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|Interview: Kim Senter|
Interviewee: Kim Senter
Interviewer: William Vicars
Permission to use name: Yes.
Note: Kim did her undergraduate work at Gallaudet.
This interview was conducted in person via ASL.
Bill: Are you Deaf or hard of hearing?
Bill: Is anyone else in your family Deaf?
Kim: Both parents, and my father's side of the family.
Bill: Did you go to a Deaf school?
Kim: Since age 7 and a half. The Illinois School for the Deaf.
Bill: When and where did you learn ASL?
Kim: From birth on up. I had Deaf parents!
Bill: When did you realize that you were deaf and that not everyone else was deaf?
Kim: I don't remember. That is a good question…I never thought of it that way before. My mother's side of the family was hearing, but back then I spoke. It wasn't until later on, at the deaf school that I stopped speaking and just signed. My mother's family lives in Indiana. That's a lot closer than my dad's family. So we ended up visiting my mother's family more often. I got to know them pretty well. Since I could communicate with them by lipreading and speaking I didn't think of them as that different. I guess it was just the way I was raised. I never thought of myself as different because I was surrounded by deaf people.
Bill: What attitudes did your teachers and your community have about Deaf people and ASL when you were attending school?
Kim: My community was the deaf community. Mom and dad always made sure I was immersed in the Deaf Community. Even though my teachers focused on hearing aids and TC, they were very much involved with deaf issues. Dorm life was ASL My parents were ASL.
Bill: What attitudes did your employer and co-workers have about Deaf people when you started your first job?
Kim: I was a keypunch operator. I managed to recruit a deaf friend to work there too because other than me it was all hearing. My friend and I used to chat quite a bit. You know. The hearing would talk amongst themselves too. They didn't talk to us. The boss didn't understand our need for communication and would bawl us out.
Bill: When you were younger, what labels were used to describe Deaf people and ASL? What changes have you noticed over time?
Kim: We called it "sign language" My teachers and people I knew called me deaf.
Bill: You mean no body ever called you dummy, or "death?"
Kim: The Chicago Deaf Community is really strong. We just called it "Deaf," period.
Bill: What is your favorite Deaf joke or story?
Kim: You know the one about the train? A Cuban, a Russian, and um…a hearing, and a deaf?
Kim: That one.
Bill: Where the deaf guy throws the hearing guy out the window?
Kim: Right! I like that one.
Bill: If you could take a magic pill and become hearing, would you? Why and why not?
Kim: NO! I'm too proud to be deaf. ASL is beautiful. It is peaceful to be deaf.
Bill: If you could push a button and make everyone in the world deaf, would you? Why and why not?
Kim: <gleam in her eye> Y-e-s!
Bill: How do you feel about the gay community?
Kim: You mean lesbian?
Bill: Gay/lesbian, yes.
Kim: I'm lesbian.
Kim: There needs to be more openness.
Bill: What do you mean?
Kim: The gay/lesbian community accept straights for what they are why can't they accept us for what we are? They expect us to change and follow their way, but that is not what we want. There is a lot of emphasis these days on people being happy. Well, that is what makes us happy, others should accept that.
Bill: Thank you. I appreciate your time.
I too think I'd push the button to make all people become deaf. But that would have to include "and fluent at ASL." To make a bunch of people deaf, but deny them the mitigating influence of Deaf culture and knowledge of a signed language would be cruel indeed. I wonder though, suppose there were a blind person out there who wanted to push a button and make us all blind, or a person in a wheelchair who would push a button and make us all need wheelchairs? I sure as heck wouldn't want to be in a wheelchair because someone pushed a button. A person could argue that it isn't the same thing--that deafness is a culture and not a disability. Yet, consider a hearing person who hasn't been raised deaf, who hasn't learned ASL--becoming deaf (physically). How would he view his sudden deafness? A person who doesn't understand Deaf culture would view deafness as a disability.
Kim had Deaf parents her upbringing and self identity were different from that of many Deaf individuals that were raised in a hearing family. Kim is more self assured. She seems more comfortable with identity as a deaf person. While growing up she didn't have that pervading sense of being "different" because she was surrounded by deaf culture. My question "When did you realize that you were deaf and that not everyone else was deaf?" honestly seemed to take her by surprise. She had never given her identity much thought. While growing up, deafness to her was normal. Her parents were deaf. She was deaf. It was her way of life.