Do I Matter?

by

M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz

Do I matter?  Do I make a difference?  Who will remember me?    Haunting questions we sometimes, some more often than others, ask ourselves.

To be honest, one of my biggest fears in life is that when its all over I will not have done anything “real.”  That I will have used my life as some kind of waiting-room where I have sat around and breathed up oxygen, eaten up resources, taken up space and then just left…

I don’t know “The Meaning of it All.”  I don’t understand some secret of the cosmos, about G-d, or about life anymore than the next soul, but I know I matter.  And I know that YOU matter too.  

A couple of years ago I taught a three-week mini-course on Star Wars–stop laughing… really, I am serious.   At the high school at which I used to work, I taught Star Wars: A Look Inward where I helped students examine the historicity of the original trilogy.  We studied the hero’s journey and compared it with that of Hercules and others.  We talked about the idea of forgiveness, or atonement, of damnation.  We even compared the Empire to the British Empire and their uniforms to Nazi Uniforms.  Basically we went wherever the students took the class.

One student, discovered the important idea that Obi Wan had to leave so that Luke could become the hero.  It is a well worn literary device to write a young orphan (insert Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Hercules, and, in this case Luke Skywalker, etc) istaken under wing by a wise older mentor (Jor El’s teachings in the crystal fortress, Uncle Ben, the Centaur, Chiron, and Obi Wan Kenobi) who later dies, leaves, becomes one with the force.  (George Lucas has atested to this writing strategy, however, this student discovered it on her own.)

What does this have to do with anything?  Well, the student who figured this out, Janessa, wrote a blog about me entitled, “Mr. H: My Obi Wan Kenobi,” in which she makes the comparison between my teachings and Ben Kenobi’s.

Luke was a young kid when he was suddenly thrust into a world he didn’t know.  Janessa, my former student, was hearing until she became Deaf at age twelve and suddenly in a world she didn’t understand.

Luke needed to confront his own demons before he could face his destiny.  Janessa needed to face the reality that her hearing past was not a part of her future and get past that to face her destiny.

Luke met Ben Kenobi–a mentor who helped Luke to discover his inner strength and then died leaving him to mold himself into the hero.  Janessa met her first Deaf teacher who helped her discover her inner strength and then moved on so that she could use that discovery to mold herself into her own hero.  And that was me.

I want you to read it on her page.  Not because it is about me.  Only partly because its about Star Wars, which makes it SO much cooler…  Read it because it reaffirms that we DO matter.  The little things we do CAN and DO have an impact on others, even if we are only in their lives for as little as a semester, as in this case.

When you read this, remember that you do matter, that you can make a difference and that you will be remembered by someone.

http://janessasdeafjourney.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/mr-h-my-obi-wan-kenobi-2/

CLICK HERE to read Janessa’s Blog

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Deafhood for the Fashionably Late Deafened: Better Late Than Never

by

M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz

The old me:

“Huh?”  “What’s that?”  “Say again?”  “I am hard of hearing, can you repeat yourself?”  “Can you repeat yourself a little slower?”  “Can you repeat yourself a little faster?”  “No.   Say it again at normal speed?”  “I know I speak clearly but I don’t hear as clearly can you annunciate?”  “Oh, forget it!”

Familiar?   For those of us who ever tried to be hearing, maintain our hearingness, or imitate the hearing, it may as well have been printed on our business cards, because that’s what we sounded like.  It’s a lot of work trying to hear when you can’t.  It’s a lot of work trying to get people to understand who can’t.  It’s a hard life of an LDA (Late Deafened Adult).  Hearing aids are not comfortable.  Some sounds are so soft you don’t even pick them up.  Other sounds so loud you feel like your head may have just split in two.

Frankly, hearing aids suck!  But what options do the LDAs  have?

What do you do when you find yourself suddenly staring down forty (or thirty or twenty)—with a life, a career, a family, a community of friends, and a sudden hearing loss?

a)      Turn to the medical professionals who profit on your ongoing struggle to hear more, but never perfectly?  Get an overpriced, under-functioning cybernetic attachment that both acts as a source of neverending attention-getting and birth-control (think hard about this one) all in one?  Continue to say “huh?” “what?” etc?

b)      Turn to people who, like you now are, are Deaf?  People who do not profit financially on your “condition” but rather invest in you as a person?  Learn about the ways the Deaf Community communicates, lives, supports one another, shares in common experiences?

c)       Burry your head in the sand as you pray to be something you aren’t and miss out on your life?

d)      Re-read b…  

Simply put, I am late to the party but still a respected and welcomed guest.  If you are an LDA, like me, contact me!  I can share with you the ways the Deaf Community has welcomed and helped me learn to be… a Deafer me!  Believe it or not, there IS more to life than your hearing and there is a LOT to love about your new identity.  Yes, it WILL take some adjustments.  Yes it WILL be a struggle.  And yes there WILL be times when you still struggle.  But, speaking as someone who has been hearing, hard of hearing, and Deaf, it is MUCH easier to BE Deaf than to just NOT BE hearing anymore.

Read my other posts, we are here for you.

More to come…

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Touching Down on Sacrosanct Soil: Residential Schools for Those Who Grew Up Mainstreamed

   

By

M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz

From http://www.youtube.com/aslnikki

 

I remember the first time I went skydiving like it was yesterday… (insert wavy flashback here)… 

The thrill and machismo of the training and the gear. 

The excitement as I boarded the plane.

The thought, “what the HELL was I thinking?”  as the plane gained altitude.

The feeling that my body would not actually move from the door of the plane as I looked out on a quilted patchwork of greens and browns from fifteen thousand feet. 

The rush of adrenaline as my body accelerated to its “terminal velocity” (a horrifyingly menacing word when you consider its your body that is going that speed). 

The loss of memory as I freefell; “was I supposed to wave off at seven, and pull at six?  Oh no, was five the last chance for the secondary?  Wait, can I just pull it now and get it over with?”

The ten seconds of fear as my chute ever-so-slowly unfurled as I wondered, “is this the last experience of my life?” 

The four minutes of peace and tranquility as I lived out my childhood fantasies of being Superman gliding, soaring, through the air with nothing else in the world to trouble me except the flight. 

The approach… started to get scared again… 

The harder-than-I-expected landing.  

The chute catching a small gust of wind.

The chute dragging me twenty-five meters or so. 

Not being able to take off the harness or rein in the now fully unfurled, again, chute.

At last getting out of the harness. 

And then…

And then, do you know what I did? 

Irrationally, like so many movie depictions and dramatic TV spots, I actually kissed the ground!  Yes, I kissed the muddy, rock-strewn landing field like it was a long-lost-lover!  Not once, but repeatedly. 

 

Human beings were not meant to travel at their “terminal velocity” more than once… because it is said to be terminal…  And having done so, intentionally, without wishing to die while so doing, changed me a little.  I was away from what was my habitat.  I was off.  Alone.  I was stranded somewhere between heaven and earth between two worlds, and I was terrified.  Without thought, being so glad to be back where I belonged, I was moved to such a dramatic display as to kiss the ground, without care of who was watching. 

But I am not talking about just skydiving here.  I am talking about being so moved by a place as to have an emotional reaction just by being there.  I am talking about the feeling of going home after having been away.  I am talking about Schools for the Deaf. 

Residential Schools are more than places of education.  They are more than cultural centers.  They are more than homes.  They are havens, shelters, safe-ground where our young are protected, loved, and given a chance to be fully human. 

The irony is, sometimes we don’t know how safe they are until we have experienced that limbo, that life-threatening fall, that space between two worlds. 

I was never fortunate enough to have attended CSD—I grew up hearing—and because my Deaf identity was developed quite late in life, I didn’t know what I was missing.  Of course I went to all the open houses, the plays, tournaments, gatherings, etc.  And I slowly began to identify friends and acquaintances by their schools and years of graduation.  New faces were recognizable from yearbook pictures next to my wife, brother-in-law, even mother and father-in-law.  Eventually, I started to want to be there more often.  I wanted to be one of the faces in the yearbook.  Not because I wanted to be “cool.”  But because I didn’t feel good about my hearing loss at that time and everyone in those pictures did—I have since come to realize that I didn’t “lose” my hearing; rather, I have “become” Deaf.  But I was in that limbo between the safety of the plane and the safety of terra firma.  I was freefalling and I had no control over it. 

Finally, I did touch ground at CSD.  It was awkward at first, like my cute was going to drag me away as soon as I touched down.  Shadows of my old life, my hearingness, began to creep up, but I quickly threw off the harness and fully planted myself on solid Deaf ground.  Now, every time I go there, I feel that irrational pull to bend down and kiss the ground, thankful that I am safely settled where I belong.

The point of this is simply thus:

Schools for the Deaf are dear to many of us, some who never even went there as children, because they are the few places in the world truly ours.  They are places where we are at last important, welcomed, and respected for what we CAN DO and who we ARE.   They are places that, for us, we are wholly human, and not looked at as missing something. 

When I interact with hearing people at the gym, the store, the gas station, the hockey rink, wherever, I am consistently fully aware of my differentness, my “needs” so to speak.  I am always using their language, writing, asking to be written to, and being told, “never mind,” and “its not important” when I ask for something to be repeated. 

When I set foot upon a residential school’s soil, I feel a bit lighter, freer, and more whole because I know, without doubt, that I am and that I can contribute something to the world.  Of course I know that all of us can contribute to the world anywhere we are, and that, in fact, as human beings, we are constantly called upon to give to our world in whatever way we can, but the sense of pride and joy and accomplishment, and history… Ah… its beautiful!

There really is no admonishment or even praise intended in this post.  I just wanted to share my feelings, and those of many of my friends and contemporaries about how we feel when we touch down at CSD and other residential schools for the Deaf.

P.S.  I have since skydived many, many more times.  I don’t kiss the ground any more, but I am fully aware of the tenuousness of my existence while falling at “terminal velocity” and coming home, landing—landing safely, that is—is always a welcomed experience.

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Veiled Audism: How Paternalism and Condescension Control and Oppress the Deaf Community

M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz

From

www.youtube.com/aslnikki

This blog is a response to a comment—the comment being riddled with audism—from a reader of a previous blog.  The intent is NOT to start a war with this commenter (in fact I will not publish her username or real name) but, rather, to educate others about How Paternalism and Condescension Control and Oppress the Deaf Community.

We, the ASL Deaf community, have spoken frequently about how audism hurts our people, but, to those who have never experienced it first hand, this concept seems unfeasible.  Why would someone ever wish to subjugate the Deaf?  Indeed, WHY would anyone intentionally injure our community?  In an earlier vlog, one of my first, I exposited a theory that there are two different kinds of audism: Deficit-Thinking-Audism, and Xenophobic-Audism.  The former being based on pity, the latter on a fear or distain for Deaf behaviors, language, noises, and culture. 

Below is the original comment posted on my previous blog, “Deaf Culture Hijacked: The Hearing-Minded Taking Advantage of the Word “Deaf” by a person, let’s call her Madam H:

Madam H. wrote, The word DEAF is simply a word, no-one owns it. There are inequalities in every section of society, many people are ‘broken’ (horrible term) but not deaf.

Your blog raises some excellent points but it still seems to class practically all of the hearing community as one enemy, regardless. We aren’t a collective any more than the deaf community are.

Deaf people exist in many forms, deaf from birth, by accident, and now by design .

If deaf people are so determined to exist within their particular exclusivity then they need to stop fighting each other and perhaps drop the hostility levels towards others outwith their circle. Being mocked by deaf people is just as crual as being mocked by hearing people.

Being ‘unbroken’ does not mean that you are not ‘flawed’ any more than being deaf makes you right.

Dear Madam H.;

1)  In my previous blog, “Deaf Culture Hijacked: The Hearing-Minded Taking Advantage of the Word “Deaf”, I did not classify a “community” of hearing persons.  In point of fact, I do not believe there IS one big culture of hearing persons.  But let me make this point clear.  Audism is not automatically found in all persons who hear.  Audism is defined as: The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears (Tom Humphreys, 1975).

Not all hearing people are audists.  I would never have even alluded to such a way of thinking.  However, ANY hearing person who has the hubris to join our community and take over/attempt to change/or think they need to “save us from silence” (i.e. Cochlear Implant factories churning our pseudo-hearing babies without thinking of the long term ramifications on the socio-emotional development of deaf children) is, simply put, audist.  It is wrong to think that someone outside a culture could, not just join, share with, learn from, but LEAD that culture toward something more like their own.  It is bigoted to do so and it hurts deaf people.  And THOSE kind of hearing people—the AUDIST people, not, as you claimed I said, all hearing people—that we are resisting. 

2)  I did not use the term enemy to describe hearing people and never would.  I did not even use the word enemy to define audists.  But, as I described above, it IS wrong to take over a community to which you do not belong and attempt to change it. 

Let’s look at some historical examples of this type of behavior:  Whites trying to westernize the Indians because they deemed Native Cultures to be “savage.”   The Catholic Church torturing and murdering recalcitrant Jews because of their belief system.  Male psychiatrists encouraging husbands and fathers to have their wives’ and daughters’ female organs removed so as to alleviate hysteria—hysterectomy was believed to remove “female hysterical mood swings—thereby making them more male, more normal.”  My point in this is that it is NOT hearing level that makes one abusive to the Deaf Community—not anymore than “all whites,” “all Catholics,” or “all males” are to blame for the aforementioned oppressions.  It is not the hearing; rather, it is hearing-mindedness!  It is AUDISM!  To take over a community-not-your-own is utter hubris and should be stopped… No, eradicated.

3)  The fact that you are telling the Deaf Community, a community-not-your-own, what to do “… they need to stop fighting each other and perhaps drop the hostility levels towards others out with their circle,” indicates that you fail to understand my article—the point of it being, we are sick and tired of hearing people telling us what to do and how to live!  We don’t need outside influences any more than Native Americans need Whites, than Jews need Catholics, or women need men to tell them what to do and how to behave! 

4)  Let me just say, I am sick and tired of the way some hearing people bitch and moan that Deaf people reject them.  We do NOT reject hearing people off hand.  But when we do, those hearing people who have been “rejected” consistently claim it is because of their hearing level.  That is, pardon my French, utter bull$#lt!   Why do we reject some hearing people and embrace others?  Simple; answer “hearing-minded-takeoverism,” better known as AUDISM!  I repeat: I do NOT, nor does anyone I know in my large circle of friends, “REJECT hearing people based on their hearingness.” 

Hearing people who hang with us, sign with us, marry into our community, become teachers of the Deaf, interpreters, ASL students, neighbors, people-at-the-local-gym, our CODA children, etc. and respect a Deaf Centered philosophy while addressing Deaf issues are sacred and beloved in our community!  Many, many, many, many, of our closest friends and allies are hearing and wholly and deeply welcomed in our community.  (On a personal note, my very best friend is hearing, my wife’s closest local friend is hearing, and my daughter’s “BFF” is a hearing girl—these hearing people are NOT AUDISTS and, their hearing levels mean NOTHING to us!).   

However, those who try to change us (forcing SEE, TC and oralism on children) those who bastardize our values (teaching ASL as non-native signers themselves) and judge our behaviors, norms, customs (as in the case of the person who posted: “deaf people are retarded.  You sound like WHAAAAOOOO OURRRRR” on my wife’s vlog—judging her for not having “intelligible speech”) and mocking our fears and reactions to oppression (as in this case), there is NO welcome.  The ASL Deaf Community does not need or want those kinds of hearing people—AUDIST people—within our circle and will let them know it.

5) That we have infighting is a result of dysconcious audism—meaning, some of us grow up under a yoke of oppression and internalize a sense of inferiority—is because those who feel inferior come upon someone speaking out about our strengths, abilities, and “wholeness” those who have dysconcious audism don’t feel strong, able, and whole, due to their educational, familial, and cultural deprivation (having been deprived of a feeling of normality in a Deaf Way) feel that hearing ways are inherently better or superior.  Again, it is a product of hearing-minded-takeoverism, or audism.  Left alone, there is much more cohesion in our community.  In fact, there is far more cohesion in the Deaf world, than there is in the “religious world” the “sports world” and the “political world.”  You assume I am talking about “all people who can’t hear.”  When, in fact, I was referring to D (capital D) Deaf Culture.  You say we are infighting because you lumped all “hearing impaired” persons into one group.  That is irresponsible argumentation as much as it is irresponsible to lump all religious people into one group.  Of COURSE there is division!  Of COURSE there is disagreement.  But in the DEAF WORLD, the ASL DEAF world, there is a SUBSTANTIAL sense of cohesion.

6)  “The word Deaf is just a word…”  This is just silly.  All words are “just words” until someone attaches emotional ties thereto.  i.e. The words Nazi, hatred, murder, and jealousy are just words, but they are powerful symbols of the worst parts of humanity.  They are powerful words because we, as humans, have attached powerful meanings thereto.  The words mother, love, beauty, and peace are, too, just words, but they are evocative of harmonious, joyful times for many people.  The word Deaf is “just a word” to you because you are not.  It is beautiful, powerful, and sacred to many who understand the connotations of what(capital D) Deaf means.

7)  Finally, “Being ‘unbroken’ does not mean that you are not ‘flawed’ any more than being deaf makes you right.”  Wow…  What a slap in the face. Your sentence assumes that I believe I am right simply because of my deafness and that you are not looking for the content of my character.  Implying that there is NO validity to my experiences, my research, my community involvement, my years of teaching, or even my graduate degree—that “just because i am Deaf, I think I am right.”  That is a very telling statement.  That is pure audism. 

Madam H., try to examine your presuppositional thinking and then ask yourself why you feel rejected in the Deaf community–because of your hearing, or because of your audism?  Because you are a hearing person, or because of your paternalism and condescention? 

In closing, Madam H. please DO analyze your presuppositional thinking and examine your behaviors and words before assuming it is your hearing level that is being judged. It may well be that your ears have nothing to do with the sense of rejection you mentioned and, in fact, may be purely based on the content of your character.

 

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Playing Hearing: A Losing Game

M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz

from

www.youtube.com/aslnikki

 

Some of my friends, hearing and Deaf, have said that I am “privileged” to have intelligible speech and can’t understand why I have chosen to live a Deafer life—to not use my hearing aids any longer and to choose not to use spoken English with hearing people. 

“If I could talk, I would!  It would be so much more efficient, just seems easier” one Deaf friend says. 

“Why don’t you use your voice anymore?  You have such good speech.  Now it is harder for me to understand you,” a speech therapist in my county program tells me. 

“Your voice is always understandable, and sounds almost normal.  I don’t know why you would choose to sign when the hearing world is so much bigger than the world of signing,” a hearing colleague.  

They just can’t seem to understand why I would “reject” that part of myself.  But that’s just it; I am NOT “rejecting” my hearing self.  Rather, I am embracing my Deaf self. 

See, I have been that hard of hearing guy who caters to hearing bosses, supervisors, coworkers, and anyone else, really.  I have tried to be as hearing as I could for nearly a decade.  And through the past decade I have come to a surprising realization—no matter how “close-to-hearing” I am, I will never be accepted as one of them, only a sad, broken, facsimile of someone whole.  Because to them, someone with a “hearing loss” is “hearing-impaired,” or, less-than-hearing.  And when we try to be like them, we are reinforcing our brokenness by the very act of pretending to be whole. 

I wanted so badly to be “normal.”  I tried everything I could think of—I wore two hearing aids, grew my hair to cover my ears, tried not to look like I wasn’t confused when I really had no idea what people were saying, and even avoided signing friends.  I was as close to hearing as anyone hard of hearing ever could be—and I was miserable—and I was alone.

I want you to understand that “playing hearing” is more than just using amplification.  It’s more like being African-American and waking up each morning to put on makeup to hide my blackness to be more like white America.  It’s more like waking up as a woman each morning and hiding my feminine features, gluing on fake stubble and trying to blend in better with the “good ol’ boys” who chauvinistically dominate women in the work place.  Though those examples seem extreme, and even offensive to consider, that is something I did every day. 

 

Discriminated Against in DC:

It sounds great to say “I was a legislative assistant to a Congressperson in his DC office.”  But the way I got that job is an embarrassment to me now.  I had a hearing friend call for my required phone interview.  He could sign a little and we rehearsed in advance well enough that he could make is seem like he was me.  He did such a good job at “being me” that I was not even involved in my own interview all that much.  I sat there, like an idiot, watching “me” get my dream job.  Sure, my resume and grades and experiences were what won me the interview in the first place, but the embarrassment, the feeling of impotence, as I sat there stupidly wondering how “I” was doing in my own interview still hurts. 

There were a lot of little things that hurt about that year… when I arrived in DC and walked into the Office wearing a suit I could hardly afford, without a place to stay and without a friend in the city… when the secretary asked if she could help me and I spoke, in my own voice for the first time that I was the new hire here to start my new job… when she said, “there must be some mistake, I will have to talk with the Congressman; please take a seat.”… when I was assigned to a job I was not hired for, instead of handling tobacco law and water rights, I was the copy and errand boy… when I didn’t have interpreters for meetings… when I pretended to know what was going on… when they went to lunch without inviting me… when I was not rehired the next season, despite having done everything I was asked to perfectly…  when the Congressman said, “we are looking for someone who could more easily keep in touch with the constituents” (meaning hear on the phone)… when I came home again after changing my whole life around to get that job… when I spent that whole time trying my damndest to be as hearing as possible and still they rejected me…

Sadly, I didn’t give up playing hearing yet.

Lost in Law School:

People react with surprise and respect when I mention having gone to law school.  But there, too, I played the fool.  I used CART, captioning services instead of an interpreter, because I didn’t want anyone to know I “couldn’t hear.”  But it never worked right.  In law school, teachers generally used a Socratic Method of teaching—they would ask questions to various students whom would then lead the class with their answers.  Trouble is, the microphone, on the lapel of the teacher, could never receive the answers students gave.  Here is a little excerpt from a Torts class as an example:

PRFSR: “Ms. Douglass, can you please explain for us how you would determine whether there is a legitimate case for civil battery in this instance?”

STDNT: ….**inaudible**…. establish whether…. A duty…. **Inaudible** … **inaudible**… causality… But first (or butt first)… **inaudible** even particulate matter constitutes … **inaudible**….  ….  ….  (I’m sorry, I just can’t hear her at all.  Is she way in the back?) … **inaudible** in awarding…. **inaudible**… … … 

PRFSR:  Very nicely done Ms. Douglass.  You have clearly identified duty, breach, causation, and even damages in this case.  That is a perfect answer, and the type of clear legal analysis I hope to find in all of your blue books come semester’s end.  That’s all for today, read Manlove for Tuesday and I will pick the student least attentive to address the issues with the class.

This was how the whole of my law school experiences looked.  And, again, I wasn’t through playing hearing yet.

Deficit Thinking in Deaf Education:

I felt that I had failed in the hearing world of politics and failed in the world of law.  What was left for me?  Deaf Education?  Would I be free to explore my Deaf self as a Deaf human being in Deaf Education?

As it turns out, that was where I did discover my Deaf self, but after reaching depths of dysconscious audism I didn’t know was possible.  I was the only Deaf person working for this program at the time of my hire.  No one used ASL.  Everyone believed in TC or Sim Com, and I goose-stepped in line with the oppressors.  I came into my interview for a Deaf Education teaching position speaking English the whole time.  I spoke English to every staff person.  And wore my hearing aids to be more like them every chance I could.  I was well practiced in my role playing game and I was at the peak of my craft. 

Though I used only ASL in the classroom and shared Deaf culture videos with my students, and invited Deaf community members to the class on a regular basis, I still was trying so hard, though less consciously, to be hearing.  What kind of an influence does this kind of behavior have on developing Deaf children? 

Over the first couple of years at this, I slowly began to change.  For one, I stopped socializing with hearing staff persons entirely, I didn’t embrace my Deafhood, yet, by any means, but I began to reject my hearingness little by little.  Until one day, I entered a staff meeting without an interpreter, for the first time in three years, and I signed to everyone there that I would no longer allow them to host the county staff meetings in my classroom if they didn’t sign—moreover that I would no longer voice for them. 

“I always give you the luxury of 100% understanding in your primary language, and what do I get back?  Maybe 25% of that through an interpreter as you all speak English more than one at a time and leave me out.  Well, from now on, its ASL in here.” 

The meeting went on in sign (I wouldn’t call it ASL, by any means) the first time this had ever happened.  And finally I was fully involved!  I went further and told my whole staff of interpreters “in this room, you sign ASL or get out.  No more Sim Com.  No more voice and kinda sign… ASL or out.” 

Over the next several months, the interpreters improved in their signing skills, the students felt more empowered and equal and I felt as if I had made my first real contribution to my community.  I don’t remember when, exactly, but I haven’t even seen my hearing aids in months and no one comes into my classroom blabbing away in spoken English any more.  Students have mentioned the change.  Parents have mentioned an improvement in their children’s self esteem.  And those hearing teachers have shown me more respect than I have ever received as my former audist self. 

I have done a lot more since then to further the cause—to further cleanse this program of audism, but I am not nearly done.  There is still a great deal left to do, inside myself, and in my program here.  But the curtain has dropped on my little performance and I will no longer “play hearing” and cater to those who will never respect me for who I am. 

And to all those who think speaking English as a Deaf person is a privilege, let me respectfully disagree.  It is very, very hard to find your place in the world as an oral/aural hard of hearing person.  We are neither hearing nor Deaf.  We will never truly be respected and or accepted as equal to hearing when all we are is some broken version of them.  As an oral/aural hard of hearing person, I am, at best, “almost normal.”  As an ASL Deaf, I am something different, special, unique, interesting, beautiful, and, above all, NOT a sad broken version of them.  I am whole.

The more Deaf I am, the more respect, authority and independence I have.  The more Deaf I am the more at peace I am.  The more Deaf I am, the less audism I see in me.  And the more Deaf I am, the happier my life has been.  And the more Deaf I am, the truer to myself I am. 

I still carry the wounds of my life as an actor, but they have begun to fade as I have begun my Deafhood journey. 

Thank you to all of you in the Deaf Community who were here to help guide me toward Deafhood.  Without you, I may still have been playing a losing game.

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Janessa’s Deaf Journey: A Late Deafened Girl Discovers Deafhood

M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz

from

www.youtube.com/aslnikki  

As a teacher I have had many students over the years who have touched my heart.  Few have had such an emotional impact on me as Janessa Sales

Janessa was born hearing, like I was, and became deaf as a result of painful and traumatic cancer treatment—she nearly died of brain cancer—twice—by the time she was twelve.  Day after day, week after week, month after month, she went to sleep wondering if it was the last time she would experience the world.  She literally feared death daily as a child. 

But she beat the odds.  She beat the odds twice and established herself as a fighter, someone who could face anything, or so she thought.  It turns out, though, that surviving cancer wasn’t the hardest battle she would face. 

Janessa had been an auditory learner, a star student, a musician, a singer, a dancer; she was the quintessence of the hearing child.  After taking a couple of years off of school to face the struggle of her life—the struggle for her life—she developed a severe to profound sensory neural hearing loss as a result of her cancer treatment.  But her hearing loss, in and of itself, wasn’t as traumatic as her refusal to accept her new life.  She spent the next four years trying to be hearing—trying to fix herself—trying to pretend to be what she once was. 

I watched her struggle, and I cried for her.  My heart broke for her as she became frustrated trying to lipread, trying to get anything out of hearing aids, and her FM system.  Trying to be something she was not.  She struggled, threw temper tantrums, had meltdowns and fell apart little by little each day. 

This little now-seventeen-year-old had beaten cancer two times, been bald two times, been on national television two times, and had bounced back academically two times; but couldn’t beat back her inner demons that were making her feel she wasn’t whole.  She just couldn’t get over what she had lost.  The focus in her education, until last year when she came to my classroom, was always on auditory rehabilitation and speech.  And she felt that she was constantly failing at this. 

Last year she came to my DHH class—where the classroom policy is ASL at all times.  She was lost, shocked, worried, and nervous about coming into this room.  She didn’t know enough ASL, only some SEE signs, and had never socialized with Deaf people before.  Some said that she should have an oral interpreter in my class so that she could have a bridge to learning ASL.  Others said it was entirely the wrong placement.  But Janessa and her mother, a very supportive, encouraging, and wonderful mother, were determined to learn how to be Deaf by total immersion.  And so she entered her first Deaf Centered environment.

Janessa spent this last year not only learning ASL in the DHH room, but learning about her new culture, her history, her people.  She started attending college level ASL classes in the evenings with her mother.  Soon she started coming into the DHH room before school, at lunch, and hanging out with her Deaf peers more and more.  The more she developed ASL abilities, the more “normal” she became.  The more she developed her Deaf identity, the more her grades improved.  She learned how to learn visually, no small task for someone who had always been an auditory learner.

Janessa learned a lot this year.  She learned a lot about herself—learned that she doesn’t have to be hearing to be whole—that happiness and wholeness are found in one’s self—that a Deaf life can yield as much joy as a life in any other culture. 

I look at Janessa now and I still cry for her.  Not because her sorrow breaks my heart; not anymore.  I cry tears of pride as I see her coming to her own understanding of Deafhood—she knows she is whole.  With the support of her mother to learn ASL, and the support of her Deaf peers to include her, she is discovering her wholeness.

Gone are the tantrums, the meltdowns, the pretending to hear, the struggle to lipread.  No more does she obsess about her FM. 

Janessa still uses and enjoys her hearing aids.  She has developed communication strategies with hearing friends, and she still enjoys music and aspects of her former hearing identity.  But she has started on her Deafhood journey.  No matter where that takes her, she will always have our community and our culture and our language with her. 

I share this with you in the hopes that this story will be read by a hearing mother or father who doesn’t know what to do with her/his deaf child.  Please understand that, though it seems foreign to you as a hearing person, entering the Deaf world is not “taking” anything from your child, but giving them access to a world of rich and wonderful language culture and support that they will thrive with.  More importantly, take that journey WITH your child, like Janessa’s mother is.  You will grow closer as your child grows to understand his/her Deaf identity.  And your child will always treasure you for your willingness to step outside of your own presuppositional thinking and embark on this journey to Deafhood with him/her. 

For more about Janessa’s Deaf Journey, visit her new blog at www.janessasdeafjourney.wordpress.com.  For more about her cancer survival story, visit www.janessasjourney.com

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A More Deaf-Centered Deaf Service-Provider: An Aspiration for Purple

M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz

from

www.youtube.com/aslnikki

Our desire is straight forward—a world free of audism—but it is a daunting task.  So our immediate goal is a place on the internet where Deaf Centered is truly central—where audism is not permitted.  Seeing that Purple was sponsoring sites that were harboring, sanctioning, and endorsing audism hurt us as a community.  But it pulled us together and we made a public outcry for Purple to stop its financial support of DVTV and DeafRead.

Good news! Purple has announced that it will immediately cease sponsorship of other companies, agencies, and websites until it has had an opportunity to reevaluate its “culture.” 

This is a good FIRST STEP toward a more Deaf-Centered Deaf Service. 

But it is not the end. 

While Purple is reevaluating it’s culture, I hope it takes the following into consideration:

  • Does Purple truly understand the Deaf Community’s core values?
    • Does Purple understand why Deaf Community core values are different from other hearing groups?
      • Does Purple understand why Deaf children are more vulnerable when publically labeled and libeled than a hearing child might be? (**Everyone KNOWS the children who are being labeled and libeled in DVTV and DR, whereas their hearing counterparts would never be known by a substantial number of people in this regard**)
      • Does Purple understand that there is a difference between being identified as deaf and having a Deaf Identity?
      • Does Purple understand that the ASL Deaf Community are its clientele, and not the other factions of deaf and hearing impaired persons found in the vlogosphere/blogosphere/internet communities?  
  • Can Purple truly serve the Deaf Community when it is unsure of the Deaf Community’s core values?
  • Are there Deaf Community members at the core of the company?
    • How can Purple understand the Deaf Community’s core values without Deaf Community members at the core of the company?
  • How can Purple seek out and hire Deaf Community members for positions which will enable Purple to become a More Deaf-Centered Deaf Service Provider?
  • Does Purple know what services, companies, and internet sites are audism-free?

With these thoughts in mind, we challenge Purple to take time to reevaluate its “culture.”  If Purple finds that its “culture” does not align with, or if it does not know, the Deaf Community’s Culture, then, in order to truly support and gain respect from the Deaf Community, Purple must make the necessary changes. 

We will be here to offer support and guidance as Purple seeks to become more Deaf-Centered.  We will also be here to push, protest, and petition those who sanction or support audism in any form.

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