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Interview:  Bill Vicars

Interviewer: Philip McAnelly
Interviewee:  William Vicars, Ed.D.  (Dr. Bill)
Date:  2/16/2010
[This interview took place in American Sign Language over VP (video phone) with some e-mail clarification.] 


"The Problem With Focusing On Differences"

By Philip McAnelly

In February of 2010, I had the opportunity to interview a man I know as “President Vicars”, but he is known by many names.  His Students call him Dr. Vicars or Dr. V to his friends he is “Safari Bill” and on his driver’s license; William G. Vicars.  I have been associated with Bill for about a year, as I have occasionally attended the congregation he leads, thus the reason I call him “President Vicars”.  Initially I was excited to interview him, but this became a rather disappointing event.

            We have much in common.  Bill and I are middle-class, white, American, males.  We are about the same age.  Both are members of the LDS Church, and served as missionaries for the church.  We are each married to a Deaf woman and have children of similar ages.  We share a love of travel, and each wear a goatee.  With all this similarity one might question why I didn’t enjoy interviewing Dr. Vicars.  The answer is simply stated but difficult to define; the interview focused on a major difference, I am a hearing person and Bill is not.

            Bill is the son of one hearing and one hard-of-hearing parent.  Born hard-of-hearing, he was raised in Brigham City, UT where he attended a mainstream, oral, public school.  Bill signs this in an interesting way; indicating one Deaf person in a crowd of hearing.  Through the use of hearing aids, lip reading and hard work Bill was able to function well in this system.  Bill’s residual hearing allowed him to learn English.  He also had speech therapy and today has a strong speaking voice.  Although his parents did not learn Sign Language, they also did not force him to speak.

            Interestingly, Bill and I were also introduced to Sign Language in the same way.  We both attended a class as teenagers.  He continued to improve his Sign through instruction and associating with Deaf people.  Presently Bill indicates he prefers Sign to voice, but does use his voice very freely in situations where it will be more expedient to communication, especially in dealing with hearing people who do not Sign i.e. in a restaurant or store.  Ol’ safari Bill also told me that while driving he tends to use "simcom" (simultaneous signing and voicing).  This lets him keep one hand on the wheel, sign with one hand, and simultaneously say what he is signing to help make his communication clear to his wife who is skilled at both signing and lip-reading   Bill labels himself Deaf/ hard-of-hearing.  This is a fairly common introduction used by those who are not medically defined as “d”eaf.  It indicates one is culturally Deaf but at the same time avoids many cultural customs and assumptions of the Deaf community.  Dr Vicars is very involved in Deaf culture.  He is the spiritual leader of a congregation of Deaf people in Sacramento, CA.  He instructs university level Deaf Studies and is pioneering the use of technology, especially the internet, as an instructional aide in teaching ASL. In his role as Dr. Vicars, Bill spends a lot of time communicating with other educators and researchers from across the nation on subjects important to Deaf Studies.  He is well respected in the field and enjoys his profession so much he told me, making emails associates from around the world was one of his favorite free-time activities!  

            I asked Bill his opinion on SEE (Signed Exact English) in light of his strong promotion of ASL online. He explained to me that he felt there might be some benefit in using SEE as an aide in teaching English, specifically grammatical English to Deaf students. He indicated that the overly used “initializing” system was not really required to accomplish this goal. He also stated that he felt that Deaf to Deaf communication is better without the use of SEE.

            So here is the rub; while I did gain a lot of information about Bill Vicars in this interview I did not feel like I got to “know” him.  In contrast to a Deaf person, who I am sure would find all this information important if not required to make a deep connection, I as a hearing person did not.  Both Hearing and Deaf culture rely on a sense of connection to build strong relationships so focusing on this difference left me wanting.  Though I endeavored several times to reach beyond the strict confines of the outlined interview in an attempt to build that bond it was obvious that my cultural “hearingness” was a barrier that President Vicars and I would not be able to penetrate. Perhaps like the Balti proverb: "The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family” it will take more than one cup of tea.


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