A couple of years ago, I was faced with taking a foreign language to satisfy the last twelve hours I needed to finally graduate college. As a grown person, I was really uncomfortable with the realization that I would have to learn Spanish, German or French. One of my English professors suggested ASL (American Sign Language). I was told I had lost hearing in my right ear and by no means would I at this point in my life be deaf; however, I found the tip something I was quite interested in. I had never encountered a deaf person until my first ASL class in the fall of 2003.
So, I walked in and there was Professor Mark Wood, just waiting until the class arrived. There was an interpreter in the room going over the syllabus with us, so I calmed myself down and decided this would be ok – until the announcement came that this would be the interpreter’s last meeting with us.
What? I was scared to death. How would I communicate nonetheless pass this class I was dreading?
Well, I am blessed to have been introduced into ASL and the deaf culture by such a good experience both by Mark, who was deaf at birth, and by Ray Olsen, my second Professor, who became deaf after a severe fever when he was a young boy. Like many people, I had stereotypes of the deaf person, not because I had ever met any but because I was ignorant. Here in my life came two different deaf people with backgrounds like no one I had ever met.
Over the past year, I have met several deaf folks in this Geist community. Now mind you, my signing is absolutely terrible and my reading of sign language even worse! But my two daughters are involved in soccer, Girl Scouts and various activities through school, and in these activities are many children who are hearing but have deaf families. So you know what? I taught my kids how to sign “good game,” “hi” and their names in sign language.
I don’t know if these multi-faceted families realize it or not, but their kids have such an awesome opportunity to be emerged in both cultures. They keep the deaf culture alive within the family and yet they bring something else in the ability to react within the hearing. The kids are absolutely brilliant and make me think of such a tremendous future in that they are multi-cultural and will be such an asset in this world. I would love for my children to be able to sign fluently.
I think awareness of the phenomena in the area is key. I am absolutely not an expert, but wanted to raise awareness and address simple questions such as what the proper etiquette is, what you do if you want to say hi, how you act, etc.? First off, I have not had a negative experience whatsoever. I have introduced myself in sign language to many folks and they know right off of the bat that I am a beginner signer – but would you believe they are eager to sign and even patient enough to work with me even when I get D and F confused? The facial expressions and intimacy that exists between people when signing is so different from the hearing world. Hearing people are interrupted often by cell phones ringing and the blackberry emailing us and such. We have lost that sincere person to person communication. I admire that about sign language and the deaf culture overall.
I have a couple of people in mind, but I would like to make the motion to nominate a deaf person for the “meet your neighbor” column of atgeist.com. There are some super individuals living in the area that would make great candidates!
If you do know sign language, it is considered polite that if you know sign language to let them know so they do not think that they are having an absolutely private conversation. You can interrupt their signing by tapping on the shoulder, waving your hand or stomping the ground. I went to a football game at the deaf school and was absorbed in the way the teenagers were acting – they are the same as hearing teenagers; talking or signing a mile a minute and laughing and carrying on. I thought it would be sad or not fun to be deaf – one of my stereotypes, but I found out that deaf people are happy too! You can say hi if you want to – just give them a wave and a smile (Facial expressions say far more than you can imagine.).
Even some of the local school systems are hiring ASL interpreters and instructors because ASL is fast becoming one of the top languages in the nation. Hamilton Southeastern Schools is seeking a part-time ASL instructor. I believe that ASL is considered third after Spanish as the most commonly used language in our nation.
The Fishers Library is offering the signing of stories on the first Friday of every month from 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. You can visit their website at www.hepl.lib.in.us. The Fishers Parks and Recreation is offering a sign language for babies’ class as well. For more information on this class visit www.fishers.in.us.
It is important that we recognize and realize how different groups within this Geist area contribute to the community that we are. I am truly blessed to have had this experience and hope to help bridge a friendship between hearing and deaf within our community.