Thursday, March 31, 2011

Speaking Up

When you're part of the majority, you don't generally think about your culture until you find yourself in a situation where you're surrounded by someone else's.  I imagine most of the people reading this listen to music and watch TV with the sound turned up—that is, we're hearing.

Did you ever think of using that word to describe yourself?  Maybe not, unless you happen to be a hearing person with connections to the Deaf world.

Yes, I capitalized it.  That wasn't a mistake.

There are a lot of differences between Deaf culture and the hearing majority, probably enough for another blog post or two sometime.  A central feature is sign language.  That doesn't mean there aren't people within the community who can and do speak.  This can be a sticky issue, though—again, plenty I could ramble on about.

My point right now is that there are individuals who feel caught in the middle, who enjoy being part of the Deaf community, but also feel a connection to the hearing world.  They listen to music and express themselves most comfortably in spoken English.  This doesn't always go over well with others.

Tomorrow, there's a public "speaking" competition at school.  Entrants have the choice of signing or speaking.  This year, only a few students have entered ... but they've all chosen to speak, and we'll have an interpreter present.  I'm interested to see the kinds of reactions they get.  Will everyone focus on the content of the messages and whether they were effective in getting their points across?  Will some complain that they should have signed, even though doing so would limit the eloquence of these particular students?

I'm proud of them for having the guts to get up in front of their peers and make a formal presentation—whether in speech or sign, it's not easy.  If anyone gives them a hard time, it might be my turn to speak up.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Primer #1 on Deaf Can/Can't

Every so often, I'll get a particular comment about Fingerprints on critique sites—something about Tasmin (the Deaf character) displaying unrealistic English skills.

These commentators mean well and undoubtedly speak from their personal experience, so I don't mind.  I see it as opportunity to spread a little knowledge.

When I was in grad school, we frequently discussed the hated statistic: Most deaf people read at a fourth grade level.  Please note that the statistic on that website is actually that the median reading level among 17- and 18-year-olds in the sample was 4.0, so there's one inaccuracy that creeps into the discussion.  Generalizing that, half of the individuals in the sample read at or below that level ... and half read at that level or above.

Another thing to note: The literacy statistics among the general U.S. population aren't too great, either.  Check here for some stats that those in medical fields should keep in mind.  There are a lot of reasons for this, including school performance, education level of parents, and language access.

That last point—language access—is likely the biggest hurdle for deaf kids.  The most accessible language is most likely not one that's used in the home when the deaf kid comes along.  An exception is when there is a Deaf parent (or two), which does happen, but overall isn't that likely.  Some hearing parents dive right into signing classes and/or take other steps, working their tails off to help their kids succeed.

Regardless, a huge number of variables are involved ... enough to make generalizations pretty useless.

What I do know is that I've worked with deaf students on both ends of the spectrum.  I've known deaf kids who read above grade level.  I know several others in high school who read and write at or very close to their grade level.  It happens, and if I see it at our tiny little school, it happens everywhere to one degree or another.

So do I stand by Tasmin's skills?  Absolutely, and not just because the character is meant to be unusually intelligent.  I chose to focus on the "can" ... and the only thing Tasmin can't do is hear.