GROWING UP DEAF - Marie Jean Philip
Some of the deaf students
in mainstream programs
think that once they graduate, they will die
because they have never met a deaf adult.
Some even think they'll become hearing upon graduation
because they never see a deaf adult
while they're growing up.
Marie Jean Philip is one of many young deaf people who make you feel comfortable about the future of the deaf community.
Articulate, outspoken and inquisitive, she is the product of a home where communication was free and easy and discussion encouraged. Her deaf parents always encouraged her to be herself.
Now a poised young adult, Marie Jean Philip has become immersed in promotion of American Sign Language as a foundation for English as a second language and the preservation of deaf culture.
[The photograph to the left was taken in 1996. -Ed.]
[NOTE: It was very important to Marie Philip that the words "deaf" and "culture" be capitalized - "Deaf" and "Deaf Culture." However, to be true to the text of Gene Petersen's collection, we have not capitalized these words throughout the text, and have left the text exactly as Gene transcribed it. -Ed.]
Both my parents were born deaf. My father is one of 10 children and he has one sister who is deaf. My mother came from a family of two children, both of whom are deaf. I was their first child. Even with this family background, they didn't expect that I would be born deaf.
By the time I was 11 months old, my mother noticed that sometimes I'd respond to environmental noises and voices and sometimes I'd not. One afternoon, while sitting in my high chair and playing with my father, my mother tested my hearing with an alarm clock and with pots. They found out that, at times, I'd hear with my right ear and nothing in my left ear. Later, my two sisters came along and both were deaf. That didn't bother them a bit.
Both my parents attended oral schools. When my mother first met my father, she was 18 and didn't know any sign language. My father already knew how to sign quite well since he had associated with many deaf friends who signed. At the time I was born, my mother was 22 and wasn't yet a fluent signer.
With their oral backgrounds and living in Massachusetts, my parents decided to send me to an oral school. At the age of four and a half, I went to the Clarke School for the Deaf, a very famous oral school, for some testing. Before we went, my mother warned me not to sign while there but to speak the best I could. Well, you know how children are: they have no concept of time. Two hours felt like all day and I was sitting there fidgeting and after awhile, I lost my patience and signed one word: "Daddy?" After that, the people at Clarke School said, "We're sorry, but we can't accept your daughter. First, because she uses sign language and, second, because she uses fingerspelling and, third, because she's under age. The school requires the children to be at least four years and six months old." Well, I was four years and five months.
My parents didn't know whether to wait a year to send me to school or to send me to the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Conn., where my aunt was attending at that time. They finally decided on the ASD. When I came home a week later from school, I couldn't wait to tell them everyting that had happened and about all the friends I had made. It really hit my parents. They had a friend who had a deaf child who went to Clarke School. That child would come home and all she could say was "mother, father," and here I was chattering away. I even tried to correct my parents' signing. "The school said it should be done like this." Well, after that they decided I should stay at the ASD. All three of us girls went to the ASD. My youngest sister, Joan, graduated in 1978.
My father always encouraged me to do anything I wanted. If I wanted to hammer a board, he let me do that. He let me be free to try anything. When I told my father that I wanted to make a go-cart, he went to the junk yard to find parts, then he let me put all the pieces together. It was my own; my father let me do it myself. Really, both my parents were great. My mother was the disciplinarian; she would be the one to make us do our stuff. My father was more of a softy, but as a team, they were great. We couldn't get them to work against each other. My sisters and I always had to just about pull our brains out figuring ways to get around them. We would try to figure out some way to convince them to let us do something then we had to present our argument. We'd sit down and explain why we wanted this or wanted that and give our reasons. We'd flip out our reasons and they'd listen, then they would ask, "Have you thought about this or that?" and we'd have our answers ready. Sometimes they'd say no but usually they let us have our way. And that's how we learned the art of debate while growing up.
My parents were really special but they used to drive us nuts because they were deaf and they always knew everything about us. They would always catch us doing things. We'd say, "It's not fair. Other kids have hearing parents and they get away with it." And they'd say, "We're sorry."
I remember getting so frustrated as a teenager. I remember, when I was 14, I was very shy with my first boyfriend. One day he gave me a kiss, a peck on the cheek, just a little kiss. Well, another person saw us and said, "I'm going to tell your father I saw you kissing." "Oh, it ws just on the cheek, don't tell him. It wasn't on the lips or anything." I decided I'd better get to Dad first before he got it through the deaf grapevine, but by the time I got to him, he had already heard about it. He said, "I heard a boy kissed you."
I got so riled up over that. I could never get away with anything. I used to wish I had hearing parents, just so I could have more freedom. But one time, when I was 14 years old, I went over to the one deaf girl's house and her parents were hearing. I really didn't know what having hearing parents was like. So we had dinner and the deaf friend and I were talking away during the meal. Then, after eating, she said, "Let's go upstairs." I asked, "Aren't you gonna talk with your family?" She said, "I never talk with my family." I said, "Never? They must talk to you sometimes." "Well, they tell me to eat, do my homework, to go upstairs, to come and go." "And that's all you talk about with your family?" I couldn't believe it. It was so different with my family. So, little by little as I got older, I started to appreciate how good my parents were and how lucky I am.
They taught us to be independent and to really think for ourselves. They taught us that we could be whatever we wanted to be. That's one of the things I learned from them.
Some people come up to me and say, "Don't you feel bad about being deaf?" I tell them, "No. I'm glad to be deaf." My sisters feel the same way. My youngest sister now has a daughter and a son who are also deaf and she's teaching them the things we used to learn. My niece is now in the famous "Why?" stage and we have to explain to her again and again. That's one, but not the only, benefit for deaf children who have deaf parents.
I went on to Gallaudet in 1969 and during my junior year, Gallaudet established its first exchange program with Oberlin College. I decided to apply since I met all the eligibility requirements. I wasn't even sure why I wanted to do it except from curiosity about how the "other side" lived and because it was a challenge.
Then everyone started giving me a hard time. The other students asked, "Are you nuts?" "You're going to school with all those hearing people?" "You know you'll have no interpreters?" "Why do you want to do that?" I told them, "I don't know. Maybe it's because my family's deaf and I've always lived in the deaf world." My parents felt the same way. They wondered why I wanted to make my life difficult when I already had a good thing going.
Then Gallaudet chose me as one of the two exchange students and I was stuck. It was too late to back out.
I remember the day I drove to Oberlin with my parents. It had snowed the night before and it was very beautiful. The snow was really deep and we were trying to find where the dorms were. We stopped some students to ask for help but they turned around and started talking with their backs to us. When I explained that we were deaf, they did the same thing again. Finally we were able to get directions from a policeman. When we got to the dorm, we were told that I was supposed to live in a different dorm. We finally got to the right dorm and a girl guided us to my room. It was a mess. Both beds were used, the drawers were full with stuff and the trash baskets were overflowing. I had no idea where I was to sleep and where to put my stuff.
My parents said, "We have to leave now." I got a bit panicky. "Wait, wait, why don't we have something to eat before you go?" But they said no, they had to get going because of the roads. So they left and there I was. I realized "This is it."
I found the cafeteria and it really hit me. Growing up, we had always signed during meals and afterwards we'd sit and argue and talk politics and what was going on at the club and everything. But at Oberlin, the cafeteria had everybody sitting prim and proper and I didn't see even one hand moving. Absolutely all of the students were speaking without using their hands.
There was one table reserved for students who were waiting for me; they had been taking sign language for two weeks. I said "Hi" to them and they spelled "Hi" to me and then they introduced themselves in awkward fingerspelling. That was the very first experience I had with hearing people who were awkward with sign language.
For the rest of the semester, I just sat there in classes without any interpreters. Sometimes I would look over at other students' notes and I was just getting by the best I could. When I talked to these new hearing signers, I realized they were excited about the experience, which puzzled me at first. I knew I would be scared to come to a hearing college; I didn't realize that they were scared, too. You know, so many deaf people figure that hearing people have everything so they shouldn't be afraid of deaf people. Of course, it was difficult for me to communicate with the hearing students and to understand their feelings, but it was only after I realized that they were afraid of me that communication improved. And from that, I came to understand we're all human. That changed my perspective of hearing people.
After that, we went ahead and got down to bolts and nuts. I learned a lot in those six months at Oberlin. It's interesting that some of those people in the group that took sign language lessons in order to make me feel welcome have gone on to work with deaf people. One woman is now a psychologist working with deaf people.
After that, I returned to Gallaudet as a senior, majoring in psychology. I realized that it was the wrong major because I would become emotionally drained from working with emotionally/mentally disturbed deaf people. I decided I needed a break from school and decided to go to Florida and get a job there doing anything. I ended up working in a McDonald's, working as a maid in a hotel and as a newspaper carrier--anything to earn enough money to get by.
After being in Florida for five months, my parents said, "Why don't you come home for awhile? You don't need to go all the way down there to find a job." So I came back home and it just so happened that Northeastern University was advertising a position as a research assistant in American Sign Language (ASL). They wanted applicants who used ASL as a first language and whose parents were deaf. That was in 1975. At that time, no one really knew what ASL was. When I first heard of ASL, I thought it was some newfangled method made up by hearing people like SEE1, SEE2 or LOVE. I thought it was just another artificial method. I decided to apply anyway. So I started researching ASL. These people started telling me that I spoke two languages. I hadn't realized that. When I was in the residential school, we always used ASL in the dorms and on the playground and in the classroom we used Pidgin Signed English (PSE). I always felt proud of my good English skills becaue the hidden message was that if you didn't have good English, you weren't intelligent.
I was never able to reconcile that because even though my parents had received their education in oral schools, they had become strong users of ASL, which they learned from deaf friends, and that even though their command of English wasn't excellent, I still considered them smart. So I never mixed the two "worlds." When I was home, I used ASL; when I was in class or with hearing people, I used PSE and I kept the two separate that way.
When I got the job at Northeastern and started research in ASL, it got to me that I hadn't realized this sooner. I started to teach other deaf people that ASL is a real language, that it is as real a language as what hearing people had, but no one would believe me. I worked with them for more than a year and, finally, they started to accept the idea that ASL is a real language. [NOTE: Marie Philip worked at Northeastern from 1974 to 1987.]
Eleven years later, I'm teaching ASL, deaf culture, deaf history and ASL literature.
Two years ago, the Learning Center for Deaf Children contacted me and wondered if I would be willing to go to their school and try a bilingual, bicultural approach with the young deaf children. It would be a pilot project. I took a leave of absence from Northeastern University (more accurately, Northeastern loaned me to this program) and started working with them last fall. [NOTE: Marie Philip worked at the Learning Center for Deaf Children from 1987 until her death in 1997.]
I teach English through ASL. I teach reading through ASL, story telling through ASL, and many other things. So far, it's been very successful and they've asked me to come back.
So that's a summary of my background.
I've been giving a lot of thought to two things: One is how I found out about deafness and the other is how hearing children react to deafness.
Before I entered school at the age of four and half, I remember sitting in the living room watching TV. I used to like to turn the volume up full blast so I could feel the vibrations through my chair. An uncle, who was hearing and lived in the next house over, would drop in but he couldn't hear what my mother was saying because the TV was so loud. He'd ask my mother to tell me to turn off the sound and I'd object. I wanted the sound on. My mother said, "Wait until your uncle leaves." So I sat there and waited until he was gone then my mother came up to me and explained that my uncle was hearing and that the noise bothered him. I said, "It doesn't bother me." She said, "That's because you're deaf and deaf is different." Well, I didn't understand what she meant. My mother tried to think of a way to explain it. She said, "You can feel the vibrations right through your chair but your uncle feels through his ears." I asked, "How can he feel through his ears?" She said, "Yes. He can feel people talking. The noise comes out of their mouths and it goes in his ears." She said because I couldn't hear, I had to get the feel through the vibrations from the floor. "But you see, your uncle is hearing and you're deaf and that's different."
I thought about it for a couple of days, about how feelings are meant to be used, and I noticed how when the children yelled, other children turned around right away and responded. How could they even know to look? I didn't realize that the yell could go through the air and then in their ears. After a couple of days, I asked my mother, "O.K., hearing people can hear through their ears but when they're in their homes, they use sign language, don't they?" My mother said, "They don't have to. Only our family uses sign language." She said they talked and got the feelings through their ears every day, all the time. I asked, "Every day, all the time in their homes? They do that?" I was just a little kid. Up to that time, I thought everybody in the world signed. Then I realized our family was different.
During that summer, an old woman came along. At least, she seemed old from my perspective. Suddenly, I realized she was talking to me. I looked at her and motioned to her that I was deaf. She started to say, "You poor, poor child." It was easy to lipread her. "I pray to God that you'll hear one day," and she started kissing me all over. I could barely control myself. She said, "Oh, I pray to God because you have such an angelic pretty face." Maybe all those words weren't in my vocabulary at that time, but I knew what she meant. Once she left, I ran into the house. "Mother, why did that woman kiss me all over and do this and that?" My mom tried to explain to me that was how some hearing people react. I asked, "Why did she pity me?" My mother said, "Well, she thinks you're deaf." I said, "There's nothing wrong with that." She said, "Yes, you're right, but she thinks there's something wrong." Even at that age, I was trying to understand how different hearing people responded to deafness. I think those things had an important impact on my life while I was growing up.
After I realized ASL was a real language, I became interested in deaf culture and deaf history. When I first started working at Northeastern, I didn't have a degree; I just went on with my work. In 1981, when they opened a degree program in linguistics with ASL as a concentration, I thought that as long as I was already teaching ASL at Northeastern, I might as well work on my own degree. I had been putting it off for years. I took a total of two and a half years because I was working full time. Also, I had to have a new major. My psychology major didn't help a bit. Anyhow, I kept going until I received my B.A. in 1984. I'm so involved right now, I can't even think of going for my masters.
When I got back to school, my main interest was deaf culture. I realized that deaf people have a different perspective of many things than hearing people. For example, hearing people tend to feel sorry for deaf people or feel there is something wrong with them.
I'm not sure, but maybe my serious involvement with deaf culture started with involvement in the Massachusetts State Association of the Deaf [MSAD]. Then I got on the board of Deafness Evaluation and Adjustment Facilities, Inc. [D.E.A.F., Inc.]. along with my work at Northeastern and my studies for my degree, it almost overwhelmed me. It was such a thrill when I finished my degree. I imagined I would start having a little time to call my own.
I was fascinated with what I learned through my studies. In 1981, I began to give talks and at first, I felt it would be impossible. I was a nervous wreck. At that time, when deaf people stood up and gave talks, they would always use PSE. That was the professional language at that time. You know how language relates to power. But I felt that I shouldn't use PSE. I should use what would be understood by the audience and if it happened to be ASL, I'd use ASL. I had many qualms to begin with but once I began, the audience loved it and I felt more expressive. Since that time, I've learned how to stand in front of an audience and use ASL and not automatically code-switch to PSE.
Once I got going, I got a lot of response from people. People would come to me and ask many questions and we'd share information. So I started to collect data on an informal basis. I know it should've been a more formal process, like research, but anyway, I gathered data everywhere I went. I would compare what I found with what other people have discovered and found out that it was pretty much the same. That led me to a greater interest in studying deaf culture and how it's different from the American hearing culture.
If my parents had been hearing, I would probably be a totally different person with a different identity. It's not like my deaf parents were the only deaf people around; I learned from all the people in the deaf community. It's like one big family with a hundred uncles and aunts. I see them as deaf people in the sense that they view the world as deaf people, not as people who have lost their hearing or as hearing people who become interested in deafness, but as having a deaf identity. It's not a negative identification; it can be a positive identification. When you're working with them, don't just look at the deafness, look at the person. That's the first thing. The second thing is respect. Many hearing (and some deaf people) look at deaf people as people who need help with their problems and who have poor English. I believe the professionals often see them, not as persons, but as problems. For example, they can't hear, they can't speak, they have this and that problem. They look at deaf people as separate blocks of problems instead of deaf people who have some problems just like anybody else. They have that paternalistic attitude towards deaf people. If you feel that you're out to help people all the time instead of working with them, you can't really respect them. So the second thing is they must respect them and see them as equals.
I do a lot of intermediary interpreting with a hearing interpreter for a deaf person. Often the hearing interpreter would say, "Oh, boy, this person will be hard to get through to." I'll say, "Nah, he'll understand." Then I'll sign in ASL and he'll give the appropriate answers right away. So there is a method of communication--how you look at the person and what method you use to analyze the person. If I'm using hearing values to look at a deaf person, it's not going to work. It's just like if I were looking at the Spanish community with WASP values. I wouldn't be able to fully analyze the situation. So you need to have respect and look at deaf people as equals and work together on whatever problems you might have instead of "I'm going to do this for you" and making that person feel less than you.
Meanwhile, I continued to teach sign language and I learned that some hearing people could learn ASL. Some people claim you have to grow up with ASL to be able to use and understand it, but that's not true. My own parents grew up oral and both now use ASL quite fluently. There are some hearing people who are comfortable with ASL. It just takes a long time and a lifetime commitment to learn it.
After Northeastern University set up a program to teach ASL, many things started to happen on the state level. Back in 1975, you could count the number of deaf professionals in Massachusetts on your hand. I was a new kid on the block, just learning; I didn't know anything. Now, 10 or 11 years later, I would guess there are probably 90 to 100 deaf professionals in the state. We've really expanded and deaf people are moving up into more important positions. You can see the change here.
Even though I grew up in Massachusetts, I never wanted to stay there because it was so oral. I wanted to go to some place like California where they are much more liberal. When I came back in 1975 and met Jack Levesque, who at that time was a counselor with the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, he kept after me to stay. I didn't think there were any opportunities for deaf people there but he said there would be. He was the one who let me know about the opportunity at Northeastern University. Jack has since moved to California but I'm still around here and I love it. You can bet my parents don't mind having me close.
Many things are happening in Massachusetts. Last year, the governor set up a task force on deafness. There were 80 deaf and hearing people who worked together to focus on just one branch of the government--Executive Office of Human Services. We looked at each of the departments under that branch. For example, mental health services, child protective services, law enforcement. All are in that umbrella agency. We studied them to see whether or not they met the needs of deaf and hearing impaired citizens and if not, what could be done about it, what changes could be made to improve services.
The final result was a thick report which we submitted to the governor. We were warned that it might take several years before money would be appropriated to meet the needs of the deaf. State government officials warned us that it would depend on the mood of the Legislature.
Suddenly, in January or February, the money was ready. They started appropriating money for telephone TTY relay services, 24-hour interpreting services, all kinds of things were happening. They even set up a mental health unit for the deaf. They were spending money like mad, which was fine with us.
I'm getting ahead of my story. Let me go back.
After the task force submitted its recommendations, a bill was introduced in the State Legislature to set up a State Commission for the Deaf. When the bill came up for a hearing, we had over 400 deaf people go to the State House. We told everyone to keep on signing in front of everyone. We had 14 deaf-blind people with interpreters and it made quite an impression.
The Commission for the Deaf bill that we supported took forever to get through; it had to go to all the different committees, the Ways and Means Committee and all this and all that. There was only one week left before the deadline and it got stuck in the Ways and Means Committee. We thought for sure it would die there because there was only one week left for action. Then we started calling all the deaf people we could reach, using a telephone tree, and asked them to get busy and start lobbying. We used volunteer interpreters and deaf people came to the State House and started lobbying. They walked in to every office they could get in and talked to as many people as they could. By the following day, it was out of the Ways and Means Committee and sent off to the House. But there was one representative in the House who didn't want any of the bills to pass; he wanted all of them to die, including the bill for the Commission on the Deaf. Knowing there were just a few days left, he decided to prolong each bill up for action so that, as a result, only a very few would be voted on.
On the first bill that was up before the House, there was a lot of debate and our bill was number 19 on the list! All the deaf people went back to the State House on Tuesday but nothing happened. We went back on Wednesday and still nothing happened. We knew there were only two days left, Thursday and Friday. We got together trying to decide what to do. Then something interesting happened: They had an interpreter standing there next to the Speaker of the House. It was the first time this had ever happened in Massachusetts. It was great that everyone could see what was going on instead of having an interpreter way back in the balconies. It certainly had impact on the legislators.
What happened was that an interpreter was talking to one of the guards in the State House, explaining the purpose of the interpreters and so on. He had worked there for over 30 years. She was explaining our situation and trying to find out what was going on. He asked her what number our bill was. She told him 19th in line and he walked off. Apparently he had a connection with somebody because he went up and talked with someone and suggested that our bill needed higher priority. It came time for motions and permission was asked to have our bill inserted between the first and second bills on the agenda. All that it would take to reject that motion was one nay. We had our fingers crossed but when it came up for vote, there was one nay. It went back to 19th in position. That one representative who didn't want any of the other bills to pass said the nay. Anyway, they dealt with the first bill on the agenda and here it was Thursday. They came to the second bill and one representative again proposed that our bill be inserted next on the agenda and when it came time to vote, the Speaker said, "All in favor say 'aye,' all opposed say 'nay,'" and down went the gavel. There was no time at all for the representative who had objected earlier to get his "nay" in.
After a brief discussion, the bill was passed and sent off to the Senate, where they made a few changes. It passed there and they brought it back to the House for concurrence just one day before the deadline. $2.7 million was appropriated. We were thrilled. Many people couldn't believe that we got it passed the very first time we tried. Then they had to take it to the Governor to sign. He signed it into law 12 hours before the deadline and the commission will start July 1.
Naturally, I'm excited. I can remember what it was like when I was a child. When I was a child and we were out in public, my mother would always tell me, "Don't sign, don't sign," or, "You have to sign very small so people won't notice." It really bothered me. Now we have interpreters standing up in front of everybody in the State House and my mother and father now feel free to sign anywhere in front of anybody; they're free to be themselves.
When I used to sign, some people would say, "Oh, you can't speak. You should have gone to an oral school." Now people see me sign and they say, "How beautiful." I can see the change. You know how Massachusetts is famous for its contradictions. One of the things it has been famous for is its oral philosophy and oral schools and it's now becoming well known for its advocacy of ASL. Imagine having both camps in the same state. I really look forward to the future here.
I'm sure we'll use ASL in the future but it won't be like it is now because all languages change. Five years ago, people would say, "I could gag on a spoon." You don't hear that an more. People used to say "groovy," "cool," "man," that's about gone now. They used to call a machine a phonograph, then it became a record player, then a hi fi and now it's a stereo. Words change with technology. I'm sure the vocabulary of speech will change but the structure will remain. I'm sure the same thing will happen with ASL. The vocabulary will change but the structure will stay the same.
Way back in 1913, George Veditz said, "As long as there are deaf people on earth, there will be a sign language," and I agree with him 100 per cent. You just can't take away sign language from deaf people. Even if you put them in oral schools, they'll find a way to sign somewhere. Even if they're locked up, they'll find a way to sign.
With all the advances in technology and deaf people taking advantage of better opportunities to move upward, there will be changes. Deaf people are just like any other group of people, whether you're talking about whites or blacks, blue collar workers or white collar professionals. People tend to associate with others like them. Deaf people are the same; they will still get together. Their roles and functions may change but I doubt that there will ever be a time when they're so dispersed that there won't be a deaf community.
I don't see technology ever eliminating deafness. I know one thing I can't stand is the idea of the cochlear implants. Right now, the technology just isn't good enough and the reasons it's advocated are lousy. I think it may be helpful for late deafened adults but not for children or for deaf people.
I think people are beginning to take a hard look at mainstreaming where it relates to deaf children. As it is currently described, residential schools for the deaf are being placed on the bottom of the list for the least restrictive environment. My hope is that one day they will all be given equal priority. The more exposure to deaf people the parents of deaf children have, the less likely they will be to choose mainstreaming. When you look at the hard cold facts, the statistics and the technology, I don't think mainstreaming wll remain as popular. I think that enrollment in the residential schools for the deaf will increase. However, the residential schools will have to get their act together, they will have to prove that they are the least restricted environment rather than the most restricted and that what they have to offer is of much better quality.
Right now, I can see how mainstreaming hurts. Some of the deaf students in mainstream programs think that once they graduate, they will die because they have never met a deaf adult. Some even think they'll become hearing upon graduation because they never see a deaf adult while they're growing up. That's bad. When we were in residential schools, we always accepted deafness as a fact of life; it was the way we were. We didn't realistically hope that we would change, it was a part of our identity.
I remember while growing up I didn't imagine I'd die or become hearing after I graduated; I would think about getting a car when I got older, getting married to a nice deaf boy, buying a house. I had the same expectations as hearing children. But some of those mainstreamed kids today are really mixed up. I've heard them say, "Well, I can't talk and I'm embarrassed about my sign language." "I'd like to date a hearing boy," or "I'd like to marry a hearing girl." I often ask them, "What's wrong with marrying a deaf person?" "Oh no, I don't think so. I couldn't do that." I asked them, "What do you mean, you can't?" They'd say, "Well, you know a deaf person couldn't work." "Well, I work. I teach at the university." They had never heard these things. I'll never forget one young boy. He thought I was hearing because I didn't wear a hearing aid. "Not all deaf people wear aids." He said, "Yes. All deaf people have to." I told him, "I'm profoundly deaf." Well, he still didn't believe me. I said, "Give me a test. Go ahead, yell." I turned around and I didn't respond when he yelled and yelled. Then he said, "That's because you don't have a hearing aid." I said, "Well, I don't want one. It won't help." He didn't know what to think.
It's interesting that these children think that when you have a hearing aid, you're deaf and when you don't use one, you must be a hearing person. I explained to a group of preschool children that I am deaf and they couldn't believe it. I think that you have to start at an early age; you have to let them know that many deaf people don't wear hearing aids.
Another interesting thing is how some deaf people feel it's their duty to look and find adult deaf people who were lost because of mainstreaming and bring them to the deaf clubs, to free them, so to speak, from bondage. Like my father: he will try to pull them in and get them involved. He's been able to draw many people who grew up in oral schools and didn't know how to sign into the deaf club and they'll learn how to sign and get involved with sports and other activities. He'll write to them and invite them to the club. That's one way he's been able to get around the problems caused by mainstreaming. It's a big problem here.
Have you read the book, "When the Mind Hears," by Harlan Lane? He used to be my boss at Northeastern University. It took him 10 years to research that book. It's quite a thick book. He asked me to review the book and tell him what I thought. I asked him why he included so many names and sources. He told me that he wanted to make sure they got into one book so that in the future, historians and researchers would have information from which to start further research. I thought that was a good point. I like having ideas presented from a different perspective.
While I attended ASD and Gallaudet College, they were always honoring the Gallaudets. What about Laurent Clerc? He was always on the periphery. All that adulation to Gallaudet but nothing to Clerc. I have a lot of things on my mind right now about that situation. The town and press people tend not to recognize the accomplishments of deaf people and look to hearing people like the Abbe' Sicard, the Abbe' de L'Epee and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet as the teachers who introduced sign language to the deaf people in France and America. Research proves that we had sign language in France and America before they came along and it took a combination of both and the other sign languages to make ASL as we know it.
We know that in the past, we even had something like cued speech. Alexander Graham Bell invented visible speech similar in philosophy to cued speech. It was lost or discarded. Now here they go and invent it all over again. Other examples are SEE 1, SEE 2, LOVE, to name a few. The one thing that's remained alive throughout deaf history is French and American Sign Language.
Lane's book is fascinating reading. He puts things into perspective. Hearing people have always looked up to hearing people as saviors of the deaf and taught us deaf people to think the same. There is a void where the contributions of deaf people come in. Lane filled in some of those voids. The title, "When the Mind Hears," comes from the famous French author Victor Hugo, who became friendly with a deaf man. He said that being deaf in the ears isn't as bad as being deaf in their minds, meaning hearing people whose minds are closed.
Hobbies? Oh, I have many hobbies. One is reading; I always have my nose in a book. I remember the library had a policy where you could check out six books at a time. Well, I could finish those books in two days. My father got tired of driving me to the library every two days and waiting for me to pick the next six books. He would complain, "Why do you have to read so fast?" So I got the idea of dragging my two younger sisters with me. Each of us would check out six books which would be a total of 18 at one time. I remember my youngest sister was only four years old, I'd get her those six books and the librarian thought she was so smart to be able to read at that age. Let's see, now. I like to collect Rockwell figurines. I also collect stamps and do counted cross-stitches and needlepoint.
One thing I don't do is cook. When people come to visit me, they serve themselves. Oh, everybody knows my reputation for not cooking. When I'm invited to a party, I'll always bring something I can buy, like beer, French bread, cheese, because uh, uh, I keep my hands out of cooking. I don't know why, it's just the way I am.
Department of Research and Teacher Education
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology
52 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623-5604
Dr. Susan Foster
Copyright 1999 Rochester Institute of Technology