ASL University


 American Sign Language: "Deaf Culture Interview" with William (Dr. Bill) Vicars, Ed.D.


A student named Sydney wrote:


Dr. Bill, 
I emailed you a couple months back in November about helping me answer some questions I needed to be answered on Deaf Culture for a school project. You mentioned helping me get in contact with one of your buddies that you know who are deaf and immersed in Deaf Culture. If you are free please send me any contact information that you have. Here is a sample of the questions that I have planned for the interview:

1. Please state your name and birth and how you became involved in the Deaf community.
2. What is the difference between being physically deaf and immersed in Deaf Culture?
3. Are all deaf people a part of Deaf Culture?
4. What would be your favorite aspects of Deaf culture?
5. Do you see being deaf as a disability, why or why not?
6. Have you ever experienced oppression by hearing people's denial of Deaf Culture and ASL as a language?
7. Do you or any of your friends who are deaf have hearing aids or cochlear implants that are still apart of Deaf Culture?
8. What exactly is Deaf Community to you?
9. What are specific characteristics in Deaf Culture? How is it different from other cultures.
Thank you for your time!
Sydney


-----------------------------

Sydney,
I'm going to go ahead and answer your questions personally.

1. Please state your name and birth and how you became involved in the Deaf community.

Answer:
Bill Vicars
I'm ____ years old. (Heh).
I was born hard of hearing.
I became involved in the Deaf Community out of choice and a desire to communicate visually. As a teenager I sought out Deaf people who taught me how to sign and I've continued to immerse myself in the Deaf world ever since.

2. What is the difference between being physically deaf and immersed in Deaf Culture?

Answer:

A person can be physically deaf yet not be aware of nor share in the values, beliefs, norms, and/or the characteristic customs and conventions of the Deaf community.

3. Are all deaf people a part of Deaf Culture?
Answer:

I think of it like dropping a rock into a pond.  Waves emanate outward.  Are the waves on the outermost periphery of the pond still part of the original influence of the dropping of the rock?  All people who are physically deaf experience some degree or amount of influence from being deaf to which they adjust their behavior. Those adjustments in behavior -- however slight-- are a form of cultural adaptation.

4. What would be your favorite aspects of deaf culture?

Answer:

When I travel to a new place and see people signing I can approach them and start up a conversation with people who share many of the same life experiences.  I is very common to meet a Deaf "stranger" and within minutes learn of shared acquaintances.

5. Do you see being deaf as a disability, why or why not?

Answer:

I think any holistic, thorough examination of the lives of individuals who are deaf will turn up instances and circumstances in which we could be described as being disabled. Blah, blah, blah. So what?  It isn't a matter of being disabled or not. Is a blind person disabled if the lights are out? Is a legless person disabled while sitting at a table?  Any particular condition is only disabling if you need that particular ability.  Deaf people set up their lives in ways that largely mitigate deafness.  For example, I married a Deaf woman so that my life partner would be someone with whom my being Deaf is a plus.  I pursued and secured employment as an ASL teacher thus my hearing loss is mitigated and my "Deafhood" is an advantage (in terms of credibility, etc.).  So for many Deaf people being deaf is "not" a disability.  The more immersed in Deaf culture a person is the less disabling it is to be deaf.

6. Have you ever experienced oppression by hearing people's denial of Deaf Culture and ASL as a language?
Answer:

As part of my answer to that question I want you to know I'm very grateful for the many wonderful Deaf leaders who worked hard to spread awareness, pass legislation, and promote improvements in Deaf-related concerns (such as education, interpreting, telecommunications, and various government programs). The minor oppression I've faced in my life is nothing compared to that faced by Deaf prior to latter part of the 19th century. I personally have arranged my life in such a way that I experience very little "direct" oppression. I'd label some of my experiences more in the realm of having been marginalized rather than "oppressed."  But sure, I've had my share of experiences. For example there was the time when a Hearing woman was hired for a high school teaching position to which I also applied. Soon afterward she contacted me asking how to sign various concepts (she was basically learning sign language from my website). I was astonished at how clueless the administration and hiring officials were.  None of them were skilled in ASL and thus were not aware of the woman's lack of signing ability.

7. Do you or any of your friends who are deaf have hearing aids or cochlear implants that are still apart of Deaf Culture?

Answer:
Lots my friends have hearing aids or cochlear implants.  Cochlear implants used to be a "big deal."  Now it seems they are just one more "flavor" of Deaf.  My own wife once seriously considered getting a cochlear implant. But after chatting with one of her friends who mentioned all of the downsides (the dangerous operation, the rehabilitation time, the learning curve, the time investment, the new physical limitations: no contact sports, in some cases no swimming, etc.) she decided against implantation.

8. What exactly is Deaf Community to you?

Answer:

The answer to that question is too long this type of interview.  Instead I recommend you dig some cash out of your pockets and buy a book on Deaf Culture since it is a book-length response. I recommend the book, "Inside Deaf Culture" by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries. But since I do want to provide you "something" for your paper I'll share with you my "pond" analogy:
The Deaf Community is like a pond.
The fish are Deaf people.
The frogs are hard of hearing people.
The landwalkers strolling on the banks are Hearing people.
The water is the silent environment.
The ability to breathe the water is ASL.
Fins, flippers, and webbing (the ability to navigate the water) is familiarity with Deaf Culture.
Snorkelers are individuals who have learned enough sign language to skim along near the top of the water.
Scuba divers are the graduates of interpreter training programs and Deaf Studies programs who have invested heavily in being able to breath under water.
Mudskippers (fish that have crawled out of the water and are waddling around on their front fins trying to walk and gasping on the air) are the oralists and cochlear implant recipients.
Dolphins and porpoises are children of deaf adults (CODAs), Siblings and Spouses of Deaf adults (SODAs). They live in the water, are often mistaken for fish, but breathe air.
Flying fish are those culturally and physically deaf individuals who also happen to be good at lipreading. They occasionally go into the air but come right back to the water.
A lonely fish in a small bowl is a Deaf person who is isolated in a hearing family or public school.  If you put a fish in a bowl and stick the bowl on a table or shelf--that fish is now isolated, lonely, and dependant on the "owner" for food and fresh water.

The analogy can go on and on.  For a few more comments on that analogy, see: http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/topics/pondanalogy.htm

9. What are specific characteristics in Deaf Culture? How is it different from other cultures?
Answer:

Think of culture as a response to challenges presented by the environment.  Ask yourself, "What challenges are faced by Deaf people and how have we [Deaf people] adapted?"  When you answer that broader question you will have the answer to your specific question.  I'll give you an example to get you started:  One challenge or aspect of being deaf is that of needing to communicate visually.  How have we adapted?  We developed a visual language. We congregate in visually accessible arrangements. We were early adopters of email, video phones, and texting. We tend to touch each other as one of our main means of gaining attention. We very much dislike visually distracting backgrounds in environments intended for communication. We value good lighting and clear sight lines. For example: Quite a few of us have oversized rearview mirrors in our cars (and have to replace our dome lights more often because we use them when it is dark outside to communicate with others in the car when driving somewhere).

[End]

 


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