Being a HUG at Gallaudet: Does Everyone Sign All the Time?

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Question #3: Does everyone sign all the time?

Okay, so what is so scary about people signing? Well, maybe a better word would be “intimidating.” For many HUGs, being in a constant state of signing and not having an immediately accessible (or noticeable) venue for speaking and hearing can be slightly intimidating.

In my opinion, this is because we all–no matter who we are–have an inexpressible need and desire to be with those who are “like us.” By “like us,” I mean people who share the same identity that we have. In this case, “identity” involves communication mode. A hearing person sort of “gives up” a part of their identity to be in the Deaf-World. They stop using their voices and ears, which is a part of who they are even if they do not think about it, to understand others and to express themselves as they begin using another mode to communicate with others. In the same way, Deaf people have to “give up” part of their identity–signing and visually receiving information–in order to participate in the hearing world. In the end, what we get is an identity crisis.

I think the best way to solve this issue, is to have an outlet. Be creative and think of places you can go when you have “withdrawals” for your identity as a hearing person. Some HUGs may need an occasional or rarely visited outlet, but for others, they may need more time visiting these outlets, especially when they are new to the Deaf-World. If you think about it, Deaf people have had this same practice. They have frequent meetings at Deaf Clubs, congregate at their own churches and synagogues, go to the same schools (i.e. Deaf schools and Gallaudet), and attend DPHH (Deaf Professional Happy Hour). Some people feel the need to be more involved with those who have the same identity and others feel comfortable spending less time or equal time with those who are “like them.”

For me, I have two outlets while I am at Gally. One is church. I do not mind going to a Deaf church on occasion, but I feel like I need to spend most of my Sunday mornings worshipping at a hearing church. I do not mind if the church has Deaf attendees or interpreters. I just need to “hear” the Word of God in my first language. If I were Deaf, I believe things would be the other way around and I would want to “see” the Word of God in my first language.

My second outlet is spending a little time on an occasional weekend with hearing friends. I have a good friend of mine with whom I graduated high school, who lives and works in DC. If my voice starts feeling rusty from disuse and my identity is shaken, I get together with this friend for an afternoon to visit or to sight-see.

To answer the question though, no, not everyone signs. Most undergraduate students have at least some working knowledge of ASL. Almost all Deaf students sign. Some Hard-of-Hearing people sign; some speak and use interpreters. Most International students sign, but some do not know ASL well yet. Some professors sign, but many use interpreters in the classroom because they either cannot sign at all or cannot sign well. Much of the cleaning and cafeteria staff do not sign or sign very little.

However, in all cases, there is at least some signing all the time. In the cafeteria, you will find a mosh pit of all the above students interacting with each other through both speech and sign. In the classroom, you may have a student or teacher using an interpreter, but while that student or professor speaks, the others in the room sign. Almost all of the student health service providers speak and do not sign well. Most events on campus, while signed, will have an interpreter present and if not, you can request one if you feel it is necessary.

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