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Deaf Community:  Reflections of a Late Deafened Adult
Also see "Late Deafened Adult"
Also see "Late Deafened Adult (2)"

Reflections of a Late Deafened Adult:
By Rob Abbott

I grew up Hard of Hearing, in the 60s and 70s.  During the " Communication
Wars" of the time between ASL, Signed English and Oralist methods -
Eventually, evolving into Manual English and Total Communication, then
beyond to finally ASL, I was left in public schools.  At this time, even
with a severe hearing loss, it was determined that if they gave me a hearing
aid and sat me at the front of the class room, I could lipread my way
through school.  ha ha ha ha  Yeah, that was good plan, huh?  Did college
without interpreters and spent most of it in self study.  Eventually, got an

Now, as a late deafened adult, I find I still stand with a foot in both
worlds.  When speech therapy failed, I took a Radio and Television
Broadcasting with the provisio, that my goal was to learn speech with the
same quality as broadcasters and that no one listening to me would have a
clue that I could not hear.  It succeeded and in the early 80's, I was
perhaps the only Deaf Disc Jockey and in the nation. Even if that time was
only for a very short period, as I felt I had to prove I could.

Growing up in a hearing family, my parents and sibling, did not sign.  The
advise from the doctor of the day said that I should use the language skills
I had and they needed to force me to lipread so I can "make it in the world"
of hearing society".  I was and still am a very good lipreader.  My parents
are both dead now and my sister has, now that she is 50 and is living in
another state, been taking classes and is become a rather good signer,
working with the special education department at the school district.

I had both hearing friends and Deaf friends.  All of my deaf friends signed
and went to school at the State Deaf School.  My socialization with hearing
and Deaf friends were always separated from each other.  It was typical for
the times.

I married a hearing woman and had 3 hearing children.  One who, I'm told, is
a very good musician.  I always attended his band concerts, even when I
could not hear him play.  I was eventually divorced and remarried another
hearing woman, who, as of yet does not sign.  While we were dating she took
a sign class and dropped it, when the instructor's bad behavior caused most
of the students to leave the class.  She has not gone back for another yet
and does not want me to teach her.  We have been married a year now and I
occassionally bring up the subject, which is met with assurances that she
will try take a class when our schedule settles down and then a bit of
defenseness, indicating that the bad taste in her mouth from Eric's class
remains.  She is a bit embarrassed about it when hearing people ask her if
she knows ASL and I attend Deaf functions without her, as she is not
comfortable being married to a deaf person and then obviously has trouble
with the language of the moment.  This was spurned by her coming to the
local Deaf Association Picnic with me, then being completely ignored by the
community.  Motivation killer indeed.

So, with all of this background, you may be asking me what's my point?  Is
there a question here? and the answer is that there is no question just some
advise to others about culture.  Advise you may or may not want to print,
your call.

1.  In today's world, there is are many situations that will not fit the
standard definitions of the relationships of Deaf culture and hearing
culture.  There are many of us who exist on the fringe and due to our
circumstances grew up with a foot in each world.  For us the word of each
day is how do I accommodate those around me today.  Some of us are more
frustrated with the lack of attempts to meet us 1/2 way.

2.  In my personal case, I tolerate (better than most) my hearing family's
lack of signing, as I became habituated to it, through my years of growing
up.  However, in most cases, I would not hesitate to say to someone asking
me about learning ASL, for a family member or a friend.  Learn and use. 
There is little that is more frustrating and degrading of your level of
importance in your families life, than refusing to learn a method of
communication that will make conversation easier.  It is like telling the
person that they are not worth the effort to make commuinicate easier and
instead that they are inferior, as they will be reminded as to how inferior
they are - as they struggle to understand everyone around them through the
inefficient method of lipreading.

3.  In the case of the Deaf community.  There is no more greater motivation
killer, than shutting out through ignoring our hearing guests at a function
or event.If we say we want people to learn to make it easier, to develop
highly skilled interpreters, etc., then we must make people feel welcome in
our community.  My wife was ignored completely and thus, is now feeling as
though she is unwelcome.

4.  When hearing people try to learn ASL, we struggle to keep the language
within structure.  If we as Deaf signers teach, we should remember that how
we approach hearing adults and how they they learn and acquire language is
vastly different than how deaf people acquire and learn language.  This is
important.  Not all who take a class, are there to be interpreters, many
have personal reasons.

Spoken word is based on word form definition, ASL on concept, idea and
experience.  If your in-lass behavior and tough standards are interpreted as
non caring and non helpful, the damage may turn off dozens of your students
to our culture and language.  At least, the case of this large class, the
damage has been felt for a few years.

5.  I work in Human Resources and have for the past 25 years.  After
watching the Deaf unemployment rate at 67% and the underemployment situation
being far worse, I can safely say that it is all about attitude and

Many times, we talk about the best parts of the Deaf Culture and our
interaction with the hearing world.  I often have people who get close to
the Deaf community and discover our community stand on various issues, ask
me why we are so advocacy oriented.  I answe,r because of prevailing
attitudes and perceptions.  There are wonderful things about being part of
our culture and our community.  There are also struggles that go on day in
and day out.  They continue each day and from one situation to another, the
struggle to cope and get along is a daily task of accommodation,
pre-planning transactions, establishing routines that work and accepting
less than adequate outcomes many times and less than optimum most of the
time.  It is about how hard we work to communicate not just with one hearing
person for 5 minutes, but all hearing people all of the time.  Our community
gets together to socialize, as there is an environment of inclusion and not
being left out.  There is a time then to chat, catch up and talk with people
in a language and way that is about working hard, repeating, rephrasing to
being sure someone understands what is being said.  It is about the ease of
communication, in the same way as hearing people do at a party or any other
gathering.  The struggles day in and day out is our life, as well.

ASL sites, newsletters and classes offer many a way to become educated about our language and culture.  However, understand that there are various elements that make that up.  Understanding intellectually, and logically how it can be difficult - is a far cry from daily living.

--Rob Abbott




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