There is a lot people don’t understand about being deaf. For most, it’s simply like an inability to hear, an anti-audible anomaly, a deficiency in sound. They don’t realize that most of the people I make ‘Postal Service infused mix tapes’ for are actually my profoundly deaf friends. Or that just because we have hearing aids means we can hear (sometimes, it simply means that the far-away air conditioner is now omitting equal noise to our up-close and personal conversation, thus further distorting the process). They might think that reading lips is easy and a good “fall back” (when really, if you’re even the slightest bit foreign or have a beard like Matisyahu there is zero point). Or what about those people who talk with clenched teeth or perma-smile? Fat chance, my friends.
Sometimes others might think if I’m nodding my head yes and responding at appropriate intervals, I’ve understood the summation of our conversation (when normally I’m missing at least 50%). Or that we always talk too loud, too quiet or not at all [in retrospect, it’s a “to each his own” sort of scenario]. If you aren’t used to being around deaf people, you might be alarmed by the rapidness of our dialogue, how we can keep up with a vollyball-ing exchange amongst a group of people. Sometimes we aren’t even using words at all but rather concepts and visualizations, and thus able to mold and mend and bend our very verbiage in to tangible storylines that evolve not over time like most spoken languages, but literally by the minute. If you don’t know the context of an ASL conversation, the local “slang”, or even that particular groups pet names and inside references… you might feel like you’ve walked on to the planet Mars.
Just because a deaf person can talk, doesn’t mean they should at that moment. Sometimes when I use my voice it causes the other person to say “Oh good! You can read lips” and proceed with such rapid speed that a pen and paper would have worked better. Sometimes I go ‘voice of’ because it means I’ll find clearer accommodation from the other party, or maybe because my brain and eyes are so tired from reading lips that focusing on over-enunciating and guessing an appropriate volume are rather tiring at the time. Often, I’ll talk as clear as I humanly can, and will still get a tablet and pencil tossed in my direction. Some people are lovely and can’t wait to try a new sign on you or ask for some insight in to an ASL term. Other people think they are being lovely, but love to say things like “Well she sure is pretty… for a deaf girl” or “Isn’t it a shame, because she is so pretty”. (True stories. Many times. I’ll save that for another video)
Really, there is no magic trick. There are no rules. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no one way to be deaf. The only way to really understand ASL and immerse yourself in the culture of deafness is to… live it. You can’t read it, you can’t watch it. You can only be taught it to a point. The best way to learn about ASL is to hold your breathe, take a running start and jump in. I can promise you… we’ll never let you drown.
What Do You Think?: What is your favorite thing about ASL or its many quirks?