Recently, Debrah Ruh of Ruh Global Communication asked to interview me for Huffington Post. It’s quite the honor to be featured in a prestigious manner by one of the world’s leader in creating an accessible world for everyone.
It isalso quite a challenge to answer a few simple questions in a short and simple format one may expect to see in an interview. We humans are not exactly simple creatures of few words.
Especially when the first question is a fantastic one.
Tell us about your life’s journey.
How does one go about answering a question like that?
I must have written and rewritten 5 drafts already trying to answer this question in one fell swoop that did not exceed two to three paragraphs. I failed miserably each time.
Then I reminded myself of the difference between a failure and making a mistake.
A failure is a mistake you learn from and correct immediately to avoid repeating the same mistake over and over again. A mistake is a failure you do not learn from and end up repeating it over and over.
the solution to the question
After my fifth attempt, I slapped myself silly (figurately speaking) and walked away to think about the problem. The answer arrived a few days later. It turned out to be the cummulation of all the lessons I learned about blogging, social networking, and social media.
Write a blog post about it here where you can learn more than just two or three simple paragraphs and drive traffic from Huffington Post here where you can learn more.
That said, allow me to take a moment to thank you for taking the time to read this. As a deaf person, I feel it is important that each of you are able to understand everything I can share with you.
the problem with the solution
You probably know this famous quote.
Every journey begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu
The problem with answering the question about my life’s journey is that there’s a beginning, a middle and the end. While I would like to tell you the end result of my journey, there’s another quote that prevents me from doing so.
I am an idealist. I don’t know where I am going but I am on my way. – Carl Sandburg
What I can do is start at the beginning.
I won’t bore you with every single little itty bitty details. What I can share you is a brief understanding about my upbringing as a deaf person. I have plenty of other posts that can fill in the gaps at the end of this post. You can knock yourself out with those posts (figurately speaking) if you want.
The reason why is because there is a common lack of understanding between the two terms, deaf and Deaf.
I like to say I am deaf and Deaf because, well, I suppose that’s where the beginning of my life journey comes in, don’t you think?
I know. I hate it when my favorite shows cut to a commerical like that with a cliffhanger type of question instead of showing us what’s behind that door. But that’s a skill I must utilize here.
growing up as a deaf person
This is where my journey as a deaf person began. It can be viewed as an unconventional one. Even I view my journey as an unconventional one. As one of my favorite quotes to sum it all up goes…
It’s been a long, strange trip. – Jerry Garcia
Because of my unconventional journey, I grew up mainstream in one of the best public school programs in the country. The powers that be including my parents agreed to try different methods and adapt the methods to my personal ability to learn.
the starting point of my educational experience
I grew up learning ASL, SEE, and PSE and English at the same time.
While we started out with a combination of SEE (Signing Exact English) and PSE (Pidgin Signed English) along with lipreading and speech therapy, it became very apparent that I preferred to learn visually.
It was this learning method that created the challenge of educating me on the English grammar and vocabulary while learning sign language at the same time.
The trouble is that SEE (Signed Exact English) and PSE (Pidgen Signed English) is not exactly a true sign language. These two languages are rather a method of teaching English grammar using sign language vocabularly.
the turning point of my educational experience
American Sign Language (ASL), my preferred language of choice, uses an entirely different grammar structure and vocabulary as well.
As a result of that, ASL slowly took over my visual language and opened up a world I could truly immerse myself in and enjoy myself completely.
It was not an easy journey in the beginning.
I am proof of the old saying.
It takes a village to raise a child.
Especially a stubborn child like me who refused to look at you when you talk to me.
What can I say? I liked to look at all the pretty colors around me. I still do but my communication skills have improved greatly since.
As a result of the educational plan put in place, I started my education around two years old. With a team of educational specialists and my family, I began to learn to communicate using sign language and speech.
It was not until I started first grade that I was immersed in a classroom environment for the majority of the time. The only exceptions was during “audio” lessons like music or reading out loud.
an exception to the audio lessons
One of my favorite things to do with my classmates was the spelling contest. However, my teachers knew how smart I was and did not make it easy for me. Instead of asking me to spell the word by spelling the word to me in sign language, they signed the word.
I had to spell it myself.
That’s right, dam!
Not damn, mind you.
That’s what the fish said to the wall!
Okay, all joking aside, back to the story….
the proof is in the pudding…
Well… to be honest with you, I preferred my Grandma’s homemade apple sauce.
It was during these lessons that I had individual one on one education to review and ensure I understood all the important lessons. At some point, my parents and the school recognized my ability to learn started exceeding their original goals.
As a result, in second grade, a new teacher was hired.
For ten years, from second grade to graduation from high school. Mrs. Sweeney performed the role of a Special Education Teacher for the Deaf in my hometown.
reality spoiler alert
This is a very rare situation that one does not see often in many public school system. The reason for that is because I was the only deaf student. That means setting aside a budget to educate one student in a customized way for 15 years.
This is a problem that many deaf students face today with budget cuts affecting school systems everywhere. Heck not for just deaf students.
Literally every single special education programs where student with different learning needs requires different educational methods to ensure their success around the world face this problem.
always do your homework
Even if you jammed it to the deepest, farthest, darkest place in your desk or locker and “forgot” all about it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get away with this minor tactic.
It was Mrs. Sweeney who recognized how quickly I absorbed information, analyzed and solved problems, and worked endlessly with me to develop my communication abilities.
Hell, she even brought me homework when I was out of school twice due to common health issues.
Yes, you read that right.
Even with chickenpox and an appendix operation, I couldn’t catch a break from school.
That’s dedication if nothing else.
Dam is not spelled the same way as damn!
the unconventional approach to sign language
She also recognized the value of teaching me ASL vocabulary by replacing SEE and PSE vocabulary with ASL vocabulary. What she did not do was replace the English grammar with ASL grammar.
In hindsight, there is a good reason for that.
That reason is what you are reading right now. You have gotten this far. Am I keeping you entertained and educated at the same time?
My ability to read and write in English exceeded all other abilities. It was this ability that literally quenched my thirst for learning.
I pratically drowned myself in as much information as I could possibly endure reading. When I got fed up with reading, I switched to learning something visually. For example, art and mechanical skills.
I learned how to use charcoal and pastel to create a picture that captured 1st place in the USA and 3rd internationally. I even learned how to take apart and rebuild a lawn mower that didn’t start up again.
Many people will tell you I’m full of useless but fascinating tidbits of information.
What can I say?
Knowledge is power but no one ever accused me of being a superhero.
the stark realization about my ASL skills growing up
The lack of information about ASL grammar became very obvious the first day I met two Deaf students at Arizona State University.
I still remember their reaction like it was yesterday.
My dorm roommate informed me there were two people at the door asking for me. I opened up the door and they asked if I was Mark in ASL.
Thrilled to see them, I replied “Yes, how are you?” in PSE.
That was the moment that became frozen in time forever for me.
Imagine a young man visually, his facial expression going from a smiling face to “Whooooaaaa!!!” using a gesture of raising his hand to his eye in surprise at a blast from the past.
I looked at him with a puzzled expression on my face.
That was his immediate follow-up question.
I had to chuckle at myself. I knew at that moment I was out of my league as a Deaf person. I knew right then I had miles to go before the sun rose to shine light for me to my Deaf world with.
We started signing and it became clear why I signed differently.
While I did use ASL signs along with a few SEE signs, it was like stepping into a time warp for them to see something used from the 1970s or 1980s.Fortunately for me, the fantastic group of Deaf people I met and got to know at ASU helped me adjust quickly.
My SEE vocabulary became a thing of the past while my ASL vocabulary became a language of the future. However, I wouldn’t blame any fluent Deaf signers for putting me in the sign language museum of history for reverting to old habits.
the journey continues
Even after fourty years of learning sign language, I know my old habits will die hard with me. That is including my lousy ASL grammar which I do try to improve.
Part of the challenge of learning ASL grammar is that I have to immerse myself within the Deaf community to become 100 percent fluent in ASL.
Many Deaf people have informed me that they can understand it which is great. This tells me I am on the right track. However, just like reading this post with my near perfect creative writing English skills, there is a fine line in doing any language proper justice.
I suppose my life journey includes learning the ability to do sign language the right way.
Fortunately, my thirst for knowledge will never prevent me from continuing to learn so I can improve my ASL grammar skills. Over the next twenty years since meeting those two young men at my door at ASU, I moved and traveled to so many different places in search of my answers.
Especially the answer to a very personal question that bothered me.
Am I deaf? Am I Deaf? Am I deaf but not Deaf? Am I deaf and Deaf?
This is the part where my journey continues. I will be traveling again soon. I encourage you to follow me on whatever social network you prefer so I can share my discoveries with you.
For now, the sun is about to set and tomorrow is a new day. I must put down my pen and paper and close this book. I will continue another day. You can find out more information in the links provided below if you want to continue reading.
If you are interested in more information, here are the links you can follow.
All the posts relating to my experience in life as a deaf person which will become an irregular experience over the years as I add more posts on various topics that are critical to creating a better world for everyone.
A fantastic organization that employes people with all kinds of disabilities to create a driving force in our world among Fortune Inc companies and nations. Debra Ruh, the CEO, is also a mother of a pretty awesome daughter who has Downs Syndrome.
Actually, I rather just send you to their team page. You just have to see for yourself the diverse variety of talented rock stars who created a better world for me.