While scanning my Twitter feed, I noticed a tweet by Rikki Poynter about bullying within the Deaf community.
While I do my best to create a better world for all deaf and hard of hearing people, it is unfortunate that there are still divisions within the Deaf community.
In order to better understand the situation, it is important to recognize that there is a diverse group of deaf and hard of hearing people. Simply put, there are two groups of people, those who use sign language and those who don’t.
— RIKKI POYNTER (@rikkipoynter) May 18, 2016
Before I respond, I encourage you to check out Amanda’s message.
the issue behind signing and talking at the same time
It is not unusual to see opposing point of views regarding using sign language. As with any language, it can be a sensitive subject when it comes to the right way to communicate in that language.
Simply put, sign language does not require the use of verbal communication.
Generally, when verbal communication is used with sign language, it is for the purpose of interpreting sign language into spoken or written language.
The issue become more complex due to a variety of factors including but not limited to social situations.
For example, I prefer to use sign language. However, unless I am with people who know sign language, I am unable to use it.
To complicate matters further, my brain was wired in a way that I end up signing and talking at the same time. This is what’s called SimCom or simultaneous communication.
More often than not, I catch myself talking without realizing it while I sign around Deaf people. It is not on purpose. Rather, it is a result of the way my brain processes my thoughts.
I do make a concentrated effort to use sign language without talking at times. Without realizing it, I fail often. However, it does not stop me from trying again. I often compare my efforts to riding a bicylce because it does take pratice to create a habit without thinking about it.
While some people view SimCom as a sign of disrespect which is understandable, there is one thing that still needs to be understood.
Communication begins with respect.
There will always be people who are on the opposite sides of the same issue, no matter what the issue is. This is normal. We see this every day.
The important thing to keep in mind is respect. There is nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree as long as both sides respect each other.
Over the years during my search for where are all the deaf and hard of hearing people at, I have met people who accept my failures as well as my efforts to not only communicate but improve my sign language skills.
It is these people I often consider to be great friends.
At the same time, I have met people who prefer to close the door to communicating because of their personal point of views regarding communicating in sign language. It is not very often this happens but it does happen.
While it is unfortunate they chose to close the doors, I can respect their decision to do so. It is only with hope that my sign language skills improves over time for them to open their doors again.
Communication is important.
Amanda made a valid point as to why communication is important.
It is really necessary for life and happiness.
We do not have to search hard to find moments where we get fustrated when we fail to communicate successfully.
I think it is safe to agree here that when we do communicate successfully, life gets a little easier. Hopefully, that makes us happy even if we disagree on certain points.
Without communication, we are unable to take the opportunity to learn and understand. The amazing thing about communication is that we are not limited to one method.
Communication is an ability
Since the dawn of communication, as humans, we are all able to learn and understand whether we are reading, using sign language, speech, symbols, or writing.
If we do not think about why we communicate, we will not evolve towards a better world for all deaf and hard of hearing people.
Yes, there is a struggle in what’s the right way to communicate.
This struggle is a result of a desire to dominate.
You do not have to search hard to see proof of this. There is a need to have one language that can be understood by all. The heart of this issue is that we are not all equal in terms of abilities.
In fact, I posted a question about the ability to communicate successfully a while ago.
When is an ability to do the same thing different ways a disability?
How different communication abilities can succeed.
The ability to hear or not hear has nothing to do with the ability to sign or speak or write.
There are those who are not able to use sign or speech and are capable of communicating successfully. You have to look no further than the brilliant scientist, Stephen Hawkins, to understand this.
My main interface to the computer is through a program called EZ Keys, written by Words Plus Inc. This provides a software keyboard on the screen. A cursor automatically scans across this keyboard by row or by column. I can select a character by moving my cheek to stop the cursor. My cheek movement is detected by an infrared switch that is mounted on my spectacles. This switch is my only interface with the computer. EZ Keys includes a word prediction algorithm, so I usually only have to type the first couple of characters before I can select the whole word.
The list of communication methods is endless.
Communication is a two-way street
If communication was a one-way street, we would have accidents all the time. The challenge is accepting the different ways to communicate.
While I accept my abilities to communicate using lip-reading and speech with people who do not know sign language, the problem is that it is an ineffective way of communication for me.
Even hearing people admit this without realizing it.
“I can’t hear you, the music is too loud.”
This is a classic example of where certain communication methods can fail. Another example is writing to someone who can’t read regardless of whether they are literate or not.
Communicating with a Deaf-Blind person.
I had the opportunity to communicate with a Deaf-Blind person several years ago. By placing his hands on mine, he was able to understand what I was signing to him. By signing for himself, I was able to understand what he was communicating to me.
And we did not speak or write at all.
It was a fantastic conversation full of questions and answers. We learned a lot from each other this way.
This is an example of an ability to communicate on a two-way street.
This brings me back to my question earlier. If you are unable to communicate in sign language or a different native language, does that mean you have a disability?
Personally, I don’t think so.
Communication is evolution.
Years ago, there was an ad that caught my attention by No Fear, a lifestyle clothing brand. I am unable to find this ad but there was one line in that ad forever stuck with me.
Evolve or die.
If we do not evolve, we will not make a lasting impact on the future.
I think part of the evolution process involves thinking.
I think it is the fear of evolution that holds us back. Unless we chose to evolve, we will not be able to participate in creating a better world for all deaf and hard of hearing people.
That means hearing people do need to learn how to embrace the deaf/hh community and evolve to adapt their communication skills to match the deaf/hh communication skills too.
Even the deaf/hh have to evolve to embrace those who do not match their communication skills.
No one is perfect.
Sign language evolves too
I am not a perfect ASL user.
I never had the opportunity to learn the correct ASL grammar but people do understand me when I sign. This tells me they are open-minded and willing to communicate.
Heck, even the English language is not 100 percent English.
English has evolved to include words from other languages in its’ dictionary. And rarely do I ever come across anyone who speaks or write perfect English.
I started learning sign language in the 1970s. For those of you who remember what sign language was like in the old days, you will know what I mean.
If you don’t but you are curious, I recommend checking out Marlee Matlin’s performance in Children of a Lesser God (Amazon Associate link).
Heck, even signs for iPhones didn’t exist until iPhones were invented.
Communication is an opportunity for success
There are times when I am in a group of deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people. Some know sign language, some are just learning, and other do not.
It is because of my experience during these moments that I sign and talk at the same time.
The reason is because closing any door to opportunities for successful communication means I failed in my ability to make sure everyone understands.
This is where I “say” to Amanda that it’s okay to be in the middle of the road too. As long as you are on the road to communicating successfully, everyone wins.
Communication is why I’m proud to be Deaf.
That said, I always try to match my communication skills with the person I communicating with. If the person prefers using sign language, awesome, I’m more than thrilled to sign.
The main reason why I am proud to be Deaf (capital D) is that I can communicate using sign language, the primary language of the Deaf community. I can learn, listen, respond and understand in sign language.
It is easier for me to do so with sign language than it is to lipread and talk. It is also easier for me to understand 100 percent. With lipreading and talking, I have discovered this not to be the case.
Even hearing people can’t successfully understand 100 percent while listening.
Again, I ask you all, regardless of your abilities, when is an ability to communicate a different way a disability?
I am curious to know what your thoughts are.