Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Independence and Reality

I like to think I'm invincible.

I like to think that there is nothing I can't do, and nothing that can stop me. If I admit that I am only human and that there are just things I can't do, that gets scary for me. I'm fine with admitting things like "I can't leap tall buildings" or "I can't run a marathon" most people would agree that building jumping can be dangerous, and that if I tried to run a marathon in this shape I'd likely injure myself (though, I can walk a marathon... That's a pretty good first step).

My point is that recently my world changed, and something I took for granted that I could do, I'm finding that I can't do so well anymore. I've lost most of the hearing in my left ear. I used to go to school to become a sign language interpreter, so I spent 3 years of my life learning sign language. Now every day that I'm in class I use sign language interpreters. It's funny because I feel like I have to defend why I need my interpreters a lot. I speak for myself, if you come up to me to talk to me I can for the most part hear you, and it's funny because a lot of the time I even ask myself why I have interpreters. I ask myself if it is worth making all this fuss. At home I don't use ASL. At work I never have interpreters. I am grateful that my hearing is still good enough that I don't need to use interpreters for my medical appointments or therapy. As much as after 2 years of the interpreter program I know the ethics and confidentiality that get drilled into interpreters from day one, I still am glad that I am able to not have a third person in that room.

It's hard for me sometimes. It feels like a huge loss of independence. If I go to class I can't take notes for myself because I can't take my eyes off the interpreters or I miss what is being said. There are an extra 3 people in the room just for me. If I need to leave a class early, or walk in late everyone notices because it isn't just me doing so. The times that are getting too numerous to count that there is some sort of interaction or problem between my teachers or peers and interpreters or I that would have never happened had I not needed an interpreter gets really frustrating as well. It is becoming so obvious to me that I get treated very differently when I use an interpreter compared to when I don't.

A friend of mine asked me if I really felt that the interpreters were causing me to lose my independence or if they were helping me to gain independence. At first I would have answered her lose independence, absolutely. I'm beginning to wonder though. In class a few weeks ago we were doing a group activity. Sometimes in small groups I need the interpreters, sometimes not, it depends on how loud the room is. I called the interpreter over and asked her to interpret. I forgot that I had the interpreter right there, and just relied on my hearing to hear what one of my group members had said, and despite the fact that the interpreter was correctly interpreting her comment, I completely misheard and replied about something else entirely. Had I used the interpreter for what she was there for, I wouldn't have made a fool of myself or made it quite obvious to everyone around me that I actually needed her there. The time when I notice it the most though is when I am at work. My coworkers usually forget that I can't hear and call me from halfway across the office to ask me something. Usually I don't hear them. It isn't until they call me 2 or 3 times or someone else points out to me that someone is looking for me that I know. Having the interpreters there levels the playing field in a lot of ways. Yes I need them, but if they aren't there, I am always going to be dependent on other people. I will need them to tell me when people are trying to get my attention. As my hearing gets worse that is only going to get worse from here on out. As much as I love to write I would far prefer the fullness of ASL to being reduced to fully written communication. Words on paper can only express and show so much, or allow for so much spontaneity.

I think in the end though it comes down to a lot of things. It comes down to accepting myself, and that despite what I wish were true, I can only hear as well as I can. That I am always going to have interpreters in my life, and I am lucky to be able to say that this year's graduating class of interpreters are my friends and peers, and I would love to have any of the interpret for me. (Don't worry, I don't see us as being too close to not be professional in a classroom setting, there's room for jokes and stories I promise ;-) ). It means seeing the interpreters as my allies who's role is to allow me and my classmates to fully communicate with one another. It allows me to choose whether or not I want to speak or sign, and allows me to communicate in the mode that I feel most comfortable. In that choice is where I find my independence. It allows me to be independent because there is no way that I could participate in my education to the same extent without it.

In the end though, it just is what it is, and there is an entire discussion to be had on difference another day.

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