Category Archives: American Sign Language

Deaf in Church

It’s a chilly morning.

I’ve got my coffee and sitting on my patio in hopes of letting nature around me to inspire me along with Casting Crowns blaring into my earphones. I’ve had a writer’s block for the past couple of days (maybe even weeks) when it comes to what I wanted to write about. Today, I am just going to be honest and straightforward… And gracious.

There has been one issue that has bothered me for years. Yes, years. I’ve let it go as something as being, “Oh, that’s life. Nothing is going to change.”

Yet, I wonder… Can it?

Here’s the question: Why are there not many Deaf people in churches? Why is it so hard for a Deaf person to find a church to plug into?

Everytime I move, it’s back to the question of, “Oh, where am I going to go to church?” I search for churches with interpreters, and many times it’s a frustrating struggle. Especially when the kind of church I would like to go to doesn’t have interpreters.  I was fortunate when I was living in Virginia, but here I am 700 miles away from there and at the place of struggling with the whole Deaf/church issue all over again.

I do have a church that I really like, and it did have an interpreter for a while, but the interpreter does have a life of her own and couldn’t do it anymore… Thus… Leaving me in a place of just surviving. I do the best I can to not be a burden, but I’ll be frank – it’s a frustrating and lonely place to be.

I tried a Catholic church for a while, since they offered interpreting and the priest signed. It was wonderful, but I was, again, alone. I’m not a Catholic, and even though I did try to become one years ago, I still felt isolated as not every Catholic church offered interpeters. Also, I didn’t have the fellowship that I direly needed, as the general deaf population in the church were almost 20 to 30 years older than me. Being a mother to two children and a wife to a husband going blind, I knew I needed friendships and fellowship.

Some people might tell me, “Oh, you just need God.” That might be true, but God made us to need fellowship and friendship. We are social creatures, and because of this, I knew I needed to find a balance… But this is a whole different subject.

Back to the problem: Deaf people and churches.

Why is it so difficult?

Here is what I think is why.

  • “You can lip-read?”  Not many people are aware of the struggles a Deaf person goes through in this very hearing and noisy world. I am sure many don’t realize how exhausting and imperfect lipreading is. When I sit in the front and try lipreading the speaker at church, there are many times I miss a joke and hear the congregation laughing, but I don’t know what they’re laughing about. The speaker moves around on stage and then there’s the microphone that covers the mouth… Both are not ideal for lipreading. The projection of a slide show behind the speaker helps, but I’m not getting everything.
  • Interpreters getting burnt out. I’ve had so many experiences of having interpreters quit serving in churches because they’re tired and feel they aren’t appreciated. It can become a thankless job when people take them for granted. I’ve seen interpreters give up for this reason.  This is one reason why I don’t push for one, though I know I should. Yet, my experience has taught me to be grateful when I do get one, and I strive to make them feel appreciated and pray they don’t get burnt out. When life gets in the way for them, I don’t push it.
  • Lack of funding for Interpreters. Paying for an interpeter is one way of insuring one being available, but it’s not cheap. Because of this, the interpreters are basically a volunteer position in a church environment. To interpret a service, which would be, on average, an hour or two. That can be exhausting for one person to do, which brings us back to the interpreter becoming burnt out. Oh, what an ugly cycle.
  • Many churches don’t “have a calling” to serve the Deaf community. I’ve called numerous churches when I moved to Denver, and many of them told me flat out that they didn’t provide an interpreter. I was told that it is possibly because they don’t think of it as being a need. A Deaf person looks like everyone else… It is definitely an invisible challenge.
  • “Interpreters” are not skilled enough. I’ve had the unfortunate exprience of attending a church with an interpreter who signed in Signed Exact English with a mix of something else. Needless to say, I was completely lost for a while. I did start to recognize some of the signs as I had been taught SEE when I was very young. In the end, I was exhausted from having to translate in my head what I wasn’t familiar with to even understand what the service was about. I knew I was not returning to that church.
  • Drama.  Yes, I did use that D-word. I’m sorry to say this, but I’ve seen enough drama take down Deaf Ministries and cause conflicts between interpreters, church members, and visiting deaf individuals. The church I grew up in, sadly, lost it’s ministry for several reasons, and drama was one I noticed to be part of it. Deaf people left the church as it made them uncomfortable. I left another church for a while because of it.

Now that I’ve pointed out the problems with why Deaf people aren’t in churches; what are we to do about it?

What can I do about it?

I had to think a lot about that… It’s exhausting sometimes to fight for what I need to understand what is going on around me, and then to try to cultivate relationships on top of that- Oi. No wonder I sometimes feel like throwing in the towel!

Believe me, the past couple of weeks I was thinking, “What is the point of going to church?”

I was reminded of why the Church was created in the first place. We need each other.

“But GOD… What can I DO? I’m the Deaf one.”

“No. You’re a BRIDGE.”

There are times when I wish God wouldn’t remind me of that calling.

“I’m tired. I feel so alone.”

God then reminds me of the verse that pretty much every Christian knows.

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I think I need that tattooed on me somewhere so I don’t forget.

So, again, I asked, “What can I do?”

With me being a BRIDGE, I can help those who can hear to understand of this great need. I’ve been wanting to do a sign class for ages, but the fear of adding one more thing onto my already full plate has held me back. I might just have to take that leap of faith and trust that things will be provided to help me do it.

This may not solve the interpreter situation, but it would help build an understanding and break down communication barriers that would cultivate relationships. It could also bring an awareness to a need. There are many people who come to church and see me sign songs, but I often wonder –  do they think I am fine?

Maybe.

Nothing will change if I don’t do something…

Guess it’s time to break out of my shell and try.

I just saw this quote on Facebook, and it is so true:

“Change can be scary, but you know what’s scarier?

Allowing fear to stop you from growing, evolving, and processing.”

~Unknown


To My Mother: She Heard Me and Held Me

In the 6 years I’ve had this blog, I’ve not once written anything in honor of my amazing mother. Well, today that’s what I’m doing. It’s to be a perfect tribute to a woman who took on the extra mile of being a mother to a deaf and partially blind child… And it’s Mother’s Day.

To start, my mom was a very young woman, just in her first year of her marriage to my dad, when she became pregnant with me. To top it off, she became sick with German Measles in the first trimester.

It is also called Reubella, and if you know about it, you can understand that it is a terrifying situation for a woman that early in her pregnancy. She could have chosen to terminate it, knowing there would be a good chance I would be severely disabled, but she didn’t. My mom had faith that God would protect me and things would be fine. She trusted God’s will, no matter what that would mean.

I’m glad she did.

When I was born, my mom was thrilled to find me healthy and whole. She didn’t know of my deafness or of the weak retinas I gained from Reubella. I grew, cried, and ate like any baby. I babbled and played, which didn’t reveal any of my disablities, until I was around three years old. I was still babbling, and a friend of my mom hinted, “I think your daughter is deaf. Maybe you should get her hearing tested?”

That meant my family, which now included my little brother, would need to drive down to a bigger city hours away from home for me to have the test done. If I remember correctly, from what my mom had shared with me, it was in Tucson, Arizona, at the University of Arizona, where I got my hearing tested.  They were able to confirm what everyone was wondering.

“Yes, your daughter is deaf.  She has a severe to profound hearing loss.”

That shook my family’s world, and we all moved down to Tucson to give me the best access to services to help me get hearing aids, an education, and family support.

I went to a school in Tucson called “Clinic for Hearing Impaired Children.” Now, the term “hearing impaired” went out years ago as it was considered not “politically correct”, but it was the ’80’s, and people were still learning how to help deaf and hard of hearing people gain a better quality of life and education.  I learned “Total Communication,” which is the method of teaching sign language while teaching how to speak and understand the English language.

While I was going there, my mom came every day and watched me in my classes through a one way window. She took the time to learn the signs and continue what I learned in school at home.

I wish I could say that was common with deaf children, but sadly, it isn’t. Most of the time, parents send their deaf children to a residental state school for the deaf and let the dorm parents take care of them. A few of them took the time and effort to learn sign so they could communicate with their children, and I do know a few of them.

As I grew up, my mom was there being my “coach” on the swim team, my interpreter at church, and my advocate as I was mainstreamed in the public schools. She even became my teacher as she homeschooled me for a couple of years. She taught me to stand up for myself. She ingrained Philippians 4:13 in to my head. “Just because you are deaf, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.”

At 11 years old, I lost partial vision in my right eye. I went to eye doctors and specialists and found out that I had a tear in my retina in the central part of my vision. Once it healed, it left a permanent scar in the center of my vision. My eye became lazy and permanently shifted to the right, giving me the ability to use the remaining of my vision to see some things around me.

That didn’t stop me.

I went to Hawaii with my Girl Scout troop, and my mom was my offical interpreter for the trip. What a blast! She encouraged me when I found my love for signing songs. When it came to deciding college, she was all for me going 2000 miles from home to Gallaudet University. What mom would do that?! She knew it was the right school for me.

Now as a mom, she has been a huge support and friend when I went through rough patches, and in turn, I was able to be there for her when she went through hers.  We are miles away from each other, but thanks to technology, we visit online almost every day, and we do video chats to share how we’re doing.

All of that…. Is my Mom. God blessed me in having an amazing Mom, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


ASL is my Language!

I was on Facebook for the past couple of days and noticed an interesting trend amongst my Deaf friends. They were all upset about something that the AGBAD (Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf) had posted in response to a Washington Post article about Nyle DiMarco, a very successful Deaf individual who is a winner of America’s Next Top Model and is now a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. He has a very admirable aspiration to give deaf children earlier access to ASL in schools, and I applaud him on it.

I did a search online to find out what exactly they were upset about.

I found it…

AGBAD Response to Nyle’s Aspiration

I had to read it twice to believe what I was reading.

Now, let me get this straight. They said, “… deaf children are able to learn spoken language by listening.”

I don’t know what planet they’re on, but a DEAF child cannot HEAR in the first place. They only can by way of technology, as in hearing aids or in a Cohlear Implant.

There was so much in their response that made my skin crawl.

Let me tell you why.

I was born deaf. I am profoundly deaf in my right ear and severe in my left. Without my hearing aids, I can’t hear much of anything. You might drop a pan on the floor. I’ll hear that and jump, but if you talk to me, I’m not going to hear anything.

My parents didn’t know I was deaf until I was three years old. So, for THREE years, I had no language. Granted, back in the early ’80’s, they didn’t have hearing tests for babies at the hospital when they were born. So, when I was found to be deaf, my mom wanted me to have any kind of communication available. I was placed in an awesome school in Tucson, Arizona, that went by the name of “C.H.I.C”, Clinic for Hearing Impaired Children, and I was taught Total Communication, which is a combination of sign language and speech therapy.

I learned how to talk, listen, and SIGN. I have friends who went to the same school, and they function fairly well in both worlds. Yet, a lot of my friends have more profound hearing loss than I do, and hearing is not possible for them, even with hearing aids. So, to take away the one language that would give them 100% understanding, that would be cruel. Even I, who has a lip-reading score of 86%, don’t get everything even with hearing aids. I hate it when I don’t get everything, so I depend on interpreters when I can get them. I even ask for them.

I even went to Gallaudet. Oh, God forbid!

But I blossomed in that world! People understood the frustrations I had with being at a hearing party and missing out on the conversation going on around me. Oralism isn’t going to fix that. I don’t have the super powers to read everyone’s lips and understand what everyone is saying. What I read in AGBAD, it seemed to me they wanted that. When I was around my deaf friends signing, I UNDERSTOOD everything.

I told my dad about the whole situation, and he’s hearing. He was flabbergasted that a group of people thought that way. “If they so badly want deaf people to talk, they should think about preaching Total Communication!” He knows how well sign language works, as he works with several deaf people and even taught some of the hearing people signs that worked in the loud working environment they’re in. He even said that ASL was great for communicating to me and my hearing brother in a crowded room without raising his voice. Yes, even my hearing brother and hearing parents learned sign. I consider myself extremely blessed to have grown up in a family like this. They accepted me for who I am and embraced it into their own life.

I’m even working towards my Masters in Special Education, and I’m going to be supporting my students to learn to their upmost ability. I will even support using sign language for those who struggle with communicating orally.

Okay…. I think I’ve stood on my soap box long enough. Thanks for “hearing” me out.


Deaf Educating the Hearing

Tonight I had the opportunity to teach a group of hearing, plus one becoming deaf, people about my world.

I had been working on it for a while, especially in preparing a series of slides and making an outline of what to talk about in the allotted hour that I was given. That was a challenge. There is SO much I could say about it.

I narrowed it down to the basics- Hearing loss, how we try to function in a hearing world, and all the things that involve our lives, such as closed captioning, hearing aids, and interpreters. I figured that would be good enough information to help them understand a little bit of our world.

I was pretty nervous all day about how I was going to start, and yet, I knew I was going to be okay. I had my slide show done, and got some ear plugs to have my “students” put in their ears to give them a little bit of deafness for a game I had planned on doing.

I started out with explaining a bit of about the wide range of deafness and what mine was, which was from birth. It was interesting to see the reaction of how my mother didn’t know I was deaf until I was around 3 years old.  I shared a little of my own memories of hearing with my hearing aids for the first time.

I signed and spoke as I went along… Then I had everyone put their earplugs in. We came to find out they didn’t cancel out a whole lot of sound, so I modified the game to where I just whispered the words while they wore the ear plugs. It was hilarious!  Simple words had them baffled. We laughed as we saw each other’s puzzled faces, even after repeating the words several times. I had them write down what they thought I said, and at the end of the game, we all had a lot of fun seeing who got it right and who didn’t. We also had a little bit of fun hearing what others thought I had said when they were wrong. I went on to say that reading lips for a long period of time, for a Deaf person, is exhausting. I saw one person, who is going deaf, nod with agreement.

The next thing we talked about was the variety of hearing aids over time, and I even threw in a comical picture of a “hearing aid” that was an exaggerated piece of art in reality.  I shared about the struggles of having a hearing aid, especially with how expensive they are. The topic of the Cochlear Implant was also brought up, and, even though it’s not something I feel is right for me, it is an option for anyone who feel it is for them.

TTYs and TTDs came up, and then I discussed how videophone has opened such a great way for Deaf people to make phone calls. I had tried to call a friend on my VP, but there was a bit of a technical difficulty. Fortunately, I had the sense to have some pictures of what a VP conversation roughly looks like. The class could even see a picture of how VRS (Video Relay Service) works.  What was really awesome was we had someone who worked at the 911 center share his own experience of working with the relay services to help Deaf people who needed the 911 service.

When we came to talk about ASL (American Sign Language), I shared a little bit of history and how sign language is different in every country. I showed a little bit of what I knew of BSL ABC signs. It was a bit awkward. I told the story of my brother’s experience of finding out how different Australian sign language was from the sign language he had learned from being my brother. We had a little fun of showing how expressive the language is and the necessity of facial expression. My daughter even piped up about how it looks when I am mad.  “Show them, Mom!” I told her no… I didn’t want to scare them off!

Before we knew it, the hour was over. Questions shot up and a lot of them were really good ones. The creation of name signs, how to learn the language – book vs. class, and questions about my own experiences.

Now that I’m done with this class, I am wondering where this will take us… Perhaps a sign class? I think it would be a great way to open up communication between Deaf and Hearing people, even if its just in my church!  One thing I am excited about is being able to help a couple communicate with ASL with one of them becoming deaf. They’re looking forward to it, and I am, too.