Monday, November 23, 2009

Difference in Action

I think that it's a lot of things, but late Friday night I found myself out for dinner with a bunch of friends, and we had some really interesting conversations. Earlier on in the night we had spoken about our various experiences as Deaf people in the education system.

Now, first of all, sometimes I really struggle with using the term Deaf to describe myself, but in a lot of ways it is really the right term. At least in that context anyway. I still have a fair bit of my hearing left. I interact with hearing people everyday by speaking and listening to them. Listening and not speech-reading. That being said, people with hearing loss who are like me are a huge anomaly. Especially when you take into account that I lost my hearing when I was in my 20's. Virtually no one with hearing loss such as mine goes on to use ASL as their preferred way of communicating to deal with hearing loss. It just doesn't happen. They will use hearing aids, implants, speech reading, captioning, but will not learn ASL. I already knew ASL/was learning it. It seemed like a natural leap for me, so I did it. This puts me in a strange place where I am not typically hard of hearing because I sign, nor am I typically Deaf because of how much I hear. I am getting more comfortable and leaning more towards the use of the term Deaf, but for now I very much feel like I have a foot firmly in both worlds, and that makes me... Something that I'm not quite sure what. I just wanted to explain a little bit as to how I came to cast myself as a Deaf person within the education system.

The one comment that stuck out for me in all of this from a discussion about knitting, and being able to knit in class, was "Deaf students don't have the same rights as hearing people in a classroom"

I have felt that way since the day school started. The school has hired 2 interpreters and a professional notetaker for me in all of my classes. This is not exactly a small expense. According to the agreement I have with the school, they provide me with these services, however I am obligated to let the interpreters and notetakers know if I will not be in class on any given day, and if I fail to do so enough time, I can lose the right to have these accommodations. This was part of what influenced my decision to ask for interpreters, aside from the part where I was right that I would need them in the classroom, I tend to have a number of days where I hover on whether or not I should drag myself to class. Usually just the added work of having to email the interpreters and notetakers to let them know that I am not going is enough to make me just get out of bed and go, because I see myself as accountable to them. Therefore, the first right I lose is the right to skip class as I please. Actually a bonus when it comes to me attending my classes, but even on days when I am legitimately not feeling well or need a break, I feel guilty that I am not going to class. And also, if I'm not in class or leave class early it is impossible for me to be inconspicuous when it means the absence of 3 others in the room besides myself. In a class of 50 students I lose my invisibility. This means that all of my teachers know who I am, but they also know when I am in class versus when I am not, and out of a room of 200, I still stand out purple hair aside.

In College, even in my sign language courses I would often knit in class. We didn't often have to take many notes, we often had big group discussions and it was an easy way to keep my hands busy, but my mind still engaged in the learning. Now as things that we talked about in the interpreter program (such as how memory works) come up again in my classes I actually realize how much information I recall from when I was knitting. Now I find that despite the fact that I literally have nothing to do in class but sit there, I feel guilty as anything if I pull out the knitting. I can knit and take in sign at the same time. I did it during presentations and several other points last year. I have to be more careful about what patterns I knit, but it is easily doable. It is sad for me because I do concentrate better if my hands are busy, and hopefully as time goes on I will be able to knit in class again, but for now, part of why I get into trouble (with not being able to sit still and making smart ass comments to the interpreters) is that I don't have anything in my hands to keep me busy enough to be engaged in learning.

The other thing that I find is that I am treated vastly differently by my peers. They don't understand why the interpreters are there, or who they are even there for many times. I remember one story that happened about a month ago, I was sitting in class early, and the class was mostly empty. I was talking to this girl who was sitting behind me. She was very soft spoken and I was having a hard time understanding her, and as the room began to fill up, I was having even more trouble. It got to the point where she was having to repeat herself three or four times for me to understand what she was saying for every sentence. By this point one of my interpreters had arrived so I explained to her that I was going to ask the interpreter to come over and interpret for her because I couldn't hear what she was saying and that it would be easier. The interpreter came over, and she just shut down. I know that it can be weird to use an interpreter at first so I started asking her questions about what it was she had just been saying, but she began giving me one word answers. Eventually I just gave up. It was so frustrating though to see how differently I was treated in a 5 minute time span by the same person.

I understand that things that are new for us can be scary and it can take some getting used to things like working through an interpreter. I don't expect people to know what to do all on their own. Having to teach them is okay. I just can't stand that people use my difference and my Deafness as an excuse to treat me differently. To make excuses about why they can't do something because I am different. Asking the teacher to put on the closed captioning for a movie, or leave the lights on at the front of the room so I can see the interpreters should not be as much of a fight as it is half the time. I understand having to ask once, but the continued struggle? When having this information is taken for granted for every other student in the room? I don't get it.

So do I think that Deaf students have the same rights as everyone else? Absolutely not. That doesn't mean that I know how to fix the problem though.

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