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Interview:  Bill Vicars

Interviewee:  William (Bill) Vicars, Ed.D.
Interviewer: Nicole Quinn
Date:  10/15/05

This interview took place entirely in American Sign Language with some e-mail clarification.  I am aware that the Deaf community is a small tight knit community.  I sent this document to Bill before submitting it to ensure that I would not misrepresent him to another member of the Deaf community. 

 

This interview provided me with a good look at the upbringing and life of a man I have known since April of this year.  I learned many things from this interview that I had not expected to learn.  In addition, it stimulated my desire to think more about the Deaf community in comparison with the hearing community and it brought me to the realization that I prefer many aspects of the Deaf community over the hearing community. 

Bill is originally from Utah and is currently living in Sacramento, CA.  Bill labels himself as Deaf/hard-of-hearing.  I was confused and asked if that meant his hearing loss was borderline, between deaf and hard of hearing.  He clarified by explaining what this label means.  He is informing me that he is culturally Deaf; however, he is not overstating himself as being physically deaf.  Upon meeting a Deaf person, if he were to label himself as simply “Deaf,” a series of questions, important to the Deaf, would be set-off.  The Deaf person would try to establish connections such as attendance at a residential school for the deaf. Bill’s combined label allows him to indicate that time would be better spent finding other connections. 

 The medical profession labels Bill “hard of hearing.”  Bill has a 55 decibel loss in his left ear and an 85 decibel loss in his right ear.  However he is culturally Deaf. [Editor's note: Actually I consider myself "bicultural" -- living in both worlds.]  He primarily uses American Sign Language, married a Deaf woman, works in a Deaf-related field, goes to a Deaf Church, and has Deaf friends.  During our interview, he also told me his heart was Deaf.  He showed me a sign but told me that this was not an official sign and that he was playing with signs; however, it clearly indicated his meaning.  To indicate this, he used an index-finger hand shape and pointed two times at his heart moving in a small arc.  I really like this sign.

Bill was born hard-of-hearing, his mother is also hard of hard-of-hearing and he has a deaf aunt.  He told me he was mainstreamed using the normal sign, he elaborated by modifying the sign.  His left had signed mainstream but his right hand used the classifier used to indicate one person or the number 1 hand shape.  This clearly showed me that he was one individual in a sea of hearing people.  His parents never learned sign language.  They also did not force him to learn to speak.  Bill’s residual hearing allowed him to learn English without too much difficulty.    

He said because he was put in a hearing school and his parents did not teach him sign, there was no question that he would learn to speak.  It just happened.  On occasion, he would missread (lip-read) and then in turn he would misspeak.  He told me that when he was in school he used to say the Pledge of Allegiance wrong.  He used to say, “I pledge allegiance to the fag of the United States of America…”  The “l” sound in flag was undetectable to him.  Later, he read the pledge of allegiance and realized his error.  He went to speech therapy in order to refine his English.

At age 16, Bill began learning sign language.  He learned it from a deaf woman named Kathy Hadfield.  She was teaching a sign language class and he joined it.  He started to socialize with other deaf people and at 19 he felt he was finally a part of the Deaf Community. 

I asked him which Deaf community was larger, the one in his hometown or the one in Sacramento.  His response was that the Sacramento Deaf community was bigger and more diverse.  But, Bill is Mormon and the Mormon subculture within the Deaf community is much larger in Utah

I have been told by many people that Bill has an extremely clear speaking voice.  I have never heard him speak.  I was curious about when he uses his voice.  He uses it in restaurants or when it would facilitate easier communication with non-signing hearing people.   He uses both his voice and sign language with his children.  He says his children choose to sign to him when they want something or when they are in a situation that is not conducive to voicing, such as a noisy crowded restaurant.  His children also use sign as a backup if he does not understand what they are saying. 

This interview forced me to push away my preconceived ideas about the Deaf community and look closer at what it really is.  I have always liked playing with words and until this interview, I had not considered that the Deaf play with signs just like hearing people play with words.  Also, before this interview I realized that there were deaf people who are culturally hearing and hearing people who are culturally Deaf, for example, a CODA.  However, somehow, it did not fully strike home until I had this conversation with Bill.  This interview showed me that the labels the medical profession utilizes are worthless in the Deaf community.  Before the interview, I though the Deaf community accepted the labels the medical profession uses.  During the interview I realized this was wrong.

When Bill told me that he was 16-years-old when he started learning sign, I though well, at least he learned it while he was young.  But when I sat down to write this essay, I had the realization that I am 16-years-old and he did not have a natural language until he was my age.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to not have a natural language until this point in my life.  Granted, Bill was able to use English well and was able to communicate; but, he did not have a language that was natural to him. 

As a result of observing the Deaf culture, I have started to pay more attention to the hearing culture and in that; I have been noticing more and more differences.  In my experience, Deaf people want to tell me their life story; however, they do not seem to be looking for pity.  They also, seem to genuinely want to hear about my life as well.  On the other hand, many hearing people complain to each other.  When they tell someone about their life, a lot of the time, they are looking for pity.  I think many hearing people feel cared about when people feel sorry for them.  I feel that the hearing way is unhealthy because it promotes the negative feelings.  The Deaf way seems to allow that anger to dissipate.  Also, I have noticed in the Deaf community, my age is not as important as it is in the hearing community. 

I have also noticed that the Deaf are much more open with information and more direct.  The hearing culture is much more superficial and people are always afraid of offending others.  As a result of this interview, I know a lot more about Bill.  Because he was willing to be open and share his life story with me, I was able to learn more about him and relate better to him than if this interview was with a hearing person.  An interview with a hearing person would have probably been rather superficial.  I realize the irony in this statement.  I know that if a culturally Deaf person were to interview another culturally Deaf person, the interview would have delved much deeper.  I am comfortable when a Deaf person is direct with me.  But, I, as a culturally hearing person, am still not comfortable being so forward and direct.  So I realize this interview may seem superficial to you but from my hearing perspective, it was a deep interview. 

 


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