When I was younger, I made a promise to myself, and I am so glad I am sticking to that promise. I promised myself that when I have my own family, I will no longer accept Deaf isolation by hearing people.
As a child, I had a lot of hearing friends. We had sleepovers, hung out at school and played many different games. It was easy to communicate through gestures since most of our times were spent playing. As we got older, it became harder for me to feel included because not all of them could sign. Teenagers like to sit around and gossip, and I was often lost.
I was told, “It’s nothing.” “You would not understand.” “It’s not important.” “I will tell you later.” “I don’t want to repeat as it’s a long story.” I often received a summarized watered-down answer when I ask what they were talking about. Over time, I gave up on asking and went to another room. It was better to be alone instead of being lonely in a hearing crowd. Our friendships started to fade away. By the time I entered high school, I had more Deaf friends and maybe two hearing friends.
I received the same treatment from teachers, coaches, bosses, co-workers and people I looked up to. They were supposed to care about me, yet they made me feel inferior. It’s not great when you feel like you are not as important as others. I was actually starting to believe I was inferior.
It was not their fault but my own. I did not want to be a hassle. I did not want them to think I was trying to steal the attention. I did not stand up for myself. I did not educate them. I swallowed the hurt and tried to move on.
As I became older, I became tired of feeling like this. I was tired of being forgotten. I was tired of being denied information. I realized I deserve better. I realized I was not alone in this. Nearly all the Deaf people I meet experienced the same problem. I asked them, “What did you do?” They gave me mixed answers. Some avoided the hearing people, and some stood up for themselves and educated their hearing peers. I made a promise right there that someday when I have my own family, I would teach them that Deaf isolation is unacceptable.
Deaf people work hard to fit in a hearing-centric world when it should be our world, too.
I am going to stop the cycle with my own family.
Now, I have a 2-year-old hearing daughter. I want her to view spoken languages and signed languages as equal. Hearing people and Deaf people both deserve the same rights. As her mother, I deserve to know the conversations my daughter is participating in when I am in the same room. I do not want other people to tell my daughter things they are not supposed to. I do not want there to be secrets. I do not want her to learn it is acceptable for other people to disrespect me. I do not want her growing up thinking it is fine for her to do the same to her own mother. I do not want her to follow societal norms and give other Deaf people the same treatment.
So, how am I going to do that? How am I going to stop the cycle?
I want all of the people who know sign language to converse with my daughter in both English and ASL. So simple, yet people act like it is too much work.
I do not demand non-signers (people who do not know how to sign) to know sign language. However, it would be nice if they learn some basic signs. I mean if they are going to be a part of our lives, at least, help us out. People who do not know sign language often do not realize that in all of our conversations, we are working hard to understand everything. Sometimes we misunderstand things. If you are friends with someone who knows a different language, it is always polite to learn some basic words in their language.
Since we communicate in ASL for the majority of time at home, I do not want that to end when we are out in the public or have guests over. That will teach my daughter that ASL is supposed to be left at home and only with her parents, like it is not important. When my daughter starts to have friends over, that will be a different thing. I do not expect the same treatment from children; it is mainly the adults. Children often have their own secret language anyways, hearing or Deaf.
I never want to have the feeling that my immediate family is leaving me out. I don’t want to feel inferior to my daughter because I am Deaf. If you dismiss a Deaf person’s request to sign at the same time you talk to their children, you’re teaching their children that their parents don’t need to be respected. You are teaching their children that hearing people are superior and they are better than their own parents.
Actions speak louder than words.
I am her mother, so I deserve that respect. I deserve to be a part of the equation. I deserve to be involved. I deserve to feel important. I deserve to teach my daughter that Deaf people can be treated the same way as hearing people. If more parents do this small change with their children, it can help to reduce the isolation of Deaf children/adults dramatically and help join both worlds together.
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