Credit: Ashley Julianne Reeves
A loss of a sense is highly stigmatized in our society. The easily recognizable loss of senses are hearing and sight. Those two senses give us the most access to the world, compared to the other three senses.
Now I am not going to bash the other three senses because they have been extremely helpful in times when I am unable to use my sight. At home, I lived in the basement for about 10 years. I was able to navigate through the basement without the use of a light. Sometimes a friend would stay overnight and we would sign in the dark. Tactile comes through touch which is a critical aspect tied to deaf people. We would rather lose our hands than our eyes because we can adapt through touch and our language is not limited to our hands alone.
So if there's a loss to the other three, what are they? Aguesia - loss of taste, anosmia - loss of smell and interestingly, no scientific word for the loss of touch or sensation.
Anyhow, back to the point of this blog, I mentioned in the last two blogs about 'Talking Hands'. It was interesting when research showed that children born deaf or pre-lingual deaf (deaf before language) were able to develop their way of communicating and often deviates from Signed English systems.
As a deaf child growing up in a self-contained classroom (a few were self-contained and mainstreamed), we did use Signed Exact English in the classroom. Now when I started to think about how children use sign language, especially when I have young ones, I began to realize something. In the classroom, SEE was used; however, during recess, breaks or snatches of communication that did not require teacher input, meaning a natural conversation between children...we did not use SEE. We omitted the signs that were cumbersome and detrimental to our conversation, often resembling American Sign Language.
I asked the question of the 'in-between' conversations of several friends of mine who happened to grow up and graduate from the public schools. They have not even thought about this 'in-between' until I asked them. The more we talked about it, the more they realized that they had naturalized their conversations, getting rid of the cumbersome aspects of Signed English. This also explained how, when they entered the Deaf community at an older age (past high school), they were able to make friends and be at ease with signing naturally. The funny thing is that out of the group of deaf peers, three ended up having deaf children and that greatly impacted their decision about the quality of education and language. All of the kids attend a state school for the deaf (which again is perilously close to stigmatization because of ignorance and centralized bullying action).
Most of us have adjusted to life because this is a natural setting. Children gravitate to those who have more in common with them because they feel free in learning socially, linguistically and academically. Those children succeed the most because they have a support system within each other and a few of those children actually have parents who support them. Children by nature also adjust situations to fit their needs, not the adults.
The same is true for the community that Margrlit Fox talks about in her "Talking Hands" book. This is a positive community that the world needs to emulate, removing unnecessary barriers created by ignorance and selfish actions of clueless adults.
I have a friend who told me that even if she attended an oral school, the kids would sign when the teacher turns away or in secret places. They would come up with signs that make sense to them because they were finding ways to communicate with each other, fortunately for her and her classmates, a few deaf students had deaf parents so they came with language already.
That is why it continues to infuriate me that the 'privilege', yes privilege of hearing children learning ASL (not a natural language for them, unless coda, soda or sheer luck of having a deaf neighbor) while our own deaf children are prevented from using our own natural/native language, which has been proven from time to time to place us equally with our hearing peers.
"The problem is not that the students do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen." ~The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson (1988)
To Be Whole
Currently I am an ASL teacher at a local college and at an high school. I received my Masters in Sign Language Education from Gallaudet University. At home, I am an activist within the community, Northwest Indiana. My son is in first grade and my daughter goes to E.C.L.I.P.S.E. ASL Preschool. Change begins with you and change is effective with a team.