June 28, 2010

My Experiences and Journey with ASL And Deaf Culture

I remember when I first started taking ASL courses over 6 years ago. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it! Sign language is such a cool language to learn. There are so many things you can do with sign language that you can never do with spoken language. I wanted to tell everyone and I wanted everyone to learn sign language.

I also started learning about the concept of Deaf Culture. I was truly fascinated by this idea and never really thought that people would view being deaf as more of a "difference" as oppose to a "disability." I started really thinking about deafness, how I view it, how others view it, how I dealt with it up until then.

To be honest, I never really thought about my not hearing too well and wearing hearing aids ever since I was two. I never thought about being hard of hearing. It was not anything that people teased me about or made a big deal about. When my mother found out that I had a hearing loss, she was fine with it and did what she had to do to help me. She got me hearing aids and tried to help me advocate for myself in letting others know so they can better accommodate me in certain situations. I was not a shy kid, I did extremely well in school and got along fine with others. I was never embarrassed about my hearing loss or my hearing aids. It was not a big deal to me at the time. There were no concerns or discussions about my hearing loss. My family just let me be.

When I first started taking ASL and deaf awareness classes, I was forced to really think about my hearing loss for the first time. I was 23 years old. It was an exhilarating experience, claiming my deafness and finally understanding certain things about myself (why I tend to avoid large groups of people, why I prefer one on one, why I was really good at tuning things out, why I was always so tired after certain classes where heavy discussions took place, etc.). I began to understand how I was constantly not acknowledging my hearing loss by pretending to listen and by giving up listening in large group settings, laughing on cue.

It was as if I was awake for the first time. I finally starting to understand. "Oh, that's why I did that!" Or "Why didn't I tell other people I couldn't hear them very well?"

I realized that my hearing loss should have been a big deal. I should have been taught by deaf and hard of hearing teachers how to advocate for myself, what my hearing loss means, what it means to others, and how to deal with it. I was always told that I was fine and doing great. And I was doing extremely well academically and pretty well socially. But, I could have saved a lot of trouble and pain by learning how to own up to my hearing loss, learn more about it, and let others be more aware of it. It would have been nice to have been taught how to deal with certain situations (like conversing with a large group of people).

All of this realization came crashing down on me. I never understood myself so well before.

I am really glad I took up ASL. I highly recommend it.

I became super passionate about Deaf Culture, ASL, and deaf and hard of hearing issues. I would talk about it all of the time with my hearing friends. After a while, I could tell they became tired of hearing about it and being shown signs all of the time. I reached out to the deaf community and constantly went to different events, hungry for sign language. I was upset with how people viewed signing deaf people as "disabled" and I would be upset when I heard about people "pitying" deaf people. I thought the Oral/Aural method was plain wrong, and could not believe that parents and schools would often not provide access to fluent language via signs to profoundly deaf children. I felt really bad for those who went to the Oral schools for the deaf and were forbidden to sign. I felt awful for some of my friends who sat at the dinner table with their families constantly being left out. I knew one person who would bring a book to the dinner table. They were being excluded constantly, because of the lack of sign language and awareness. I could not understand why many parents would not learn sign language for their profoundly deaf children. I was highly opinionated about various issues and I let everyone know.

Then I went to graduate school. I was still very pro sign language and deaf culture. But, slowly I started to change my views again.

Just about everyone at school were focused on sign language and Deaf culture. Virtually all of my classes were about educating severely-profoundly deaf children who use sign language. I was attending several 'deaf events' where everyone signed. I was all for ASL and viewing deafness in a more cultural light. I even opposed cochlear implants.We do not need to 'fix' deafness, we need to embrace it. Although, there were times that I was told that I was not 'deaf enough' and never will be and that I will never understand---I just ignored those jerks.

Then during the summer, I took a cued speech course. I loved it. I really benefited from the class and learned how I was incorrectly saying some words. I could automatically visually see how words are spoken. It was so cool! I then realized that it does not have to only be about ASL. There are many other ways we can educate and communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people. There are many ways to be deaf and hard of hearing.

Then I started to thinking about hard of hearing people like myself. What about people who do not use sign language or who prefer to communicate orally/aurally? What about those who have mild-moderate hearing losses? Why aren't we learning about this population at my school? Why does it always have to be sign, sign, sign? I did not want to be so close minded anymore about deaf education. I wanted to open up my mind and explore other areas.

I started to learn about oral/aural methods, cued speech, visual phonics, cochlear implants, etc. I became more interested in diversity. Being a teacher today has gotten me more aware of how there are many different ways of being deaf.

So, that's where I am at right now. I am open to all ideas and I try to understand where everyone is coming from. I do not like to tell other people what to do or what I think they should do. I can only provide what information I have and leave it up to the person to decide what to do with it.

I feel bad about how I would force my ideals on others in the past, especially when I was super passionate about ASL and Deaf culture. I now realize that this is not a nice thing to do, especially when others did not ask for my opinions.



  1. Ah, I've been there and done that. Gone from not accepting my deafness at all to being rabidly pro-deaf. Neither worked for me. I have found my place in the center of the spectrum...simply being me...fairly comfortable with either the hearing or the Deaf, most comfortable with the hard of hearing. However, I have realized that there's more to life than the status of my ears, so I don't even focus so much on my place there anymore...I focus most on who I am as a person :)

  2. That says it all, "focus most on who I am as a person." People need to get rid of these high expectations of what we're supposed to do, act, behave and so on. Otherwise they'll find themselves deeply disappointed.

  3. I was kind of like that too, coming from a deaf family I was anti-CI once. The more I learned about the many ways one can be deaf, the more I'm open to all of it. I look back and can't believe that I actually was anti-CI once. The one thing that made me open up more was my asking questions, I tend to analyze things deep and that kind of helped me be a better person and more accepting of all the different ways there are to be deaf. To me, that is re-defining deaf. Deaf doesn't have to be this or that, but, it can be any way one choose to be.

  4. I try to take cued speech in my adult life, I couldn't do it because I didn't know which sounds goes with what. It was mostly guessing for me ( just like speechreading is guesswork) I'm profoundly deaf since birth So I had to cross cued speech out. I also had to cross out SEE because written English or spoken does not come easy for me. It choppy and take alot of thinking and I'm visual thinker. I would love to take that visual thoughts and express it to people. So what is the answer for an Oral profound deaf ADULT who struggle (as in frustrated, not as in how well I do) English to communicate with other deaf people so we can no longer we say "no more isolation?"

    It doesn't hurt for mild/moderate/late deafened/hearing etc. to learn ASL so we all can unite and work together without any communication holding us back and even give each other job opportunities.

  5. It's a journey. :) Continue to be open and explore, and the world continues to open up even more.

    I've been grateful to meet so many diverse folks-- my world has certainly become richer as a result of that diversity. Kudos to you for opening up your world even more.

  6. Maybe the lesson here is that it all depends on how much effective hearing one has.

    The HOH have an entirely different situation than the profoundly deaf (and especially the culturally Deaf). They have different experiences and problems and run into different situations with hearing people than the deaf.

    There isn't much to recognize that sphere of experience out there despite the HOH being far more numerous. Either they get lumped with the Hearing or thrown into the category of the d/Deaf.

    There's validity in recognizing that unique set of experiences and in educating both sides about it. As a culturally Deaf person, I'm all ears.

  7. Yup, been there. Now as a Deaf mom to two Deaf children who have varying hearing losses and have different communication needs, I am more or less aware of the fact that one size does not fit all and that the opinions are just perspectives, nothing more.

    Like Karen Putz said, life is just a journey... from birth to death.

  8. Right, Karen Mayes. And what Karen Putz said is all there is to it. Life is one big journey. There is no need to inject anything else whether it's about your hearing loss or your inability to walk. We are on our own special journey.

    Kokonut Pundit

  9. As others have remarked, and you have discovered, there are lots of ways to be deaf or hard-of-hearing or hearing-impaired, and lots of ways to accommodate or adapt in the world.

    When you say "Not many people studied other ways they can teach and work with deaf and hard of hearing children," I have to say, the reason your sign language instructors have been emphasizing sign, sign, sign is that historically (up to perhaps as late as 1980s) there was zero emphasis on sign language. For about 100 years, it was against most school policies to acknowledge that ASL is a language with sufficient expressiveness to serve in all situations (family, community, education at all levels, professional, among strangers). And for perhaps 60 years before that, from the time of the founding of the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, people learned sign, but not with any attention to its grammar or how it fits into the instructional environment. Many speech therapy or audiology training programs or even deaf education programs still do not present pro-sign language perspectives.

    How ironic that you, who might have benefited earlier from methods emphasizing auditory strategies and ways to alert your companions and instructors to your needs in the instructional setting, only now as an adult are learning about them.

    It's okay, you can still say ASL is a cool language to learn, and at the same time say "I need X, Y, and X" to function in this setting.

    (PS I'm hearing and starting learning ASL seriously in my 20's, but still think it's a cool language to know now some 40 years later.)

  10. NancyF,

    No one taught me ways to deal with being hard of hearing because my teachers were trained to work with severely-profoundly deaf children who sign. It would have been nice if they knew how to work with kids like me--who are in between. I was only saying that there was no emphasis on children who have mild-moderate losses or deaf and hard of hearing children who don't sign. See, that negativity you are projecting in your comment, because I made a comment about how I thought there was too much emphasis on one method-signing, is what turned me off from being entirely involved with the signing deaf cultured communities. Because I began exploring other avenues while also consistently using sign language, some people in the in the Deaf cultured signing communities started looking down on me. I don't want to be a part of that.


  11. (e,
    thanks for your rapid response.

    I agree with you that in-between is a tough place to be, and teachers need to be ready to help kids with all kinds of hearing loss and all kinds of methods.

    I'll be happy to follow your blog and learn vicariously what you're learning.

  12. Thanks NancyF, I appreciate your comments. Please feel free to email me anytime if you have any questions. :)

    I love blogging, hearing and learning from others who take the time to read this blog.


  13. I am confused; would you mind clarifying your ASL experiences?

    This was from your profile:
    “…I am profoundly deaf in my left ear and mild-moderately deaf in my right ear (severe-profound loss in the high tones, mild loss in the lower tones). ..I started learning sign language about seven years ago. It is what led me to become more interested in hearing loss and Deaf culture. I rely on lip-reading and clear, understandable speech. I am always interested in hearing loss issues, especially ones I can relate to.

    This was from your comment to a posted comment:
    “…No one taught me ways to deal with being hard of hearing because my teachers were trained to work with severely-profoundly deaf children who sign….”

    This was from your latest blog after you learned ASL:
    “…I was 23 years old. It was an exhilarating experience, claiming my deafness and finally understanding certain things about myself (why I tend to avoid large groups of people, why I prefer one on one, why I was really good at tuning things out, why I was always so tired after certain classes where heavy discussions took place, etc.). I began to understand how I was constantly not acknowledging my hearing loss by pretending to listen and by giving up listening in large group settings, laughing on cue.…It was as if I was awake for the first time. I finally starting to understand. "Oh, that's why I did that!" Or "Why didn't I tell other people I couldn't hear them very well?"

    That led me to wonder. Wouldn’t you want your DHH students to experience an exhilarating moment as you did at but at an earlier age? On the other hand, why would you disparage ASL if it’s one “of a billion ways of being deaf?”

    What is it that you want to tell us?

  14. I am currently working with families and children using ASL. I am also encouraging my students to learn ASL. It depends on what my students want and are interested in. I do talk with them a lot about Deaf culture, sign language, what their hearing loss means, and such. I do think ASL is great and useful for some kids. I am for ASL, I am just not only for it. I am open to other options. I was just talking about my experience as a hard of hearing woman discovering ASL and certain deaf/hoh issues and going down my own personal journey and making my own choices from what I have learned.


  15. http://robertmason.blogspot.com/2010/06/radical-founding-fathers-mcconnell.html

  16. Your students are lucky to have such an open-minded caring teacher. The HH have tremendous needs that often go unrecognized, mainly (I think) because we blend in too well. Children are masters of adaptability. Often (like you) they may not even realize how they're compensating, and the toll it takes. Good for you for recognizing this and making an effort to get the word out!

  17. It is always good to have an open mind. Being in the "hard of hearing" category does throw some families into a limbo situation. Our little guy hears very well with his hearing aids, and uses oral/aural communication. On the other hand, he doesn't hear well at all without his hearing aids, so we use sign language when he is not wearing his aids. We are always re-evaluating our methods and making sure that whatever we are doing is working FOR HIM. If it doesn't work for him, we discard it. We've exposed him to both sign and speech, and he prefers speech. This may be for a variety of reasons (he's hard of hearing, he has hypotonia in his hands which restricts his ability to sign, etc). But it is HIS choice, so we follow what he excels at.

    Our goal from the beginning was to give him every opportunity and to expose him to everything, and see what worked for him the best. A sort of "language bath," if you will. It seems to have benefited him well- even though he doesn't expressively use sign, he understands it. And he can speak and be in the hearing world, too. As he gets older, he may want to delve more into Deaf culture, or he may not want to. The choice is his- we just provide the access and exposure.

  18. Hi (e
    It is so nice to find another HOH nerd. I have bilateral mild to moderately severe hearing loss and perceive some central speech recognition loss. I am about to trade up to a pair of LARGE BTE's so that people can see that I am HOH so that (some) of them will give me a break by speaking clearly. I bet I could e chat with you for ages. I prescribed my own hearing aid molds and love them. Before that the ones prescribed for me were all terrible.

  19. Eloquent post and interesting comments, (e.

  20. OMG.... you have described so much that I have gone through or am going through in my life right now. I have been profoundly deaf since a very small age. My parents found out when I was 3 or 4, and they don't know why or what happened. My audiologist was AMAZED that I could lipread so well and was in awe of how smart I was despite being deaf. I spent all of my life around hearing family and friends. I attended regular schools with a mainstream education, honor programs, went to college, and got degree. My fiance and children are all hearing -- and I'm 23 years old. I've never had a full-time job and that's what made me realize -- there is something I'm not addressing. My struggle with finding a career made me realize that I'd been protected from real life situations and I hadn't been doing everything to my potential to be more diverse and use it to my advantage. I am currently starting to learn ASL, I now attend a deaf church, and I'm learning more about the deaf community everyday. I see the issues you talk about and I wonder "why can't people see the value of having the best of both worlds?" I see so many things that can open doors for the deaf community. I love the idea of self support and independence that the deaf community has BUT I see value and opportunities when you bridge that gap between the two and help one another understand our differences. However unlike you --Being deaf, I have had "social phobia" and still have to a small degree and when I came in touch with the deaf community I felt more at ease. Despite that feeling of relief knowing there were others that had the same problems I had, I still love the "hearing" world. I agree with you on not forcing anyone to choose sides or have the same perspective or views as someone else. I love both worlds because for me - they have a lot to offer. Love your posts - I'll be reading more!


Keep it civil.