January 2008


This is a letter to all parents with Deaf children. Yes for ALL parents. For you, who are Deaf and you who are Hearing, with newborn Deaf children, toddlers, teenagers and adult children.

This is going to be a challenge but it’s important for me to share my thoughts and views.

I have Deaf parents in their 80s whose parents are hearing.

I am a Deaf step-parent to five adult children. One is Deaf. I have been with them for almost 25 years, the oldest was 9 when I started living with them. The Deaf child was almost 3. All of them sign well enough not to depend on English in conversations with Deaf people. Two work as ASL-English interpreters, one is a middle school teacher at a hearing school and another is a manager at a car wash complex. And the Deaf son just got his Masters.

Now, I am blessed with 8 grandchildren from 13 years old down to a couple of months old. One is Deaf, another is deaf in one ear, and most of the hearing grandchildren sign which recently became popular and commonplace. Their ASL skills vary from quite fluent to just a few signs.

I have two children-in-laws who are Deaf and a third one who has a Deaf brother whose family sign with various levels of skills in a form that is a byproduct of SEE and mainstreamed school environment.

Not only that, I had a Deaf brother who recently passed away. My Deaf sister-in-law has Deaf parents who have hearing parents as well. She has a hearing brother who does not sign. From them, I have three nephews. Two of them are deaf in one ear. One of them is now a Gallaudet student.

There’s more. My partner had Deaf parents who also had hearing parents. Her older brother is hearing and her younger brother is Deaf. The Deaf brother has a Deaf wife who was raised orally. He has four adult children: the only hearing child coordinates interpreters at a community college. The three Deaf children have jobs ranging from teaching at a Deaf elementary school to teaching ASL at a public high school to delivering furniture for a hearing company.

That brother has 8 grandchildren too and all the children sign. Two are Deaf.

In short, I guess I could say that, just my family alone, we cover most of the spectrum of the “Deaf world”.

Yes we have ethnic diversity as well: several of our grandchildren have Native American connections that make them eligible for the government program providing them with medical care and college education. One daughter-in-law has parents who immigrated from El Salvador. One of our sons was in love with an African American woman.

And my domestic partner and I are Lesbians as well.

You may think, “ah, not all the spectrum. There’s no CI involved”. Right now, there is nobody implanted and I believe only one of us uses hearing aids heavily.

However, the Deaf parents of our one-year-old Deaf grandson have already been approached quite a few times for a CI and the son has already gone through several hearing tests in his short life. They have not yet been approached about ensuring the son learns ASL.

The reason I described my family is to assure you all that what’s happened to you all have practically happened to my loved ones. My family is deeply affected by the arrogance of Audism like most of you are.

However, the purpose of this letter is not to focus on that.

Instead, I want to outline the importance of viewing being Deaf and having Deaf people in our lives as a blessing and never a curse. View them as God’s way of encouraging us to become better, humbler and gentler human beings for a better, humbler and gentler World. And an ORGANIC one.

Granted my family is not perfect. Nor am I. There are some painful scars, a few have yet to heal completely.

It is my vision that we all create a world where being Deaf is celebrated and never condemned.

What I want to see in this world is no more use of words like “deafness”, “impairment” nor “hearing loss” but instead say “being Deaf” or “people with Deaf identity” or “Deafhood seekers” or “Deaf people in search of their natural language and identities”.

It starts at birth and continues throughout our lives. If Deaf people are identified at birth, instead of saying they “failed” the hearing screening test” (or being “referred” to further tests) by personnel with somber, long faces as if its a horribly serious thing, the medical personnel come in and share the information framed by

“Your child has been discovered to be Deaf.”

This should be considered a blessing. This means you are endowed with a broader view of the world, and have the privilege of being acquainted with a People that you may or may not realize existed on Earth for generations.

Because of your Child, those People will become part of your life, especially your Child’s life. They will introduce your family to a fascinating language, American Sign Language, an exciting visual way of communicating. You will be blessed with knowledge of and more intimate access to this World within the bigger World through your Deaf Child.

Through your Child’s comfort with this visual language, you will deeply realize that communication is not limited to the vocal-auditory means but is a multi-dimensional process. Your Child will join the ranks of ancestors who have explored deeper and bigger definitions of language and communication.

Your Deaf Child does not have an impairment at all. He/She is formed to be more visually oriented. Your child will be a complete human being with his/her own gifts and a journey that challenges him/her to be a better human being with a deep spiritual understanding. That child will make your lives more pleasant and joyful and full of challenges just like any other child.

Do not fret if you ever feel like a failure (which is what all parents feel at times). There are Deaf people and other parents out there ready to give support and advice especially on how to raise a Deaf child in a visual world. Those people have learned to value collectivism and believe that “it takes a village to raise a child” and they strive to make this “village” as healthy as possible for all.

Crossing human “differences” (like languages, cultures, abilities) within this “village” and elsewhere is fertile ground for mistakes. When you make mistakes, you grow. You deal with mistakes with forgiveness. Mistakes are sometimes dealt with by letting go.

Do not treat your Child as being too different but embrace him/her within your family and your Child will embrace you within his/her Deaf world.

Likewise, do not treat your Child as being too special but view him/her as a normal kid with normal human desires, dreams, frustrations.

Do not make him/her experience or perform unnatural things for your or others’ convenience or need to form them in your or others’ image.

Only God can do that.

Currently, this is being done through surgery, unnatural speech training such as the Auditory-Verbal Therapy (AVT).

This is not new.

This has been done in various forms for many many years and never will this guarantee a truly successful upbringing of a child. Some of your children (I emphasize some) will perform “amazingly for a Deaf child” while many many of their Deaf “brothers and sisters” will fail miserably and unnecessarily.

Is this a world you want to bring your children into? Do you wish to bring your child into a world where despite their “perfect speech or hearing” skills, they will always be called hearing impaired because of the machines in their ears or heads? Or would you rather bring them into a world that is real but one where your child is REAL and natural?

I want the best for you, your child, the Deaf community, and finally the world itself.

Embrace the latter option with us.

Ella


Let’s go to the most likely root of what’s dividing the Deaf community.

I share a story from my high school days when I was picked from the class I was sitting in to DEMONSTRATE and impress the ignorant hearing visitors that came in about how well the school have taught us how to write in English.

In the story, I mention possible perspectives of the “two sides” of Deaf people and the division that was happening and hope you see the true culprit of that.

Fortunately, in spite of all the attempts to divide the Deaf community, all my life, I have seen many many wonderful examples of interdependence, support, respect, reciprocity (pooling our talents) and pushing the group ahead together instead of falling into the trap of the Great Divider’s method of pulling individuals away from the group and claiming any success for themselves.

True unity has always existed in the community. It’s just a matter of CHOOSING TO SEE IT right under our noses!

(6:05) This is made from the “discarded” footage when making my latest vlog “DIE: arresting our rush to judgement”. From a few comments in that vlog and in other blogs, I thought it may be helpful for some of you to see how I interpret Deaf Culture and how all Deaf people can relate to that culture. There is most definitely so much more literature and thoughts on Deaf culture that is not covered here. I hope this imperfect “essay” contributes in a small way to better communication, insights, and understanding among the varied Deaf people involved in Deaf Blogland…that prayerfullty can lead to what “unity” may look like from a Deaf center.

loose translation:

Yes, there IS a Deaf culture. Without language, there’s no culture and vice versa.

Deaf culture has been passed on from generation to generation of Deaf people from before 1880 and in spite of the Oralism “Dark Ages” (1900-1960). Not only is the culture passed through Deaf parents, but also through Deaf mentors, friends, neighbors, etc.

Deaf culture has history passed down through storytelling, in print and on film.

Deaf culture has values: visually oriented, appreciation of a visual-manual language, importance of “critical mass” or rather “immersion” with other Deaf people, promoting the attitude of “It’s great to be Deaf, and being Deaf is natural and nothing is wrong with that”. Those values are also passed down through generations.

Indeed, it’s no question that Deaf culture is a full-fledged human culture.

Now, some of us ask does JUST being Deaf mean one knows the culture and language of Deaf people?

No. Just like an American born and raised in America but is of an ancestry such as South African, French or Filipino, is not fully encultured in their culture. They may have experiences and glimpses of the culture, but do not have a complete cultural knowledge or consciousness. To do this, they need to go and live among those who speak the language and run affairs, argue, make love, make decisions based on the history, norms and values of the culture. Yet, they may not become 100% acculturated.

However, its the ATTITUDE that makes the person succeed in being warmly embraced by people of that culture. If the person is open and positive, willing to learn from the people, to take criticism and challenges, and is real…and appreciative whenever people welcome them, that would define a successful acculturation.

Just like it is with Deaf people.

Because of the current status quo system related to Deaf people (where Deaf babies are derailed from the natural acquisition of ASL and opportunities to interact in a large Deaf environment, from experiencing that being Deaf can be just natural and okay, from understanding there are differences among Deaf and hearing people, etc.), many Deaf people miss out on the complete Deaf cultural experience so they need to go through the acculturation process.

One thing we need to recognize…every Deaf person is Deaf. It doesn’t matter if they have hearing aids, cochlear implants, or hearing loss, they are still Deaf. Why? They do not interact with hearing world like hearing people do. Deaf people may succeed in making do and making it as closely as possible. Well, if they feel satisfied with their level of interactions with hearing people. That’s fine. They have that choice. There’s no need for us to feel we need to deal with that.

However, if they feel they are ready to learn what it means to be Deaf, they need to be ready inside to learn. How do they get that “attitude”? We don’t know. There are many different ways to get reach that level of readiness.

Now, because there are a large number of Deaf people who are acculturating into the Deaf culture, it is expected to have some “conflicts or misunderstandings” common in “CROSS CULTURE interactions”, mostly due to different values.

The Deaf people who grew up among hearing people because they do not access English like hearing people do, they probably don’t have a complete understanding or access to the culture of the hearing people around them. Surely, they may have various levels of access and understanding of the hearing culture, but not a complete one. Writing or using interpreters only is NOT enough. They do not provide everyday cultural nuances that are solely and directly in the spoken language.

However, for the Deaf people, the culture can be HOME. You are welcome to come home or run away from home. Again, it s your choice.

I hope this helps us to unite more, understand each other more, be more open and more appreciative of our Deaf culture and be committed to pass it on for our future Deaf children.

(7:45 mins)

Primary resource:
“Reading Between the Signs WORKBOOK: A Cultural Guide for Sign Language Students and Interpreters” by Anna Mindess.

“In cross-cultural encounters it is easy to jump to an erroneous conclusion about another person’s motives, behavior, and character when we base our judgements on assumptions from our own culture. One way to arrest our rush to judgement is to separate out three aspects of perceiving another’s behavior. D.I.E. is an easy-to-remember initialism that might come in handy, but actually gaining the skills involved requires some practice.”

Many Deaf people do not have a complete understanding of Deaf culture because they haven’t had a chance (or are not interested) in being as fully accultured as possible. Result: potential cross-cultural conflicts or misunderstandings.

This technique of D.I.E. may help.

DESCRIPTION. The task is to describe only what you see, an objective listing of facts, without drawing any conclusions.

INTERPRETATION. Now you can interpret what you think about what you see. What is your guess about what is going on in the situation?

EVALUATION. Now you can express your feelings about what you think is going on.

This example is discussed applying the D.I.E. technique: Student at Gallaudet talking on cell phone on campus in presence of other Deaf students.

It’s my hope that using this technique to “arrest our rush to judgment” because of high potential of cross-cultural misinterpretations among encultured and acculturating Deaf people, we will be better able to unify and work together utilizing the basic Deaf Culture values of being visually-centered, collective, being Deaf as a positive trait and benefical to many people Deaf and hearing in order to have a vision for 2008 and afterwards, for the sake of our Deaf children and babies.