Hi, I’m Rachel, and I’m a CODA.

*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.

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10 thoughts on “Hi, I’m Rachel, and I’m a CODA.

  1. Thank you for your post. I was, and hope to be again, a Community Interpreter. It is VERY sad how medical personnel are so uneducated about this group of people. I was once told by a nurse that a strong ASL Deaf person could understand communication with him and that I really wasn’t needed. But I was also called on a assignment because the Hospital didn’t ask the family what type of communication that their Hard-of-Hearing/deaf child. I show up to find that she does not know sign language but could communicate verbally just fine and found it kind of odd that I would be needed for her appointment. Hopefully your blogs will make a difference. Even a small difference is better than none.

    1. Wow – what two very different, yet equally frustrating experiences. So much ignorance that could easily be fixed by just taking the extra time to understand the person a little more. I would definitely encourage you to keep pursuing the interpreting route, it seems like you have the heart for it! Thank you so much for your kind words – I really do hope my blogs will inspire and invoke change somehow. Thank you!

  2. I feel your frustration. I, too, grew up with deafness in my family, a CODA myself. . Currently working as an interpreter in my community, I see both sides of the frustration, and it almost always stems from ignorance. I experienced much of what you detailed in your post, and I think awareness is the biggest issue. Kudos to you, and good luck in your venture.

    1. Thank you! You’re exactly right, it almost always stems from ignorance (whether the individual is aware of it or not). I love hearing stories from other CODAs and realizing that there are other people out there in the world who have walked through some similar situations. So glad to hear you’re working as an interpreter today!

  3. I went to RIT (School for Nation Technical institute for the deaf is apart of RIT). I picked up a lot of sign language, but never learned ASL. I know it’s a vastly different dialect of English and I get so confused. I often wondered if one of the reasons we have so much trouble communicating, is because of this huge lingual shift?
    I remember looking for help in a store one day and a sales rep (not a store employee) pointed out the only guy he saw working was deaf, so I should head up to customer service. I looked him straight in the eye and said “I can sign to the deaf. What you can’t? How odd!” and I went off and asked the man for help. Sadly I still had trouble because of the linguistic aspect but we managed to communicate and find what I needed. The store manager hurried up to us just as he finished helping me and apologised! I gave him a disdainful look and said “No problem here sir… He helped me just fine. He stocks the store, he knows where everything is.” I was so cheesed off… I could tell this employee loved being asked for help and treated like any other person. My daughter (8 at the time) was with me and asked me why people were treating him differently. I told her it’s because people are afraid. I think ASL is a wonderful fluid language, yet I feel it adds another layer of complexity to communication. I’m doing all I can to raise the kiddos in our family to jump this barrier to communication by showing them to be fearless and to treat others as you would like to be treated. So be encouraged there are a few of us out there who see your side of life.

    1. Sara,

      My mom went to RIT back in the day, too. How cool! Sign Language definitely can be hard to pick up, and I really do believe that it’s easier to pick up and learn if you have an exceptional teacher teaching you the foundations. The grammar and order of words is so essential to understand in order to communicate with ease! (I’m still learning some things and I’ve been signing for 22 years. Ha!) Thank you for sharing your story – good for you for telling the sales rep off! That kind of immediate ignorance really gets under my skin. And what a beautiful thing to teach your children at such a young age. That’s my main objective in all my blogging/daily activism. Thank you!

  4. I’m there with you Rachel,
    My parents weren’t Deaf but my grandparents were. They lived with us my whole life so I’ve been around Deaf people my whole life and have had a growing desire to share awareness that Deaf is not a disability, it is a culture and community of people.

  5. I’m beginning my quest for a doctorate in psychology. My end goal is to provide psychological services to those who have other life-dominating disabilities. This spring I will be taking my first ASL class an I’m so excited! Hopefully, I can help the Deaf community cope with these issues in the future :)

  6. Rachel when I read this I almost cried. I love how you were just so straight forward about it and how its the truth about our world today. I was actually thinking about starting a blog about it just like you have. You rock keep informing the world about deaf culture and us codas! Your little sister Mallory Teter :) ♥♥

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