mom whispering to her daughter

When People Refer to My Hearing Child as a 'Built-In Interpreter'

Sometimes, people will say, “Hey, you have a built-in interpreter,” when they find out I have a hearing child.

I laugh and joke about it. I created an interpreter, and she is going to interpret for free!

On a serious note, that is not my plan for her. She is not a built-in interpreter. She is not going to speak or interpret for me.

Often, people expect deaf parents’ hearing children to interpret, even in extremely inappropriate situations. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because it is convenient. Maybe because they are lazy and want to take the simple way out. Maybe because they assume it is the reasonable thing to do.

Of course, it may seem harmless to you… however, imagine the expectation you put on the hearing child. Imagine asking a hearing child to interpret a legal issue conversation. That is a tremendous responsibility on a child to make sure he/she is interpreting accurately.

Statistics show about 90 percent of deaf parents have hearing children. How many of those hearing children become built-in interpreters for their deaf parents? How many of those children harness resentment for having no choice but to interpret adult conversations. This creates a role-reversal responsibility — the hearing child taking care of his/her parents instead.

A “typical” child with hearing parents would not be required to do that. That child is left to just be a regular child. Why can’t that be the same for hearing children with deaf parents?

So, if a person attempts to use my daughter as an interpreter, I will ignore his/her request. I will tell that person to write it down or hire a certified ASL interpreter.

Also, a hearing child may get tired of interpreting and decide to make up stories just for funsies. So, relying on a child to interpret is not always reliable.

I will not use my daughter to order food for me. I will not use my daughter to say something to a person when I am in a hurry. I will not have her relay what my doctor says. I will not have her interpret the parent-teacher conference. I will not have her to interpret a savings account conversation with the banker.

She shouldn’t responsible for taking care of her deaf parents. She shouldn’t have to grow up quickly. She shouldn’t be involved in adult conversations. She shouldn’t be put in uncomfortable situations. I don’t want her to resent me in the future for not giving her a say in this. Her only job as a child is enjoying her childhood without adult responsibilities… just like all other children.

Lead photo via Thinkstock.


Deaf Icon Nyle DiMarco Wins 'Dancing With the Stars'

Nyle DiMarco now has a mirror ball to add to his trophy case.

The deaf model, actor and activist won ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” competition Tuesday night alongside professional dancer and partner Peta Murgatroyd. The pair beat out UFC fighter Paige VanZant and “Good Morning America” meteorologist Ginger Zee.

DiMarco, 25, who became the first deaf winner of “America’s Next Top Model” in December, capped his three-month stint on “Dancing with the Stars” with a tango/cha cha fusion that garnered perfect scores from the judging panel. Nyle DiMarco and Peta Murgatroyd perform on "Dancing with the Stars."

“DWTS” judge Len Goodman told DiMarco before the results were revealed that he had earned a place among the finalists.

“The only thing you have proved is that the only boundaries are the ones we put on ourselves,” Goodman said. “You get no sympathy votes from me. You deserve to be in the finals.”

Fellow judge Carrie Ann Inaba addressed DiMarco in ASL, thanking him for his efforts in a move that drew tears from DiMarco and his mother, shown in the audience.

During the “DWTS” finalists’ appearance on “Good Morning America” Wednesday, pro dancer Val Chmerkovskiy, who partnered with Ginger Zee during the season, praised DiMarco’s impact on the show.

“This competition is more than just about dancing and Nyle had an incredibly powerful message, I think, not just for the deaf community but for all humanity,” Chmerkovskiy said.

DiMarco, an advocate for sign language education who appeared on ABC Family’s drama “Switched at Birth,” has used his platform to spread awareness of Deaf culture. Just an hour before being revealed as “DWTS”‘s winner, DiMarco tweeted that of 70 million deaf people worldwide, only 2 percent have access to education in sign language.

The founder of an eponymous foundation dedicated to empowering deaf youth, DiMarco generated buzz during one of his “DWTS” routines on May 10. During a 10-second section of his performance, the music cut as he danced in silence, accompanied by four backup dancers.

“A lot of people have labeled me as the deaf guy who can dance, but I think they don’t really understood how it works, the fact that I can’t hear anything at all, and we thought this would be a great opportunity to bring silence into the middle of the song,” DiMarco told “People” magazine.

DiMarco, a spokesperson for Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K), worked with California legislators to pass a bill aimed at alleviating language deprivation for deaf children ages 0-5, and is currently lobbying for a national bill mandating bilingualism in American Sign Language and English for Deaf children. He has spoken out against casting hearing actors in deaf roles.


young girl reading book in school library

To the Classmates of My Daughter Who Is Hard of Hearing

Have you noticed her?

The petite and a bit shorter than average girl in your class? She is very quiet and usually only speaks when spoken to. She has long brown hair with beautiful blonde highlights and bangs, which she likes to hide behind. She may be tiny, but her determination is strong.

I think she feels lonely sometimes.

Have you noticed the color of her eyes, hidden behind her glasses? They are brown, but the shade will change depending on her mood and the color she is wearing. If you take the time to look into them, you can see just how beautiful they are and so much more.

She just wants to fit in.

Have you noticed that she sometimes hangs out with that group of kids in your school, the deaf and hard of hearing kids? Well, kind of, anyway. She signs with them, but her speech is very clear.

How much does she hear, you might wonder? Well, she plays the violin in the orchestra, so she must be able to hear something, you might say.

She is hard of hearing, and she wears purple hearing aids. She has trouble hearing in large rooms with poor acoustics and noisy environments like the cafeteria or gym. If you call her name, she may not hear you and you might think she is being rude.

But actually, she is very kind.

She walks as quickly as she can between classes, but due to her small size, three of her steps might equal one of yours. She hides a lot from you and the rest of the world in that tiny frame of hers. Maybe you noticed that she walks with almost an imperceptible limp, because she has a curve in her spine. But you probably have not seen the scars that she hides beneath her clothes and her hair. She will tell you about them, but only if you ask her.

Sometimes you might see her with wires sticking out from beneath her shirt. She hates the days when she has to wear the heart monitor or the blood pressure monitor to school. She keeps Motrin in her locker for her pain and a shy smile on her face to hide how she is really feeling.

She hurts sometimes, in a way many cannot imagine, both physically and emotionally.

Did you see her at the dance? She was absolutely beautiful and bold in navy blue. She even left her glasses at home. She seemed to feel beautiful and confident as she walked into the school, head held high, without a friend by her side. She found others like her and that night they danced and had a wonderful time.

Then Monday came, and again she was alone.

Like you, she just wants to belong.

Have you said hello to her in the hallway? Have you called out her name in a way that makes her stop and turn her head and look directly at you with those beautiful eyes, lit up with surprise and happiness?

You really should try to get to know her, because she is great fun to spend time with.

She has an incredible sense of humor, a quick tongue and a sarcastic wit about her. Have you ever heard her belly laugh? The one that is so deep that you are surprised it could possibly come from one who is so small. Her laugh is contagious and it has always been so.

You should really get to know her.

She has so much to offer and so much to say and she would be a wonderful friend to you… if given the chance. You will have to make the first move to encourage her to cross the bridge that connects her two worlds.

Yes, she walks between two worlds, one deaf and one hearing, but she does not fit neatly into either one.

She seems lonely sometimes, but she is strong that one, she really is.

She is smart. She can tell you about world events, her favorite books and the music that she loves to listen to alone in her room. She has so much to give to this world, if only you would give her a chance.


Please, invite her into your world.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe your experience of not quite fitting under one specific diagnosis or a label your community identifies with. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Why Nyle DiMarco's Silent Dance Is So Important

When I first heard Nyle Dimarco would join the cast of “Dancing With the Stars” this season, I was incredibly intrigued and excited to see him perform. Nyle is a model and actor who was born deaf.

This week, Nyle performed a spectacular Paso Doble dance routine with professional partner Peta Murgatroyd. For several seconds during their performance, the music paused and Nyle danced in complete silence to give the judges and audience a glimpse of what it’s like for him to dance every single week.

This isn’t the first time ABC has invited celebrities who have a disability to participate in the show. Each time, the audience and viewers are amazed to see these contestants overcome obstacles and fight against the stigma associated with disabilities. This time, however, Nyle gave us a precious gift that isn’t so easy to give: an opportunity to understand his perspective a little better.

As someone who also has a disability, a neuromuscular disease, that is something I cannot easily do for the people around me. The one question I can’t quite answer is, “What does it feel like?” It has been posed to me several times, but I’m never sure exactly how to respond. I can repeat to you the textbook description — it causes muscle weakness through the entire body — but I don’t know how to describe what that feels like. I’ve never known anything else. I can tell you about feeling tired at times or encountering things I just cannot make my body do even though I know it should, but it’s not something I can show you or help you experience for yourself. My body does not know what it’s like not to be weak so I can’t tell you how to interpret daily tasks in a way that would account for the difference in muscle strength. I know what those differences look like in action – for example, running versus walking slowly – but I don’t know what that would feel like physically for someone else with normal strength. It would be a wild guess if there was anything that could mimic my experiences in this world for your own body.

I know deafness cannot be fully conveyed through simplifying it to a few moments of silence. It’s more complex than that, and no one can really know what it’s like unless they experience it for themselves. Even though my TV was silent, I could still hear the noises outside my window and down the hall. I could hear the music and voices again once the sound came back on. I still don’t know completely what Nyle’s world is like or how exactly he learns to dance and perform without hearing the music. But for a few seconds, I did have an opportunity to see a little more clearly what it’s like to dance in his shoes. Because of that, we can all be more aware and understanding of deafness, while being able to have a greater appreciation of the hard work and effort he has put into developing his talent of dance.

Every person encounters slightly different circumstances in their own small part of the world. No one’s life is exactly like another’s. The same type of disability can even look a little different on each individual. We all experience situations in a profoundly personal way. Nyle and Peta’s dance showed us that if we all make an effort, we can have the ability to see from someone else’s perspective. We can take a moment to see with different eyes, or hear with different ears, and discover something we may not have understood before.

The uniqueness that comes with disability may be scary from the surface because people aren’t used to interacting with people who are a little different than they are. But if we’re willing to step out of our comfort zones, we might be able to see what the world is really like for someone else. We might be able to know how to love and encourage people better. We might be able to understand and see beautiful things.

We might be able to empower each other a little more.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a powerful moment you or a loved one has had with a public figure. Or, write a letter to a public figure who you feel has helped you or a loved one through his or her work. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

What I Didn't Expect About Raising a Hearing Child as a Deaf Woman

For a hearing person, the question of whether they’ll raise a hearing or deaf child may not even cross their mind.

Yet, for me, I wondered about raising a deaf child growing up. Having a deaf family to call my own.

Elizabeth Edgar’s daughter, Coral
Elizabeth’s daughter, Coral.

I knew I would more likely have a hearing child due to my family genes. I was born hearing. If I wanted a deaf child, I would have to be with a deaf guy with a multi-generational deaf family. Mr. Tropical, my daughter Coral’s dad, is deaf and has a deaf family, however, his extended family is all hearing.

With our families’ histories, our odds of having a deaf child is probably 50 percent.

When I was pregnant with our daughter, it didn’t matter if she was born hearing or deaf. I wanted a screaming healthy baby.

I knew she could hear. Mr. Tropical knew, too. We assured each other that we would be thrilled either way. She turned her head toward any type of noise. She jumped and wailed when an object crashed onto the floor.

They whisked her away to do a hearing test, and Mr. Tropical went with her. He came back to my recovery room and signed a form that she had passed the hearing test. Her hearing was perfect. The nurse was ecstatic.

The term “passed” stood out to me. It felt like she had won a prize and we should celebrate. For deaf children, they “failed” the hearing test, so should we be miserable? You might think by now they would have said something different, such as simply state their hearing levels or say, “Your baby is hearing” or “Your baby is deaf.”

Back to the point.

The fact that we now had a hearing child was scary. I was nervous about what the future held for us. When we finally felt adventurous enough to go out in public with a tiny newborn, we were worried about the fact that she would be wailing and feeling hot. She was born in June in hot and humid Florida. We went to Target to buy postpartum care items for me and to do some food shopping.

An elderly woman approached us to peek at our tiny newborn. She chatted about something. We pointed to our ears and shook our heads. She recognized we were deaf then she pointed to our newborn and moved her lips to say, “Can the baby hear?” I nodded my head and the relief came across her face. It was very apparent. She was delighted and clapped her hands. We didn’t know what to do except to smile. After that experience, I had mixed emotions.

Of course, I’m happy my child is hearing. She is a healthy child with no disabilities or issues. She may never experience the challenges I went through. She will likely be able to attend any kind of school and be able to get any kind of job. She’ll be able to go on living her life without the barriers I faced. She won’t face the same oppression, discrimination and audism.

I knew I would be able to teach my deaf child how to face those challenges, how to survive the struggles, how to break down the barriers and how to stand up for himself or herself. I knew I would be able to handle the big responsibility of protecting my deaf child and provide resources to give him or her the best future possible. I wouldn’t be scrambling all over the place, learning to sign, learning about the deaf community and learning to love and accept my deaf child because I was already there. I was ready and armed with resources, the deaf community/culture and love and acceptance.

I realized it didn’t matter if I had a hearing or deaf child. Her childhood will be exactly the same. Her lifestyle. Our home. How we raise her. All the same.

Coral is bilingual in American Sign Language and English. She is involved with both hearing and deaf worlds. She is an observant child, relying on her eyes along with her ears to communicate and learn. Since she was born, she enjoyed looking at me when I sign. She is a part of the vibrant and diverse deaf community that many people don’t get to experience while being a part of the hearing world without any language barriers.

It has been a blast watching Coral talk to her toys, dance to the music, search the sky for an airplane flying over, mimic the dogs’ barking and copy my voice.

I’m already learning new things from her. I learned what would wake Coral up from a deep sleep. I learned she will alert me of the oven or the microwave beeping. I learned that some doors creak while others don’t. I learned she will ignore me when I call her name but come running when I open a bag of pretzel sticks. I learned she can hear the “Let It Go” song from the TV outside because she will run inside and start dancing.

I consider myself the lucky one to raise such a child.

Follow this journey on Mommy Gone Tropical.

The Mighty is asking the following: Are you a mother with a disability or disease? What would you tell a new mother in your position? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

10 Ways to Know You Grew Up With a Deaf Mom

Growing up, my family was unique because while my dad could hear, my mom was deaf. She wasn’t just a little hard of hearing, she was profoundly deaf, which means we could shout behind her back and she would not hear a word. Not that my sisters and I ever tried that…

My mom used a combination of sign language and lip reading to communicate, but her speech was so good that often people didn’t believe she was deaf.

When people ask me what it was like growing up with a deaf mom, I always answer that it felt pretty normal to me because I didn’t know anything else. Aside from a few assistive devices, such as flashing lights to indicate the phone or doorbell were ringing, a TDD and a specially trained hearing ear dog, our family operated just like everyone else’s. As a kid, I naturally learned to make accommodations for my mom. I don’t remember being told she couldn’t hear or that I needed to look at her and talk slowly; that’s just what I always did. I knew she couldn’t hear me calling from another room so if I needed something, I had to go and find her. I learned sign language and interpreted for her in situations when lip reading was impossible.

While I was aware that people viewed my mom differently because of her deafness, I always assumed I appeared the same as my peers. I figured no one would ever guess I grew up with a deaf mom. Over the years, my husband and kids have pointed out that this assumption is not exactly true. Apparently, there are some things I do that are obvious remnants of being raised by a deaf mom. I thought these quirky habits were unique to me, but recently, I found out there is a name for people like me, who grew up with deaf parents. We are called CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults), and it turns out many of us have had similar experiences and even developed some of the same habits.

Here is my list of 10 ways you know you’ve been raised by a deaf mom .

1. You are patient — with people who ask questions about deafness.

Can your mom read? Yes.

Do deaf people drive? Of course!

Does your mom know Braille? No, that’s for blind people.

Can deaf people have children? Well, she is my mom.

2. You can curse like a sailor in sign language, and no one ever suspects that you are swearing.

You might even get comments on how beautiful sign language is.

3. You always let someone know when you are going to take a shower. 

This was a requirement at my house — otherwise my mom would call for us and when we didn’t go to her (because we were soaking wet and naked), she would get worried. My kids picked up this habit too, and I don’t think they even know why they do it.

4. You wave goodbye using the “ I Love You”  sign, and you teach your husband and kids to do the same.

Your family looks like a bunch of groupies at a rock concert when someone is leaving the house. Rock on!

5. You always watch TV with the captioning on, and you can’t stand it when people cover their mouths when they talk, even though you can hear just fine.

jennifer and her mom

6. You catch yourself using sign language to count or spell a word out loud, to emphasize your point or to sing along to music on the radio.

(Oh yeah, and refer back to #2.)

7. You forget you can call to your children from another room, and instead you flash the lights on and off to get their attention, just out of habit.

8. You teach your kids sign language and use it to discipline them discreetly in public.

9. You still mispronounce some words because that’s how your mom said them.

10. You proudly use your story of having a deaf mom for party icebreakers, college essays and even for blog posts…

You know, it’s a topic that always gets people asking questions.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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