Tag Archives: ASL Interpreters

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


Denver Comic Con: A Deaf/Blind Perspective

It’s a Sunday evening, and we arrived home from walking roughly a mile from the light rail to our home. It was a blazing 99 degrees outside, and it had reached 100 as a high in the city of Denver. It was definitely a very hot day for being out and about in the city.

Where were we? Well, if you haven’t figured it out from the title of the blog, then let me tell you – We went to Denver’s Comic Con!

I had the blessing of receiving passes for my family and I for all three days of the Comic Con event this year. I had not expected to be so generously blessed, and I was extremely thankful and grateful for the gift. What can I say?  I’m a geek and proud of it.

When we had heard we were having this opportunity, which was in January of this year, my son, who is 8 years old, immediately jumped into action and began to work on a Minecraft Creeper costume out of cardboard boxes and duct tape. I kept telling him, “The Comic Con isn’t until June! You have plenty of time to work on it!” The reason I was telling him this was because he was asking constantly for green and black duct tape for his project.

He had the right idea to start that early… I chose to make a dress two days before the weekend of Comic Con. It was fortunate we were able to find what we needed for my daughter’s Doctor Who costume at the thrift store, but I was, in no way, ready. A whole lot of the reason for this was because we have been without a car for the past three weeks, but that’s a whole different story to tell.

With a few hiccups in our schedule and a couple of late nighters, I managed to make a nice Doctor Who themed dress… Which ended up not fitting me the way I had wanted it to, but it mattered not. I wore it anyway and made it work! (I’m hearing Tim Gunn in my head as I typed that phrase.)

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The kids and I made it there in time to venture around and see some pretty cool costumes all around us. There was also a wide variety of props propped up for picture moments. I happened to grab some pictures of my kids and myself around a couple of them. My picture was naturally with a TARDIS. We also found a R2D2 that looked and moved like the one in the movie. I can’t tell you if it made any of it’s sounds as I couldn’t hear it.

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My husband had to work for a couple of hours while we were at the Convention, and it just happened his office was not too far from where we were. We met up for lunch and then headed back all together.

It was after this when things really got fun.

I had been anxiously wanting to watch a couple of panels for that day. I was also elated to find out that there were to be interpreters there as well. The first was with Cary Elwes, who is every woman and girl’s dream hero as his role of the Farm Boy/ Man in Black in Princess Bride. The stories he shared of his time on the set of the movie as well as a few others he had the privilage to be apart of. His stories of Andre the Giant taunting Cary to go ATV riding, which resulted in Cary breaking his toe right before the filming was to begin. He limped and improvised with this injury throughout most of the filming of the movie, and now I want to go back and watch it again to see if I can tell or not.

He even shared of his  moments of wanting to ride along a real storm chaser for the role he had in “Twister”, and his encounter of the F-3 that gave him the sudden realization of the stark dangers of Mother Nature and told the driver, “REVERSE!” In other words, he wanted the hell out of there and was done with his “research” for his role in the movie.

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The interpreters were amazing in expressing the story, and I was even able to capture some really awesome facial expressions from them.

The next panel was the one and only John Barrowman, a.k.a. Captian Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, and Malcom from Arrow (The latter I am not familar with, to be honest).

Now, for those who don’t know him very well, I will say he is a very loud and flamboyant character. At first, I was a little surprised by him, but I found that I actually love his loud personality.

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He came out in a dress, black high heels, and a black wig and danced around the stage. He saw the interpreters and immediately began to become more interactive with them. He made farting noises. He gave a long one, and watched the interpreter sign “fart” with the expression of how long it was. “Oh, I’m going to have fun with this!” He gave a small high pitch fart sound, and the interpreter showed the expression for it. I was dying. “Oh! Lets try this!” He gave a really interesting one and watched the interpreter recipicate it through sign. “Oh, that’s how we fart at home.” he added.  I was laughing so hard. I looked over to see my kids howling, especially my son who loves to do the same thing John was doing.

He then introduced his husband as he asked for some regular clothes. I will tell you, John is skilled at changing his clothes on stage without making it look awkward.

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At this point, he was taking questions from the audience, and my husband, who loved him as Captain Jack Harkness and had been watching Doctor Who with me before his sight had grown worse, went up to ask him a question. It was his turn, and he said, “Hello, John. I just want to say you’re probably one of the few actors I have been able to see before losing so much of my vision.” The audience reacted to this, and it made my heart break, as he has not been able to watch anything on TV or any movies since his vision had gotten worse around two years ago. “My question is, what was it like dancing with Billie Piper in that episode you did with her?”  John came across the stage and asked my husband to come closer. “How much time do you have left before it’s completely gone?”

“It’s probably between five to ten years, give or take.”

“Oh, you have plenty of time, but just in case…” John grabbed my husband’s hand and guided it across his face and, in a joking way, to his butt. There was roaring laughter as John went, “Oops! Well, you won’t forget that, right?”

(BELIEVE ME… I so wish I had a picture of this moment!)

I had tears in my eyes. Not from laughter. It was from pure joy that my husband was having an amazing experience.

At that moment, I remembered a question I had for him. When I finally had a chance, I went up with my interpreter. I asked him, “Hi. I am deaf, and I wanted to ask you about what, with the fact you had that opportunity to experience being deaf for a day, took from it as an actor? What kind of impact did it have on you afterwards?”

He was able to, from a hearing person’s perspective, of what it was like for him. He even shared how isolating it was and how he understood that it was very common for deaf people to struggle with this. He he also said he learned that it was so important to look at a deaf person to make sure they understand what is being said, just in case they can lip-read. “Is that right?” I nodded and signed loudly, “YES!” He then added an amazing piece of news, “In fact, my sister and I have been writing a series of books, “Hollow Earth”, and one of the main characters is deaf.” My interpreter and I were elated! I signed, “YES! Finally!”  Deaf characters are hardly written about, from my experience, in the fiction world.

The rest of his panel was filled with laughter, and I left there with a headache from all the laughing I had done.

The next day, we went back to venture around the convention floor and see about going to one more panel. On the convention floor, there was an area where you could get in line for an autograph of a wide variety of celebrities. There was a fee for it, which some of the money went for raising funds for raising literacy through using pop culture. My daughter had saved some of her money she had earned to be able to get her favorite actress’, Jenna Coleman, who plays Clara Oswald in Doctor Who, autograph on a drawing she did of a TARDIS. “That is very good!” Jenna said in a thick British accent, as my daughter told me later. I couldn’t hear her voice very well. It made her little 11 year old heart jump with excitment.

 

My husband then signed to me, “Hey, since you’re going to go get John Barrowman’s autograph, why don’t we let our daughter get his autograph on her drawing, too?” I thought that was a great idea. We got in line and waited for a while until he and his troupe finally did show up. Once we got up to seeing him, John recognized my husband and shook his hand again. He asked my daughter, “Do you sign for your mom?”  “Yeah, I do, but I don’t for my dad since he can’t see.” He laughed and smiled. “Of course not!” He told me when I told him I was planning on getting his books, “You can get a link to a website from the book to learn BSL.” “Oh, that’s awesome!” I said, “I want to learn BSL since I want to go to London some day and meet some deaf people there.  I only know how to sign ‘Doctor who’ in BSL.”  “What is it?”  I showed him what I knew. I then showed him how to sign it in ASL. He loved it and copied me before finishing signing my poster. I signed, “Thank you.” and walked away.

We went to the “Women of Doctor Who” panel, featuring Jenna Coleman and Alex Kingston, which was something my little girl was anxious to see. It was so good, but it wasn’t as funny as Cary and John. Sorry, ladies.

Our day ended on a high note as we walked out of the main stage to an area where some displays were, including a row of vehicles from movies. One was of the truck from Twister. I told my husband and he was elated to know it was there.

“Its the the truck that crashed in front of the red truck, freaking out the therapist.”

“Oh, wow. I wish I could feel it, since I can’t see it.”

I didn’t even hesitate as I told him, “Wait here.”  I walked over to the table for the vehicle display and asked the gentleman sitting there, “My husband is blind, and I was wondering if there was any way he could be able to touch the Twister truck. Could he?”  To my surprise, the man immediately starting to get up with a huge smile on his face, “Yes! Of course! That’s my truck!”  He came over and took the chain down and let me lead my husband to the truck. The gentleman came to my husband and introduced himself and began to explain what my husband was touching. “Oh, let me show you where Dorothy is.” He led my husband to the great device that was a key part of the Twister story. There was a huge smile across my husband’s face.  “I can see it in my head as I’m touching it. I can remember what I had seen in the movie.”

There’s so many little things that happened during the Comic Con, but these were the highlights… I have a feeling this geeky and nerdy family is going to be returning next year.