a local junior college to earn some dual credit hours. Since it was my first time actually to “go to school” (I grew up homeschooling) and I had an undecided major, I thought it would be fun to enroll in some language-related courses (I love language, grammar, English, etc.). I knew a little Spanish from a high school class, and I knew a little sign language from a class I took in 3rd grade, so I resolved to take both.

I arrived at Tyler Junior College early Tuesday morning, anxious about my first day of classes. I walked hurriedly down the sidewalk trying to remember where my first class met. Spotting Potter Hall, a three-story building that looked more like an old brick house with white-railed balconies than a place where classes are held, I opened the glass doors and stepped into the hallway. I looked around for something familiar to tell me where my room was. I made a decision and headed left down the hall. There it was. The door was open and I was the first to arrive, so I made my way in and took a seat.

I want to tell one funny story about my first experience at college regarding seating arrangements before I get back on subject ) Going into college, no one warned me that when you walk into your first class and sit down in a particular chair that the chair you sit in remains yours for the duration of the semester and that sitting in someone else’s chair is an abomination. I had grown up homeschooling, which meant I could sit anywhere I pleased–either at my desk in my room or any unoccupied dinning room chair. I thought the same rules applied in college, so I thought it would be fun to try out every seat in the classroom. You get the idea: sit in a different chair every class period. Well, needless to say, many of my classmates got annoyed at me and some were not afraid to say so. After the first time a girl told me I was in her seat and I needed to move, I realized that she meant business and I found another chair where I stayed for the next three years of my life (most of the ASL and Interpreting classes, for the most part, were held in one of two rooms; therefore, I sat in my respective seat like a good college student and didn’t switch chairs every week). )

Anyways, back to my first subject, I sat down and waited for the arrival of the other students and my teacher. The students trickled in one by one, and, soon after my classmates arrived, a short, stocky man ambled into the classroom and placed several books on the tiny wooden table at the front of the room. I waited with anticipation as he took his time laying out all his materials. Then, at last, he looked up, smiled, and instead of speaking, he signed, “Good morning!”

Ahh! Sheer terror gripped my heart. I suddenly realized that this man was deaf and all I knew were a handful of signs and the alphabet. How was I supposed to communicate with someone who couldn’t hear me? Every part of my being told me I would fail miserably in this class. I tried to push my doubts and fears away as he began class, writing his name on the board and handing out our class syllabus.

The room was so quiet. I had never heard such stillness in a classroom before. It was a little unnerving. The other students and I were all hearing and so when our teacher told us that we could not talk at all during class and could only sign to each other, I was distraught. I hated the silence and I felt completely helpless. I felt as though I would not survive my first college semester. However, I did survive it–and I loved it.

It took me several weeks to get accustomed to there not being any voiced lecture, but what was replaced by my expectations of a loud, booming voice was so much better. I began to appreciate the silence that surrounded me and, as I did, a new form of sound began to evolve. I began to hear with my eyes. Even now, I am beginning to wonder how I survive WITHOUT hearing with my eyes! When I graduate from Gallaudet and begin yet another chapter in my life, I won’t be on a campus where I can SEE communication all the time. Eventually, I will have to return to the hearing world where speech and English is the primary form of communication. I know that I will miss my experiences here at Gallaudet where ASL and the Deaf-World thrive.

My teacher at the community college was the most animated, funny, and entertaining person I had ever met. He was the best storyteller, too. I fell in love with the class and thus continued enrolling in ASL classes for three years. I learned a lot that first semester. Not only did I add a few signs to my vocabulary, but I also learned to appreciate ASL, Deaf humor, and many other things concerning the Deaf-World. This first class was my first peek at what the Deaf-World was really like.

However, my learning experiences did not end there. My ASL Lab teacher loved to get students involved with the Deaf community in my hometown (and for that, I am appreciative; now, I look back at all the growing and learning experiences I had). My first experience at a deaf community event occurred that first semester when I decided to go to a bowling party. I was feeling somewhat confident at the time in that I could ask people a few questions such as “How are you?” “Where do you go to church?” “Are you married?” “Do you have kids?” etc. As you can see, I was like many hearing people that sign to a deaf person they meet, “I…know…some…sign…” and think they can communicate just like a deaf person. Anyways, I had my memorized phrases in my pocket and was ready to go.

I drove to our church (there is a small bowling alley in the basement of the Family Life Center) and walked in to a room full of people signing. I was a little overwhelmed…well, okay, I was VERY overwhelmed. I ended up sitting with a few other hearing students who didn’t know any sign and we just talked about class. A few brave deaf people approached us and tried to communicate a little.

In the end, I decided after that first experience that I would never attend another deaf event until I was a PROFICIENT signer. I learned that it takes a lot more than a few memorized words and phrases to communicate effectively. However, until I became proficient, I decided no more deaf parties and no more Deaf-World for me.