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Hearing-Blind Signers in the Deaf Community?
Received: Tue, Oct 15, 2019 9:36 am
Subject: ASLU and the Blind, and Hearing Blind--Sighted Deaf
Good Morning Dr. Bill.
May I call you that? It seems everyone does. I wrote you a while back
to say thanks for your descriptive signs. I continue to peruse the
Lifeprint site and supplement my ASL course with cultural info and
your answers to the questions people write in with.
Question. What's been your experience with hearing blind signers? have
you met many? If I google ASL and blindness, or otherwise try to look
it up in a university library database, I'll find a good deal on
deaf-blindness, which is a fascinating topic on its own and the basis
for my research, but DB is definitely not the same experience as
learning ASL as a hearing blind person.
Does the Deaf community feel strongly, for or against, any other
disability communities like the blind? Most of what I've seen about
how the Deaf feel about others is, naturally, in relation to the
hearing culture, what I call the sighted culture from the perspective
of another sense. in fact, the Deaf have their frustrations with the
hearing. I have mine with the sighted.
On a slightly different tack, I suggest there may be parallels between
my ASL learning as a hearing blind person and the experiences of
someone who is deaf-blind. If I'm at a Deaf coffee chat, I will be
unaware of who else is there, how many are there, or where they're
sitting or standing, and that can parallel the deaf-blind experience
to an extent. Similarly, I have no ability to take in incidental
signs. The only hands (and signs) I see are those I touch. So there we
That made me wonder about ASLU. I'd love to supplement my studies with
some ASL courses when my university schedule no longer allows me to do
ASL because of other program requirements. But I suspect that I would
have a tough time of it in your ASL courses, since they are,
naturally, video based. I'm not even sure how we could work around
In any case, you keep posting things and I'll keep reading them. Thanks again.
________ (Name removed to protect the individual's privacy).
I've known only one Hearing Blind (fairly skilled) signer. That was 30 years ago during my undergraduate days. He told me about a little joke that he and his girlfriend would play on restaurant waiters who would always ignore him and ask his girlfriend what he wanted to eat. She would reply, "I don't know I'll ask him. And then she would sign to her obviously blind boyfriend from across the table and then slyly nudge him with her foot under the table when it was his turn to sign back. Then he would sign what he wanted to order and she would tell the waiter. The waiter would always be confused at why she was signing to a blind guy and then would be mildly freaked when he would reply in sign and she would interpret.
It has been my experience that most adult, native Deaf are indeed quite accepting of any flavor of human being – including vanilla Blind signers. (Vanilla here being used to mean "no other disabilities.") However being tolerant and accepting of someone doesn't mean that the relationship is a good fit or that the relationship won't be an uphill slog.
It comes down to resources. Being Deaf or being Blind is more resource intensive (or requires more effort to access resources) than being Hearing and/or Sighted. Being both Deaf and Blind is even more resource intensive.
Fish swim in water and flap around on land.
Blind people navigate sound "very well" and flap around in the absence of it – or rather "feel around."
A few thoughts with you that you likely have thought about already:
If you as a Hearing-Blind individual choose to hang out in the Deaf Community you are making a conscious choice to further limit your sensory input and become more resource intensive or experience a loss of access. In other words you will drain more resources from the event than would a Deaf participant. That is -- unless you bring your own resources (such as a personal tactile interpreter supplied by you). Someone has to do the work of interpreting the signing of anyone sitting more than a couple of feet away from you. Even with a tactile interpreter the conversation has to be slowed down to keep you caught up.
If you choose to have an interpreter "voice" for you what is going on it does something I call "creating bubbles in the water."
Analogy: Deaf are like fish. Visual communication is like water. Deaf space is like a lake. Voiced communication creates bubbles in the water which distract, annoy, or scare fish away.
You may choose to go to a Deaf event and be "unobtrusive." Meaning? You may decide to go to an event and "not" have everything interpreted -- to "not be or be less of a burden." In doing so however you give up access to the information, entertainment, and connections that are some of the main reasons for going to the event in the first place.
It becomes a question of "return on investment" or ROI.
Contrast the return on invested time and energy of a Hearing-Blind person attending a Deaf Event versus that same person perhaps going to a primarily sound-based concert or a poetry reading.
There is indeed the value of the novelty of a Hearing-Blind person choosing to attending Deaf events. Novelty itself is of value. However by its very nature "novelty" is short-lived. After the novelty wears off we are left with square peg (someone who can't "see") in a round hole (a visual-centric community).
Deaf people in general have absolutely nothing against Blind people. It is a fact though that I sought out and married a Deaf woman so that she and I would breathe the same "air" and swim in the same "water."
In regard to Hearing-Blind it is my belief that eventually augmented reality apps will be able to voice to you much of what you might want to know about your surroundings. (Since AI can now recognize people, animals, things, structures, and so forth.) It seems that in the future you'll just put on a headset (or contact lens or neural net of some kind) and waltz into a Deaf event with a comic-book-Daredevil-like version of augmented AI-based radar, sit down, and know where everyone is sitting and even have your AI tell you what they are signing.
William G. Vicars Ed.D.
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