Journey To The Center Of…The Deaf-World?

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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.

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2 Responses to “Journey To The Center Of…The Deaf-World?”

  1. Jess Says:

    Casey,
    LOVE your stories! Hope you will still be at Gallaudet Fall 08…I would love to meet you!

  2. gucasey Says:

    Thank you! Yes, I plan to be here in the fall. Have you already been accepted?

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