Living Among the Deaf

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The Deaf are a different cultured people and cannot simply be lumped in with the ethnicity of their heritage or labeled the same as other peoples per the location of their birth and upbringing.  This is something I have noticed and had explained to me.  For nearly all considerations, for example, my girlfriend is from Minnesota and appears to be the same as any other Minnesotian.  But when a person is Deaf and is brought up living around other Deaf there are mannerisms and other behavior traits that are hard to overlook after some time is spent with this community.

Since arriving at Gallaudet I have tried to record some of my observations because it is very interesting to me and I would be wasting an opportunity to learn if I were to convince myself it is not worth noticing.  The following is going to layout things I’ve come to associate strongly with some of Deaf peoples’ traits/habits:

Here at Gallaudet University there are SOOO many HandiDogs.  Almost every time I go to the cafeteria or the Student Academic Center I will find a dog at an adjacent table or passing me in the hallways.  Now, mind you, these animals are on leashes.  I mentioned to my girlfriend this phenomenon of so many students on a college campus having pet dogs and she said it is something that has really developed in the few years since she entered Gallaudet.  People seem to learn of their rights to own a dog on a college campus and to be able to take it anywhere (other than the SAC Computer Lab) as long as they have the HandiDog license that the Deaf are privy too.  I think it’s a pretty cool deal.

Enter a bathroom following a Deaf person and sometimes you are going to find the faucet still running.  The first couple times this happened I read it as something a college student was doing absentmindedly or deliberately in resentment of authority, obligation, or something worth rejecting with attitude.  But the more it happened I started to take notice that something else was going on here.  Then it hit me:  should a Deaf person wash their hands or face and then turn for a paper towel, after drying off their mind may have already turned to the next thing and without an audible reminder that the water is still running maybe it just slips their mind they’ve yet to turn off the faucet.

Dorm life with the Deaf is interesting.  We can blare our music as loud as humanly possible and many people still are not going to be distracted by it.  Alarm clocks can be found blaring for hours and hours without a single person taking notice.  To check if someone is in the shower the Deaf can’t rely on hearing the water running in the shower stall so many will pull the first curtain open a bit to look for a towel on the wall.

An assumption I had before beginning to learn ASL t is that because the Deaf use subtitles and captions then their language must match the language that is used to broadcast subtitles and captions, namely, English.  Boy, was I ever wrong.

Finally, there is the very creative means of grabbing someone’s attention that you want.  The Deaf will hit a wooden floor if in the basketball gym, for example.  Or someone will pound a table if someone’s hand or elbow or torso is touching it but their eyes are elsewhere.  Sometimes it is fine to toss an object as the person depending on the scenario.  For example, if someone is standing on a concrete floor and no easily produced vibration will reach them then it is fine to toss something safe to touch them or to toss it through their visual field (which appears to be much broader than your average hearing person).  And light sources are used extensively.  I had no idea until I showed up at Gallaudet that there would be a light switch outside of every room to alert the tenants inside.  Mobile phone illumination can be used in darker setting by waving the device in a way to grab someone’s attention.

All of this is new to me and makes me realize there is going to be much more to come as time passes and I remain a part of the Deaf community.  It is really enlightening in a way to explore a way that others do things that suit themselves just fine and because of a new predicament you find yourself in these ways used by others can be adopted.  All of it really helps me out!

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