Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Deaf Panel Discussion

The ASL Festival continued today with the Mother and Father Deaf Panel Discussion.

This consisted of 7 hearing individuals who are Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs) sharing the experiences, joys and challenges of growing up with Deaf parents. The discussion was moderated with good humor by another CODA who works as a sign language interpreter.

This was a truly fascinating hour that brought unique insight into what it means to grow up as a hearing child with Deaf parents. The issues, questions and stories spanned a range of topics, some humorous and some outrageous.

One participant shared that she was often embarrassed when out in public with her mom because everyone would stare at them as they talked together using American Sign Language (ASL). When riding the subway one day she began to seethe at the unwanted attention.

As she felt her anger bubbling inside her the urge to scream at the other passengers began to grow. Her mom saw what was going on and explained to her that she should feel proud of her language, proud to be who she is, proud to be Deaf (or in her case the daughter of Deaf parents). This proved to be a turning point for her and she explained "Yes, I am proud!"

However, everyone did agree that strangers seem to be fascinated when they see people signing and will often give more than a cursory glance their way.

Children with Deaf parents are often called upon to take on the role of interpreter. Because they walk the line between two cultures, two worlds, they are asked to act as a go between in situations where it is highly inappropriate.

One panel member told of her experience interpreting at her own grade school parent teacher conference. All was going along splendidly until the teacher said that she talked too much in class. This was not something that the student wanted to tell her mother. She knew it would get her in trouble so she hesitated. Torn between this unfair obligation of taking on the adult role as mediator and simply being a kid. As she grappled with this inner dilemma the teacher and parent got the message across non verbally. Years after this story took place the woman who told it was able to laugh but it highlights a serious burden that is placed upon CODAs.

I have heard stories of children having to interpret at the doctor's office or at financial meetings. That is crazy!

I have heard stories of school administrators refusing to talk with Deaf parents about their children - refusing to schedule an interpreter and even going so far as calling for a parent to be ushered out of the building by a security guard because they could not be bothered with them any longer. This is not only rude, impolite and appalling it is also against the law to refuse to provide an interpreter.

This kind of abuse continues because many Deaf individuals (certainly not all) will acquiesce when confronted with this unacceptable behavior. They feel a loss of power and often times lack the resources to follow through in assuring their rights.

I am proud of the fact that I teach at a school that honors American Sign Language. A place where Deaf and hearing individuals can communicate freely. A place where parents do not need to rely on their children for information about their progress. A place where children who are Deaf, hard of hearing or hearing with Deaf parents can feel free of staring eyes. A place where they can feel wonderfully ordinary.


Dumdad said...

Great post and I've learnt something about CODAS and the challenges facing them in certain situations. So it's great you run a place where they and others can be "wonderfully ordinary." Hear, hear to that!

Barbara said...

So interesting to think of what it would be like to be a hearing child of deaf parents. I'm wondering if the parents hoped for a hearing child or a deaf child?

As far as translation responsibility, the children of immigrant parents are often faced with the same task as they grow up in a world where their parents don't speak the language. It must be big burden for all of these children.

Al said...

Gary - Sounds like (no pun intended) the ASL work shops went well this week at school. I enjoyed reading your blog page about today's session. You continue to impress me with the passion you have for what you do.

WAT said...

I'm looking at that comic strip you put up.

I know, I know, I have to stop blaming my parents, but I often still do. I don't wanna get into it, only to say that I am an adult now, and my life is up to me right?

Gary said...



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