*CODA = child of Deaf adults.
I decided to start writing, mainly because I couldn’t quite find a blog post or article that articulated my exact thoughts on the matter. So I’m writing my own, and I can already tell it’s going to spiral into something bigger. Oops. (But for those of you who know me, are you at all surprised?).
If you’re reading this and you consider yourself one of my friends, then I’m quite sure you already knew this about me – that I grew up with Deaf parents. But I’m not quite sure many of you really understand (or want to understand) the great divide between the hearing world and the Deaf world today. It’s a real thing. It’s an ugly thing. You may have seen it first-hand, and you might have been completely oblivious to it. Either way, I urge you to learn about it. As of late, I have been finding myself getting (really) riled up about the things I grew up seeing, still see, and will continue to see (and hear) about the Deaf community. I got so riled up once, that I seriously considered marching into a gas station, demanding to know why they weren’t making their overhead announcements accessible to those who couldn’t hear, after my Dad had been having trouble using his card at the gas pump. The world we live in is such a hearing dominated world, with some to little consideration given to making all places, events, programs, services accessible for all people. Having grown up listening for three people, I began to see the injustice at an early age. And once you start seeing it, you can’t stop seeing it. This kind of injustice ranges from some pretty minor occurrences (having the waiter assume Mom & Dad are hearing and immediately rambling off the daily specials on the menu) to some pretty offensive situations (assuming a terminally ill Deaf patient in chronic cancer pain will be able to communicate just fine with the overnight hearing nurses in a hospital). I’ve grown up seeing these injustices left and right, and I was most definitely given the heart to seek them out and right it. They’ve been a part of me for as long as I can remember, but as I sit in my first semester of Interpreting school, I’ve been able to solidify how I really feel about them.
I’m the oldest of three hearing children. American Sign Language was my first language, followed by English soon after. I had no issues with learning how to speak, and actually advanced in reading a lot faster than peers my age. Contrary to popular belief, ASL is not signed English. It is it’s own language, with it’s own grammar, rules, and order. Apart from the fact that they cannot use their ears to hear sound, Deaf people function like completely normal people. They use videophones or old-school TTY’s to communicate on the phone, they text, they read, they write, they watch television with Closed Captioning, they work, they learn, and they DO whatever it is they want to do. Unfortunately, I was the first family member to have been able to communicate with my parents in sign. Neither Mom nor Dad had family members who learned how to sign for them. While my parents somewhat accepted it in their lives, it completely shatters my heart. I understand that there were some controversial educational theories during the time that my parents grew up (oral methods of teaching Deaf children vs. Deaf schools), but still. I cannot understand why there wasn’t a single person on either side that didn’t want to learn for my Mom and for my Dad. Instead, they were expected to learn how to communicate on the terms of the Hearing world, in some cases – as well as other hearing people.
I grew up being the designated (and often over-used) interpreter for Mom & Dad. Although there were definitely times that I complained (because there most certainly were days I did), I now cherish the fact that I can. That I have the skill and ability to do so. Now, at 22, I’m finding it hard to transition out of this full-time position. My adult life is taking off! I just recently led my Dad through his final days of needing interpretation at an age much younger than I would have ever guessed, and I was completely floored at how uneducated a hospital in 2013 was about Deaf patients. It led me to the point of refusing to leave him alone overnight, because I knew he wouldn’t have complete access to communication, which was very upsetting. I’m actually drafting up a (polite) letter to this same hospital, because what we experienced should not be considered okay and should not be allowed to keep happening. I’ll touch more of this in a future blog post, because it is just so extensive, emotionally exhausting, and upsetting.
So now, I’m listening for two. All I have left to focus my designated, first-born CODA interpreting on is my Mom. This is all I have known for the past 22 years – to be that set of ears and that set of hands. And yes, I do still have younger siblings at home, who are more than capable – but it’s still confusing and challenging to partially step down from this full-time position. There are times where I get scared about my mom living alone without her permanent interpreter. And it’s because I feel the world still doesn’t quite get what being Deaf is. So, I’m making it my mission to educate, to get the conversation going, and to spark change – starting with those around me, and then spreading it out as far beyond as I can get.
Join the conversation? All questions and comments are fair-game.