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My Existence as a “Slash” Person, and a Tale of Two Trucks:

10/15/05
Updated 7/13/07
By William Vicars, Ed.D.

 My Existence as a “Slash” Person, and a Tale of Two Trucks:

Physical deafness is defined as "partially or completely lacking in the sense of hearing" (dictionary.com).  This definition includes two groups or subsets:  those who are "completely" lacking in the sense of hearing, and those who are partially lacking.  Both groups are, by dictionary definition, deaf.

I am one of those in the "partially" lacking subset.  People in the "partially lacking subset" who are able to somewhat function in the hearing world are typically referred to as "hard of hearing."

Cultural Deafness is a set of learned or acquired attitudes and behaviors.  I have a hearing loss, but I am culturally Deaf by virtue of the fact that I choose to be.  I choose to sign.  I choose to work in a Deaf-related field. I married a Deaf woman. I choose to attend a Deaf Church. I choose to have Deaf friends. I set up an ASL website. I choose to immerse myself in this world.  I'm proud to be a member of the Deaf community.

I am a “Slash” person.  Specifically, Deaf “slash” Hard-of-hearing. (Deaf/HH for short.)

To help you understand my “slash” existence and how a person can be part of both the hearing world and the "Deaf" world, let’s consider for a moment the world of "trucks."  While there are many types of trucks, you can boil it down to two main kinds of consumer trucks:  2-wheel drives (2x4) and four by fours (4x4's).   Both are trucks and for everyday purposes we refer to them as trucks.  When we announce that a neighbor is moving, we ask people to show up with their trucks to help with the move.  We do not say, "bring your 2-wheel drive trucks and your 4x4's." We just say "truck."
There are times however when we specifically refer to 2-wheel drives or 4x4's.  Two examples are when discussing:
1.  Ability:  When we are discussing actual physical ability that has an application to our needs. For example:  It is snowing and we need a 4x4 because a 2-wheel drive would be more likely to get stuck.
2.  Pride:  4x4 owners are proud of their machines and occasionally it shows. They put stickers in their windows proclaiming their status as a 4x4.  Two-wheel drives are of lower status and do not advertise their status.

Hard of hearing people are the 2-wheel drives of the Deaf world.  We are still trucks.  We are still Deaf. Just of lower status.
 
A 2-wheel drive truck owner my decide to "rice out his wheels" (make his truck fancy).  A custom  paint job, lots of chrome, expensive accessories, and a lift kit or hydraulics.  The owner of such a 2-wheel drive truck will manage to garner quite a bit of respect.  In the city anyway.  That's like me.  I'm of a lower status because of my subset (I'm hard of hearing) but I have various degrees and certifications, I’m married to a Deaf woman, and I work in the field, etc..
The problem though, is if the owner of a fancy 2-wheel drive truck starts acting like he is hot stuff...the proud 4x4 owners will quickly begin making comments like, "Yeah, but it'd look better with some mud."  Meaning, that if it were a "real" truck (4x4) it could go up in the mountains and splash around in the mud, but since it isn't a "real" truck it can't get any mud and therefore is not as good as a 4x4.
 
That is where the “slash” label comes into play.  The "slash" existence of being Deaf culturally but also being careful so as to not pretend to be more than you are, thus the "slash hard of hearing” tag. Sometimes when I introduce myself or in response to someone's questioning I refer to myself (in sign) as "DEAF/HH." This is an attempt to establish my cultural affiliation but to not overstate my status.  I'm not alone in this.  I've seen many other "slash" people out there introducing themselves the same way.  If I introduce myself as being Deaf (without the “HH”) that immediately cues the other person to start asking which deaf school I went to or if I went to Gallaudet.  This is natural because it provides a means of quickly establishing connections that will help us exchange information about classmates and mutual friends.  While I did attend Gallaudet briefly, it wasn’t as a full time student and I did not attend a State Residential School for the Deaf.  By adding the “HH” to my introduction my conversational partner will be less likely to waste time searching for assumed connections that don't exist and will instead focus on finding other connections.

The fact is I am bicultural.  I live in both worlds. 
In the Deaf world I have full access.  In the Hearing world I only have partial access.
The “slash” consists of those factors that determine when I'm functionally deaf (unable to make use of my residual hearing” and when I can function as a hard of hearing person.
Here are some of those factors:

I am Deaf in these situations:       
•  background noise
•  light behind speaker
•  mustache
•  speaker has accent
•  speaker has speech impediment
•  Air Conditioner is running
•  Small child’s voice
•  Hearing Aid battery is dead
•  Person on TV is “off camera or not facing the camera.” Also if the TV is more than a few feet away.
•  Person is more than a few feet away or speaks at below 60 decibels
•  Person covers his mouth or turns to write on the blackboard.
•  You are standing on my right (85 decibel loss)
•  It’s time to take out the garbage
 
I am Hard of Hearing in these situations:
•  Quiet environment
•  Appropriate lighting
•  Clear view of mouth
•  Amplifier on phone
•  I have my hearing aid on
•  Standard American English articulation
•  Person is within a few feet and speaks at 60 decibels or above.
•  Person isn’t chewing gum, smoking, or eating.
•  The person on TV is facing the camera, his mouth movements can be seen, the volume is at 70 decibels or higher and I’m within a few feet of the TV.
•  Some song lyrics if they are dominant and the graphic equalizer is set at a reverse “cookie bite.”
•  you are standing on my left  (55 decibel loss)
•  It’s time to eat.

Now, with all that in mind, you can see that a “slash” existence is one of constantly blipping in and out of either world as the environment changes.  Often it requires trade-offs.  If I attend a party and am talking with a man and woman, it is quite common for me to be able to understand the man just fine and not understand the woman due to differences in their voices.  Or I’ll be talking with an adult and a child and not be able to understand the child.  Or I’ll be at a meeting and be able to understand the person at the head of the table just fine (because he or she is subconsciously or purposely speaking up) but not be able to understand comments from others seated at the table.  So, should I request an interpreter for every meeting?  It is a sticky thing. “Interpreters” (like all of us) are imperfect.  They miss or screw up an amazing amount of information.  Plus they are expensive.  Often the best solution is for me to simply catch 80% of what is going on and make frequent determinations as to whether a bit of information floating past is worth “fighting for” by asking for repeats.   Certainly if another Deaf person is in attendance I appreciate having an interpreter available.  But I use such an interpreter differently than a “fully” deaf person.  I will tend to watch the speaker and then if I don’t understand something I’ll quickly glance over at the terp to get the instant replay.  If there is no interpreter I prefer to just go to the meeting without one and sit at the front and ask questions when I determine that it is important.  Plus I read the minutes later on and I use my laptop to access relevant information to fill in the gaps during meetings.
All in all I have a good life. It is a fun and interesting existence. I’m grateful to be surrounded by terrific people who genuinely care about one another.
Cordially,
Bill Vicars


 

In a message dated 5/17/2006 11:48:11 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, an administrator writes:

Bill,
Thanks for sharing these personal insights with me. I did find them fascinating.
I would recommend that we utilize an interpreter at all departmental functions in the future to assure full communication access for all of us. We do have funds from ________ for this purpose.
Take care,
_________


 


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