Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Deaf World Story: Part 4

While I was knee-deep in the Deaf World,  I was also taking ASL classes.  While I don't credit those classes for my language fluency, they did play a crucial role in my learning about the grammar and structure of ASL.  I was aslo beyond blessed to have had an amazing instructor and mentor.  Those classes would prove even more valuable when I began studying interpreting.   More than the classes themselves, my instructor, Linda Dyer, was another sort of "gatekeeper" in my life.  She was a non-native signer like me who had been in the Deaf World for many years.  (I used to tease her about just how many years.)  It was a God-ordained blessing on my life to have her as my instructor and mentor for those 3 years.

My story thus far only takes me through ASL II class.  My experience was so rich and language fluency came quickly because I took the advice of gate-keeper Janice, got involved, had Deaf heart, and didn't try to "help" nor take advantage of people in the Deaf community. There was no where else I wanted to be.  I truly and simply loved them and it obviously showed.

I realize my experience is truly unique for a non-native signer, especially these days.  I'm worried for the up-and-coming interpreter.  I can't begin to get into all the causes behind it, but the Deaf World is changing.  I don't see students approaching the gates any more.  I love how beautifully Molly put it when she said that interpreting students simply pull over off the bypass and look down at the "scenic view" below.  They show up at Deaf coffee or Deaf bowling, watch for a while, and communicate just enough to get a paper signed for their observation hours, but then they leave.  Bypass.  And both communities are suffering for it.

There is more to my story, but for now, I want to share with ASL students and interpreters-in-training the advice I got, plus a couple other things that you should seriously consider about yourself:
1. Are you willing to humble yourself to the Deaf community in your area and admit you know nothing?
2. Are you willing to ask for help?
3. Do you see yourself as someone who is going in to "help" the less fortunate? How do you respond when people say, "Oh, you're an interpreter? I have a cousin who works with special needs kids in a group home. Bless your heart for helping them out."?  Your answer to this question will determine if the gate will ever even open for you.
4. Find something you can do that is mutually beneficial so that you can spend real life in the Deaf World.
5. The older the Deaf person, the more rich the experience you'll have.  That's just my opinion because I adore the Deaf seniors I've had the honor the meet and wonder in their stories.  And no, I'm not hating on the young 'uns.  During college, most of my Deaf friends were around my age.

In my next Deaf World entry, I'm going to talk about what I think some Deaf members of communities can do to enrich their World and their experience with interpreters.  It also ties in to why I think I'm often mistaken for a Deaf person.


  1. Hi, Sarah! I found your blog through YouTube videos of your youngest boys signing with each other. (I was watching the CODA Brothers and pop songs translated into ASL, then found those two adorable kids having a toddler conversation! I can't even tell you how cute it was to watch!)

    I've been catching up with your past blog entries to learn more about your family's amazing journey into adoption, so I know that this comment is nowhere near the date of your original post. However, I just wanted to let you know that there are still young people who approach the Deaf world through gatekeepers, as you did.

    I took an after-school sign language class for the only year it was offered during grade school, and I loved it! It was taught by a hearing person with a Deaf sister. We were only learning Signed English because that's what she and her sister were taught, but it gave me enough confidence to explore ASL through some elective classes in college. I was very disappointed not to have another sign language class offered at my K-12 schools.

    I'm hard of hearing (completely deaf in one ear, with excellent hearing in the other ear), but I was raised in a totally oral world. No one ever guesses I'm HoH because I speak like a hearing person, and whenever I tell people I'm deaf in one ear (I only tell them when I must choose where to sit or stand to hear them), everyone is always completely shocked and them promptly FORGETS about it, no matter how many times I remind them. When I got to college and started learning about Deaf culture and ASL, I realized for the first time how much I identified with the Deaf community and how much more I wanted to communicate through ASL.

    My ASL courses in college were taught by an interpreter who was immersed in the Deaf world and taught us so much about Deaf culture. In her classes, she always signed, pantomimed, gesticulated, or (as a last resort) finger-spelled words for us, never relying on spoken English as a crutch. She introduced me to my first Deaf friends (including a Deaf teaching assistant for the class), and from there, I made more Deaf and hearing friends whom I still keep in touch with years later. I don't have much opportunity to practice ASL anymore, but I want to become more fluent in it again because I miss talking with my friends, not because I want to be "charitable" to "those less fortunate" who need an interpreter.

    Your comments about feeling so comfortable at Deaf events really resonated with me. Being completely deaf in one ear, I have always struggled to communicate within groups of people standing on all sides of me (particularly on my deaf side). But when I went to a sign language club event with my Deaf friends after I'd gained some more fluency, I felt more comfortable than I ever had at any other social gathering IN MY LIFE, simply because I didn't have to struggle to hear anyone's conversations. For the first time in many years, I didn't feel the least bit "disabled." That is what Deaf culture means to me. I understand completely why Deaf people don't consider themselves handicapped, and the hearing friends I made through my ASL classes feel the same way.

    So don't worry, Sarah, there are still a lot of Millenials out there who learn ASL because they respect and want to be part of Deaf culture. Pity has nothing to do with it!

  2. How the deaf communicate is absolutely changing, and thanks to our interpreters who made it all happen. Communication is now made easier because of them.