We Are Not Zoo Animals

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Yesterday I heard that a Deaf Culture class from another university would be coming to visit Gallaudet today, and some of us in the DST major were asked to have lunch with them. It was short notice, so only a couple of people were available…I was the only one who showed up. Except I showed up to the wrong place…we had been told to meet at the cafeteria, and they ended up eating at the Marketplace. Whatever – I got over there.

It wasn’t a Deaf Culture class. It wasn’t an ASL class. It was an Anthropology class called “Language and Culture” and they were studying Deaf culture. And they didn’t sign at all. So…I did a lot of talking and listening. Not my favorite – I get enough of that at home – but they were all really sweet and I wanted to help them out if I could, so I talked and listened. (My voice was worn out by the time we were done!)

Like I just said, they were all very sweet, very curious. Every single one had at least ONE question, and the teacher had a LOT of questions. But…they didn’t really know much about Deaf culture. Or deaf people for that matter. I was asked if deaf people like to watch TV. I said yes of course, we watch it with captions. “Oh, really? Deaf people like TV wow!” I said…we’re just like you. Questions like that came up constantly – do deaf people use different cell phones than hearing people because they text so much? (No, we use Blackberries and iPhones and others…just like you.)

The teacher told me they read Inside Deaf Culture and Deaf in America, both by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries. Deaf in America was published in 1988, so I asked if they had ever heard of videophones…nope. I explained that most Deaf people don’t use TTYs anymore, we use sign language, it’s better, faster, etc.

The feeling I really got, though, was that coming to Gallaudet was like going to the zoo for them. Wow, look, DEAF PEOPLE! Look, they are SIGNING! Now, do not misunderstand me. Every single one of them was polite, funny, friendly, curious, and very sweet. I really enjoyed the hour or so that I spent with them. But…we are just us. We are deaf, we are hard of hearing, but we are not zoo animals. I realize this was an anthropology class, but…don’t study us like researchers. We are people. That is my real advice for anybody studying Deaf Culture who comes to Gallaudet. Would you have the same types of questions if you went to Chinatown in NYC, and talked to the Chinese people? “Do Chinese-Americans like TV?” Think about your questions. If you ask thoughtful questions, we will be happy to answer them. But get to know us.

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