Tag Archives: American Sign Language

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.

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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.


Music for Different Ears

I had the sad experience of having my beloved ipod stolen from me yesterday and it really made me realize how vital music plays in my life.

Its a tad ironic that it does since I have been born with a hearing loss, and music wouldn’t be naturally considered a part of my life, especially with my right ear is profoundly deaf. To help you understand what that means, there are four different levels of hearing loss; Mild, Moderate, Severe, and Profound, in that order. People who usually have moderate to slightly profound have found assistance through hearing aids to help them be able to get something out of the sounds around them. Once you’re in the deep profound range, hearing aids usually don’t have the power to help you. I do have several friends who are in this range who have opted to use the controversial Cochlear Implants to give them some kind of hearing to function in a very noisy world. As for me, I am able to use hearing aids to pick up most of the sounds around me, though there are some ranges of sound my ears will never be able to pick up like any normal person would be able to, and it is worse in my right ear, as my husband can attest to when the battery in my left hearing aid goes out. That doesn’t stop me from listening to my music. I crank up my music on my ipod to the point where sometimes people around me can hear it a little bit, or I have my hearing aids on while I have music playing in my car or in my home.  Right now, with my earphones on, I have the volume cranked all the way up to 100 off my computer to listen to music. I’m sure the normal hearing person wouldn’t have it cranked up that high with headphones on.

Growing up, my home was always filled with music. My parents sang in the church choir. I loved my mother’s voice and was jealous of my bother’s gift of music. It was hard being the only one who wasn’t musically gifted, all thanks to my hearing loss, but I did find a different way to channel my love for music a different way eventually.  Signing songs gave me a way to truly enjoy the music I listened to, and I love a very wide range of music.

Pandora has been a favorite access site for me to dabble in the many different forms of music available to me, and currently I am sitting here listening to the “New Age” music. It calms me and invigorates my imagination. I would write my poems, which I have not done in a long time, or create short stories in my head inspired by some of my favorite literary settings or characters. My all time favorite is Middle-Earth, though I have visited Prince Edward Island, Narnia, England, and the Renaissance era, just to name a few. But when I’m not in the need of calming, I use music to motivate me.  Techno or Rock moves me to exercise or clean around my home. For encouragement during a rough time in my life, I turn to my Worship music like Chris Tomlin or Michael W. Smith.  When I’m driving, I find it hard not to turn my radio on to listen to the Christian Radio station. If I don’t have the kids in the car with me, I would listen to the Country music station. I’d have my cds playing, but my cd player is currently broken in my car. The reason for not having my kids in the car is because some Country songs are a little questionable for a young child, since they’re reputably known to be about broken relationships and sad situations. I don’t feel comfortable letting my five and three year old hear songs about such things. In this world we live in, I’d like them to keep their innocence for as long as they can.

Back to the subject of music…

Music plays a big part of who I am, and I am grateful for it. Sure, I am an ipod-less person at the moment, but I am not without my hearing aids, a huge collection of cds, a computer to play them on, and, last but not least, there is Pandora to entertain my ears and mind with.

Next month, with the Deaf Ministry group at my church, I will be signing two songs for our annual Spring Sign Concert. The first is a solo of Stand Up by Fireflight and, the second is Healing Rain by Michael W. Smith with a friend of mine. There are to be many other people signing songs during the concert, but for me, its a great way for me to share my love of music and God’s creation of it. He did make us musical creatures – Afterall, we’re the only creation that sings just for the pure expression of the deeper part of ourselves, either it be grief, anger, joy, or peace. Birds and other animals sing for communication, though it is very beautiful to listen to… But that altogether is a whole new subject to get into.

My mind is wandering with pictures of Paradise; green pastures, crystal clear waters, radiant flowers blowing gently falling off trees by a coaxing spring wind, and peace becoming a tangible thing…. Isn’t music a beautiful thing? I know Heaven has to have perpetual music, and I’m looking forward to it.  As for now, I will enjoy my music on Earth and thank God for it everyday. I’ll consider it training for the day I enter His kingdom to “Sing of His Praise Forever”… Even with these different ears of mine.