William Vicars, Ed.D. (Dr. Bill)
interview took place in American Sign Language over VP (video phone)
with some e-mail clarification.]
"The Problem With Focusing On Differences"
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
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
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.