Friday, September 20, 2013

Welcome to My World- Learning about Deaf Culture

The past year, to fulfill my foreign language requirement at Texas A&M San Antonio, I have been taking American Sign Language. As I have moved forward, I have come to love the language and the culture. I have learned Deaf people have their own individual and unique culture. I have come to love what I have learned that I decided, on top of my English degree, to add Deaf Support specialist training.

Part of the process for each ASL class is to attend a number of Deaf events and with each consecutive class, the requirement becomes more difficult. In ASL I, one could attend an event and but not be too concerned with the amount of interaction (after all, you won't know much sign but only that you try). Now being in ASL III, the level of interaction and signing has increased accordingly. In an attempt to complete one event and increase my signing abilities, I got my courage up and attended Game night on campus- a once a month event hosted by the ASL department's student club. I enjoyed myself but also once again realized how much harder I need to practice. My sign reading ability is pathetic and trying to read finger spelling just is not there.

While it is never fun to be faced with one's short comings, the event was not a bad thing. Quite the opposite. Everyone present was there for similar reasons- we want to learn more about this language and culture most of us hearing people are not familiar with. Many of us have come to love what we have found and are there for the enjoyment and chance to practice/ improve our signing. Professor Cage, a Deaf professor, spoke briefly. He asked if we felt a bit uneasy, found communicating by strictly signing, and not speaking aloud was a bit intimidating. It was. He laughed and said, "welcome to my world. Now you have a better understanding of how I feel in a meeting of all hearing people. You have a better understanding of how Deaf people feel all the time in the hearing world." The wonderful thing about all I have learned about the Deaf community is they do not want to exclude those of us who are desirous to learn, they embrace us and are more than happy to help us with our signs.

The bigger, more difficult lesson I am learning though is while the Deaf welcome us into their world, we do not do the same. Hearing people judge the Deaf as "handicap," inferior, less than human many times and less intelligent. This is absolutely not true. I think the lesson is to be more accepting, to understand what is outside our comfort zone, be less judgemental. Instead, I think there needs to be increased, sincere curiousity and a willingness to learn what we do not understand. I was uncomfortable, I admit it. I was not uncomfortable with Deaf people but at my own shortcomings. I wonder how many times someone has struck out, with the intention to knock someone down for a similar reason. Not because the person deserved it but because there was an unwillingness to understand why and what the difference was.

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