Friday, April 1, 2011


After a few months of feeling lost and dealing with death, I have decided to stop worrying about what other people think of me. Life is short. You have to do the best you can. You have to assume other people are doing the best they can.

Thinking this way is changing the way I feel about being deaf. I used to worry that if I joked about my deafness, other people would think I am not a serious person. Or maybe they would think being deaf does not matter to me. I am a serious person, but I also love to joke around with friends. I can see that laughing together makes people closer, but here is the problem; I do not hear the weird rumors and funny stories that are floating around. And I definitely do not catch the one-liners that people toss around in groups.

When there are a lot of people around, very few people stick with one-on-one conversations. People jump in and out of conversations all the time. It is not that they want to interrupt an ongoing conversation. They are just simply adding their thoughts and then the conversation takes a new direction and then someone else adds a thought and things go in a completely different direction. I think of this as "multi-conversing."

Hearing people do not need a word for this because it comes so naturally to them. It is easy for them to talk to more than one person at a time or keep up with more than one conversation at a time. Due to my deafness, "multi-conversing" does not work for me, even though I see that it is lots of fun for hearing people. I am not sure deaf people can "multi-converse" even in ASL because you really need to pay attention to the speaker and, in any case, I am not fluent enough in ASL to know for sure.

I worked hard to become an oral deaf person. Most people think I rely on lip-reading to understand what people are saying, but that is not completely true. Lip-reading is very complicated. Every person's lips are different. When I meet someone for the first time, it takes a while before I can read their lips. It is sort of the way hearing people have to adjust to an accent. At first they might not understand the person fully. I do not really hear accents, but I can see speech differences in the lips. That assumes, of course, that I can see a person's lips. If I have a professor with a thick beard, I would not be able to read his lip clearly at all. Fortunately, my hearing aids help me hear just a little bit and that fills in some of what I cannot do with lip-reading.

The bottom line is that often I do not understand what people say to me. I have never known how to let people know that I am not getting what they think they are communicating. It is embarrassing for me--maybe for them. Anyway, today I thought I would try something different. They say if you always do the same thing, you always get the same results. So this was my experiment to see if doing something different would produce a better result.

I was at a meeting, and my all-time favorite professor was there. We were having a conversation one-on-one and, at one point, I made a small sort of pointless joke. I could tell my professor did not catch what I said, but he laughed anyway. I decided to bust him: “You have no idea what I just said, do you?” He responded, “Nope!”

In the past, I would have felt frustrated. I know when people do not understand me, but I do not usually speak up. But today, I felt as though his failure to understand gave us something in common. I have been in that particular situation so many times in my life. I know what it is like to be clueless about what was said and laughing along with others even though I do not know what's funny. So I gave him a huge smile and said, "Welcome to my world." He grinned and laughed and gave me a big hug. That was definitely a better result, and I was trying to figure out what made the difference.

I think in the past I have been really sensitive about my “deaf feelings.” I do not want to be explaining my situation all the time, but then I feel angry—at other people for not understanding and at myself for not helping them to understand. This situation worked because I was able to use humor. Just a small joke about a small mistake turned a potentially negative experience into a positive experience. Humor changed an awkward experience into an experience that helped the other person understand my situation better. I think I’ll try this “experiment” again!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Education (Limits)

Recently, I learned that less than a third of my deaf classmates from elementary school went on to college. That is a much lower percentage than for hearing students. That upsets me. College is very important. You need a degree to get a good job. In my experience, college also helps you figure out who you are and what you can contribute to the world.

Why was I one of the exceptions? Why did I go to college when my deaf classmates did not? Let me start at the beginning so you can understand.

When I was in kindergarten, I went to a public school where there was no help for the deaf because the teacher did not really understand the needs of deaf students. I did learn some things, but I was not talking yet so my parents decided to transfer me to another school to try kindergarten again. That school was across the state line in Michigan, about 30 minutes away from our house. It was a regular public school, but they had a deaf program where they had teachers who were specially trained to teach deaf students to speak, read, and write. There were quite a few other deaf students, and we all had the same classes and teachers so it was easy to make friends. The teachers were very helpful and if it was not for them, I would not be able to speak, read, or write as well as I do now.

As I passed through 1st grade to 5th grade, I was starting to learn pretty well, especially in subjects like math and social studies. I began taking a few regular classes with hearing students while taking classes that were hard for me such as reading and writing with deaf students. I was doing Ok with the work in the regular classes, so my parents and I decided it was time to go back to my local public school. I consider myself extremely lucky because my parents took me out of a school with a program specifically for deaf students and put me in a mainstream school where I was the only deaf student. It was a really tough adjustment for me, but I know we made the right choice because it helped prepare me for the real world. I graduated from high school and I am really close to graduating from college (I hope!).

There were several reasons why my parents decided to put me back in the public school with hearing students. I did not understand them at the time because I was younger, but as I grew up, I got curious and wondered. So I asked my parents more about it. I found out they were concerned that the program for the hearing impaired students was too sheltered for me. They wanted me to be successful in the world, so they wanted me to learn with many different people.

From my perspective now, I think they were right. I did not see very many different kinds of people while I was in the program for the hearing impaired. For example, I never met an African-American student. When I changed schools, I saw so many colors and different kinds of people and I had to learn how to talk to them or be around them. Also, the program for the hearing impaired was in a very small town and there were not many opportunities for teenagers. Maybe that is why only two other students of the ten in my class when on to college. They were smart kids, but they could not figure out how to get to college. Some of them started a family really young. Some of them are struggling with jobs.

I worry that keeping deaf students isolated in special programs or schools does not prepare them for college and the real world. The mainstream school was not a perfect solution either. Although I learned a lot in high school, they were not helpful when it came to my deafness. I had trouble getting the services I needed and when it came time for college, the counselors could not help me find the right college with the major I wanted to study and services for the deaf.

I was lucky because my parents wanted me to be able to get the best education possible, so they worked hard to prepare me for college and the real world. They saved money so my brothers and I could go to school and not have to worry about whether we could pay back loans. I know that all parents cannot do that, so I believe schools need to make things better for students who are deaf as well as students who have other disabilities.

Being in the mainstream is the only way to prepare students with disabilities for life in the real world, but being in the mainstream works only if teachers know how to teach all students. The only way to make that happen is to start teaching the students who want to become teachers. All kinds of teachers--elementary, middle, high school, college, community college and more--should learn how to work with students who have special needs. Otherwise, there is no way those students will get the education they need to live up to their potential.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Philosophy

All right so in the last few weeks, I have been through a lot and had a lot on my mind. I actually did not sleep for three and half days straight because my mind was going nut. I was thinking about everything, I mean EVERYTHING. Life, death, love, hate, grief, healing, friends, family, and even my deafness. Okay, I'm going to get started before I start rambling. Here it is...

Ever since I took my very first philosophy class a year ago, I have started thinking more clearly about many things, including deafness. To be more specific, I have started observing more carefully and analyzing what I see, particularly in relation to how other people treat deaf people and act around them.

Recently, I was going through a rough patch with some friends and suddenly I realized that I was repeating a pattern that I have experienced ever since middle school with making friends. It goes sort of like this. When I meet a group of people like, for example, a new team, at first I am friend with everybody and everybody likes me. Then as they learn more about my deafness, the relationships kind of stall out. This happened in middle school with volleyball, basketball, and track. It happened in High school with soccer and basketball. It happened in college with soccer and even in clubs that are not related to sports.

In the past, I would just have been upset about this, but now I wanted to figure it out the way a philosopher would. Why does this pattern keep happening? That is when I came up with this idea and even wrote it down: "They want to be my friend and be there for me but they do not want me to be their friend or ask for my help."

Does this make sense to you? If you are not deaf, you may not get it, but I will try to explain it as simply as I can. Most of my life, I have had people who were amazing to me. Now, however, I am wondering if these relationships are real friendships because friendship is supposed to be between two people who are equally there for each other.

Let's say I had a problem or needed to talk to someone. Often I can find someone who would be there for me or listen to me. And that is great. BUT here is the thing. Every time I talk to someone or ask for help, they learn more about me. I do not learn more about them. Why? When they have a problem, they do not talk to me or ask me for help. We just hang out whenever we happen run into each other or have a practice or game.

I believe that people who listen to me and help me without asking for help in return are not looking for friendship from me. "They want to be my friend and be there for me, but they do not want me to be their friend or ask for my help." When you think about it, this is not friendship. It is not even close. It is pity. They want to be my friend or help me because I am deaf. They want to feel good about themselves because they "helped a disabled person." They do not really see me because they do not understand what I can offer them in return.

I know I will probably deal with people like this the rest of my life. They do not really understand what they are doing. If they did, it would save me the trouble and time of trying to build a true friendship. Fortunately, I have gotten lucky few times and found some a few real friends. Like all friendships, these are still works in progress, but those people value me for who I am -- someone who is willing to help as well as be helped.

People who started one-sided relationships with me do not stick around long. Why should they? They do not see what is in it for them. True friends know that I am more than my special needs. I have a lot to give. We support and help each other, so I know the friendship is real and will be around for a long time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Death. I never thought that much about it before. It is on my mind now because I lost two family members in less than two weeks. Nobody should have to go through what my family and I are going through right now.

My aunt fought her cancer for two years and a few months before she dies early on the morning of New Years Eve. She was a great individual and always lived her life to the fullest even when she was sick with cancer. We knew she was dying much too young and that was bad enough, but then my uncle (her husband) was struck with a heart attack just few hours before she died. He was in coma for a week and half before his family decided to honor his wishes and discontinue extraordinary life-saving measures. He died a few days later. We were not prepared for this. It was hard enough to think about losing one, but losing two so quickly has been a shock for everyone. This might seem like an unusual subject in a blog about deafness, but for obvious reasons, it is on my mind.

I know there is no connection between death and being deaf. Yet, even in this sadness, I feel like there is a huge disadvantage to being deaf. No matter who you are, you have a hard time when someone dies. Grief is unpredictable and it is extremely important to have a support system when dealing with death. Most people would be around their family giving each other support and talking to each other. But me? When all this was happening with my family, I was away in college. I had just started the first week of a new term so I did not feel like I should skip all of my new classes to go home and be with my family.

So I have been texting and emailing my family as much as I can. I am doing it partly to support them and partly to deal with my own thoughts and feelings. Texting is not the best way to communicate in this situation, that is for sure. Often when I type out a text or even an email, it does not really capture what I want to say, so I do not even send it and try to write a new one. I think it would be so much easier to talk on the phone. That way, I could call my family, talk to them and be sad with them. It would also be a lot easier to get updates. Sending a lot of short messages is annoying and often leads to misunderstanding. Every time I got an update from my family, I would get confused and sometimes I had the completely wrong idea about what was happening.

I think part of the problem is that there is no emotion in text. Sure you get clues so you can try to figure it out. But sometimes words or sentences can be interpreted more than one way. In person, you can see emotions on people's faces. Even on the phone, I can tell that people hear emotions from the other person's voice.

It is also a problem when I am feeling very sad. I like to use my voice when I express myself, but I cannot just call somebody and talk on the phone. I have to text somebody and ask them to meet me somewhere. But I do not like having to make plans just to be sad. You cannot control when you will feel certain emotions. When I feel sad, I want to be able to talk to somebody right away. And texting when I am sad makes me feel even more cut off from other people.

I do not want to feel upset about being deaf all the time. I know I have to make the best of my situation and try to communicate and support my family in any way I can. I know texting gives deaf people options that they did not have before. This week, however, I was mostly aware of how limited this form of communication is. It is like my grief is double. I am mourning my aunt and my uncle. And I am mourning the face that being deaf cuts me off from people I love at a time when we need each other the most.