Monday, May 5, 2008

An ode to my Deaf friends

I spent most of the day Saturday in meetings working with a group of Deaf friends on a conference we're producing in June of 2009. I started out tired before the meeting because I'd been up since dawn's crack, I'd starting my marathon training, but by the end of the day I was even more tired but it was well worth it.

You may ask why it was tiring to be in meetings which means I was probably sitting on my butt. I was sitting most of the day, but now we're talking mental tiredness because I spent the entire day seeing my conversations and translating not only for myself what others were saying, but turning my thoughts that are formed into English syntax into sign language.

Anyone who is a verbal language interpreter understands how mentally taxing changing languages can be. Now add on the equivalent of doing the arms part of jumping jacks for hours on end and you've got a day in Sign Language.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining at all. I love my Deaf friends dearly and if God has given me one talent that I'm oddly able to pick up easily, it's been my ability to learn and retain sign language, a learning process I started in 7th grade.

So often the Deaf community is looked at through such a wide variety of views. When I first started learning sign language it was at the church I grew up in. It seemed that everyone thought (and expected) I was learning sign language to interpret church services. I never quite understood why those were supposed to go together as if the Deaf community were a bunch of heathens that needed saving.

I have heard several people over the years, upon learning that I know sign language, say something to the effect of "Well I know the alphabet, I thought it was the least I could do to help those less fortunate." My response to this (in my head) was "the only reason they're less fortunate is that you stopped at learning the alphabet" Would YOU like it if someone didn't talk to you as we normally do, but S-P-E-L-L-E-D E-V-E-R-Y W-O-R-D I-N A S-E-N-T-E-N-C-E? Don't get me wrong, if you know the alphabet that's FANTASTIC! You're ahead of 95% of hearing Americans. But don't stop there, learn more! It's fun! BUT FIRST... get rid of the idea that Deaf folks are "less fortunate" than you. Their numbers are just like ours. They have their ditch diggers and housekeeping professionals (which there is absolutely nothing wrong with) but they also have their doctors, MBA business people and one of my Deaf friends is a lawyer. I could probably be a doctor before I could be a lawyer. They own their own businesses; hold their own conferences; support, lobby and enact legislation seeing to their needs. They, like SO many other groups put out to the fringe by those seeing themselves as "normal" just want to be seen as important, contributing members of society. In other words....

They're just waiting for the world to change:


cb said...

I actually tried to teach myself to sign awhile ago. I have retained several things I learned... but I am a slow talker.

And I can't "read" it. It goes by far to quickly.

Just Kevin... said...

Even after working at a school for the deaf for three years (admittedly, only with kids up to age 8 or 9) my skills weren't as good as they should have been. MY pet peeve is when a celebrity (Hello? William Hurt?) does a role in Children of a Lesser God and then proclaims he or she learned how to sign in a few hours. Yeah, and I learned Japanese in 15 minutes! Brother! Keep using that talent, Chris!