Deaf Again Autoresponder Course Part Four

Only about thirty-five percent of the spoken language can be lip-read because most sounds are formed in the back of the mouth. Many sounds are next to impossible to decipher no matter where they originate. For example, ‘b’, ‘p’, and ‘m’ look virtually identical from a lip-reading standpoint. If Ben is one of the men who got a new pen, it’s going to take me a while to figure it out. If Mark went to the park, or if mom is the bomb, I’m scratching my head. Is that Matt at bat, or is it Pat? Pass the aspirin, please.

--From Chapter 5 of Deaf Again

In the previous lesson we discussed deaf / hard of hearing kids and the infamous Art of Nodding. As a self-described walking bobblehead doll, I know a thing or two about nodding. In fact, that’s what I did from grades K through 9.

There was this routine I followed everyday: Sit up front, wear your hearing aids, read lips, and look like you were on top of things even if you were totally clueless. At the end of each class I’d discreetly ask a classmate for that day’s homework. I often had to do extra reading to catch up on missed material so that I could adequately finish my assignments.

Thanks to this routine I was barely able to be a “C” student. That’s “C” as in Cunning, Clever, Crafty, Compensating, and Convincing. “C” also stands for Chameleon, which I impersonated as best as I could in my efforts to blend in with the all-hearing environment.

Fortunately, my teachers were able to see through the charade. They knew I was in survival mode and that something had to change if I were to succeed during the latter years of high school. They decided the best course of action would be to hire an ASL interpreter. (Considering this was in the early ‘80s, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect, my high school—Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia, PA—deserves a ton of respect for being way ahead of the times.)

Unfortunately, I was too much a prisoner of my own introjects to be able to see where my teachers were going with this. I vehemently protested against the concept of some stranger walking into class and following me around like a parole officer. I wound up having to meet with a child psychologist before finally agreeing to give ASL interpreting a shot.

Remember, introjects are incredibly powerful. And a solitary deaf student in an all-hearing high school is not going to thump his chest and hand out Deaf Pride paraphernalia. ASL was nothing to be proud of. I was downright embarrassed.

In fact, look at it this way: How does the typical teenager react when he wakes up with a zit? It’s something along the lines of Oh my god, my life is over! I’m gonna diiie! Mom, can I stay home? Let me pop this thing. Oh crap, look at it now! If you make me go to school like this I’m going to wear a bag over my head. Is there a sandblaster that can fix my face?

Yes, teenagers are incredibly self-conscious. So imagine telling a deaf teenager in an all-hearing school that he needs to wear a hearing aid. A hearing aid weighs only a few ounces but believe me, it can feel like 50 pounds. Now imagine telling this kid who wants nothing more than to blend in with all the hearing folks that he’s going to have his own personal translator following him all over the place. Not good.

That’s exactly how I felt. But in relatively short time, I was won over by my interpreter. You see, an ASL interpreter in high school doesn’t seem like a good idea until one compares the following formulas:

SUF + WYHA / RL + B = 25% Access (Sit Up Front + Wear Your Hearing Aids / Read Lips and Bluff)

1CDG + ASLint = 100% Access (One Clueless Deaf Guy + ASL interpreter)

I’m telling you, that first time my interpreter unleashed those flying hands, my eyes widened in absolute amazement. I simply could not believe the amount of information that was coming in. I was flabbergasted at how much I could understand.

I was even more incredulous—mad at myself, even—over how much information I’d missed prior to getting an interpreter. Why hadn’t anyone told me about this before? Like, say, in first grade?

Both the amount of information and the ease of how I was able to absorb it completely changed the way I looked at school. For once, it was an enjoyable learning experience. Here’s four reasons why this was so:

The “Aaaaaaaah” factor. Face it, there’s simply no comparison. Which would you rather do: Crane your neck and try to follow a teacher’s lips as she paces the classroom, and only be able to understand 25 to 35 percent of what she’s saying? Or, just kick back and effortlessly understand everything an interpreter signs in ASL? For me, an interpreter was so relaxing. No more straining, struggling, wondering, or filling in the blanks. In ASL, all of the information was effortlessly absorbed.

100% Accessibility. Okay, 100% might be a stretch. Nothing is understood perfectly. There are misunderstandings, moments of attention deficit, and occasionally things get lost in translation. But again, compared to lip-reading, ASL is light years ahead in terms of ability to absorb educational content. Like I said, there simply is no comparison.

No more bugging classmates for missed material. This is a benefit for both student and teacher. The student doesn’t have to stress over finding someone who can fill in the blanks regarding missed assignments. The teacher can take satisfaction in knowing that the Duh, I didn’t know there was a homework assignment excuse doesn’t fly anymore.

Significantly enhanced ability to learn from classmates. One of the biggest surprises the first day I got an ASL interpreter was seeing—for the first time—the amount of input the other students had. Previously, I’d tuned them out because it was hard enough just trying to read the teacher’s lips. (Everyone else? Feh. Not worth the effort.) But with the interpreter, bam! I suddenly realized that other students had a lot to offer in terms of classroom discussion. That’s when it hit me that in addition to learning from the teacher, students are supposed to learn from each other.

In addition to the above four benefits, a fifth one gradually appears. When ASL is incorporated into the classroom—and when a deaf student sees that not only do the teachers approve of it but it’s also accepted by other students—there’s a paradigm shift that works its way into the mix.

Remember all of those old introjects?

Sit up front. Wear your hearing aid. Read lips. It’s your responsibility to assimilate into the mainstream…

Now we have a different message making itself clear:

Hey, ASL is accepted. It’s okay to be different. Yes, that’s it… I’m not disabled, I’m just different.

We are now moving away from the deficit model and moving towards the difference model.

Next in the Deaf Again autoresponder course: Reprogramming with healthier introjects.