I grew up in a hearing world. I attended A.G. Bell
School for the Deaf in Columbus, Ohio from 1966 till 1974. That school
forbids any deaf student from using sign language. They believed that deaf
people should use their voice to "talk" to hearing people. Then I
transferred to Huy Elementary School for 2 years. They had several deaf
students at Huy Elementary School. None of us know any sign language at all.
We began to make up our own sign language to understand each other better. I
attended public school all my life until I went to Gallaudet University in
Washington, DC. When I entered Gallaudet University, located northwest of
DC, I had to take a sign language exam before I could register for classes.
Naturally, I flunked the test. They told me I had to take an ASL class
before I could transfer to the main campus in downtown DC. I had never seen
so many deaf people using sign language and so fast. I got scared and
confused. I forced myself to learn ASL by hanging out with deaf people on
the campus and also in the ASL class. At first, I had hard time following or
reading their speedy sign language; however, after several weeks hanging
around with deaf people, I got better each day
Going to the cafeteria on the campus was a little odd for me. Since most
deaf people knew that I am "an oral" student from a public school, they
would not sit with me. There were few "oral" students; they would sit with
me because we came from the same background. Some deaf people, who had deaf
parents or deaf siblings, would sit with people who had similar background.
I had never seen anything like this before. It was a new experience for me.
I learned a lot from them by seeing them around everyday on the campus.
Within the deaf community, there are several different kind of their
identify groups such as deaf who has deaf parents, deaf and blind, deaf who
went to an oral school, etc. They looked down on me as if I were a "hearing"
person because I went to an oral school. Their perspective is that I
belonged to the hearing culture and by speaking was rejecting deaf culture.
One studies indicated that it still exists in larger cities such as L.A. New
York City, Chicago or Phoenix.
Living on the dorm was very interesting and was a brand new experience for
me. Most deaf people had lived in the dorm all their life from K-12. They
were used to it but not me. I had two roommates. One was from Texas and one
was from Las Vegas. They were both deaf and went to residential schools for
deaf children. Those schools allowed deaf students to sign. I bet all of you
say, "Why can't you go there?" Well, my parents thought it would be best for
me to go to public school rather than residential school because they
believed that using my voice would help me better communicate with hearing
people, that I could be a "hearing" person, and they wanted me to stay at
home everyday instead of living at the dorm and coming home on the weekends.
Also, they believed that I would get a better education at public school
rather than residential school. Anyway, I was unpacking my suitcase and
noticed the lights flickered. I thought maybe the power was about to go out.
My roommate said "Why didn't you answer the door?" I was puzzled and had no
clue what he was talking about. I said " what are you talking about?". He
said "Let me show you". He opened the door. There was someone at the door. I
got a little confused because I had no idea how he knew someone was at the
door. I asked my roommate "How did you know that someone was at the door?"
He showed that there was light switch outside the door. That was how people
"knocked" on the door. If we didn't answer the door or the light bulb wasn't
working, people would kick and bang the door real loud. It is a really
annoying sound but deaf people have no clue how annoying the sound it can
be. One night, there was a fire alarm. The strobe lights locate on the
ceiling starting going off. It was right above each bed. That was how I got
up when there was a fire alarm.
The classroom was very interesting. I never had a deaf teacher. I never
thought there would be one! My first class was Algebra. The teacher was
deaf. I got a little scared because I was not sure if I was able to read
their speedy sign language but I was wrong. I was able to read their sign
language. I was amazed to see how much I learned from the deaf teacher
because we, the deaf teacher and I, are both deaf and understand better. I
am not saying a deaf teacher is better than hearing teacher. Honestly, I
would prefer hearing teacher rather than deaf teacher because I grew up in a
hearing world and am used to it. Also English is my first language and ASL
is my second language.
Deaf culture is the sharing of beliefs, values, and behaviors of deaf or
hard of hearing people who use sign language as a primary means of
communication and who are members of local deaf communities. Most culturally
deaf people are deaf or hard of hearing from birth or a young age. There are
more than 25 million deaf or hard of hearing people in the United States.
Approximately, 150,000 deaf people consider themselves as culturally deaf.
As for me, I don't consider myself part of Deaf Culture because again, I
grew up in a hearing world and my sign language was my second language.
Deaf culture has changed me. Sometimes, I find that I expect people to
communicate with me by using sign language. I demand that people learn sign
language in order to communicate with me. Before I sign, I did not worry too
much about it because I just thought that that is the way it is. When I
learned sign and could see that it did not have to be that way, and learned
about Deaf culture, it greatly impacted me. It is also comforting to know
that there are others out there like me.
-- David Kelsey