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Conversation with a Deaf Man

April 9, 2010

On Wednesday, I was shooting some photos at Lake Claire for photo class. I noticed, with my 70-300mm stalker lens, that two girls on a paddle boat looked like they were using sign language, which I thought was interesting. Then I realized that one of them was my sister. I stumble upon her everywhere!

Her sign language (ASL) class had come to the lake to see what it was like for a Deaf person to interact with hearing people. They weren’t supposed to speak at all when they were there; they could only sign. Of course, Emily had to speak to explain to me why she couldn’t speak, but I was OK with that. My sign language skills are pretty pitiful.

I ended up having a conversation (or, a passing of notes) with the professor, Jason Hurdich, who is Deaf. Here is our chat:

Jason: The purpose of this class activity is to give students a chance to apply real world application of what they have been learning in class so far.
My goal is to show them how ASL is viewed outside the classroom since it’s the third most used language in the U.S. and Canada.

Me: Do people treat your students differently when they sign instead of speak?

Jason: I noticed the guy that works at the desk kept speaking to them, thus my students realized, what if they were Deaf and didn’t understand what the guy said or is trying to communicate?
The guy warned the students verbally about alligators — watch out for them — but what if the student was Deaf and didn’t understand? That’s what I have to accomplish in this setting to increase understanding of deaf culture.

Here, the professor and Emily started signing things back and forth…

Me: Are you talking about me?

Emily signed “no”.

Jason: Out in the water, they must use ASL to communicate, thus this is a new experience for them. Especially when we need “verbal commands” to row. Now they need to use visual commands.

Me: It must be hard to drive a boat that way!

Jason: Yes! But Deaf people develop visual mastery how to do this so I want my students to have that experience.

I’m not going to lie, I had a difficult time communicating when I couldn’t speak. That’s probably why the man working at the Lake Claire office spoke to the students. It’s our natural, most obvious way of communicating, and when we’re put in a position where that won’t work, we, as hearing people, hardly know what to do. We depend so much on speech to communicate. In fact, it was almost like the tables were turned when I was sitting in the pavilion with the ASL class. They were all signing, and I had no idea what was going on. That must be how Deaf people feel in a room of people speaking.

I hope that someday we have better ways of communicating not only with the Deaf, but also with people who don’t speak our native language. Better ways to communicate with everyone. We could create a major to teach people to communicate visually. We could call it visual communication. Oh wait…

Amy

(p.s. I’m a visual communication major. That’s why it’s funny.)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Emily Josephine permalink
    April 9, 2010 3:40 pm

    love this! thanks for sharing. I have one correction, though….

    Deaf (capital “D”). Have I taught you nothing? :)

  2. Jason permalink
    April 11, 2010 11:19 pm

    Awesome blog! Excellent perspective :o) I am glad that you could come out and experience this. You should share this entry with others that can help folks to gain some perspective that many haven’t yet experienced . It was fun doing the interview.

  3. Anthony permalink
    April 12, 2010 11:38 am

    Jason Hurdich is my old pal, I am deaf, too. Sign Language communication is important facts. It is a visual language, not a written language.

    There are various ways to express what they want to say:

    Primarily using hand forms
    Arm movements
    Head movements
    Facial expressions
    Body language

  4. May 24, 2010 9:19 am

    I love ASL. I had a friend who started teaching me some basics. I even got to play poker (not with real money) with a Deaf guy. I could understand a few things he was signing. My friend filled me in on whatever I missed.

    I know about 100 words or so, currently.

    I want to learn more. :) Wish I could count it as my foreign language for my graduation requirements, but “no”…the college doesn’t consider it a “real” language (which is nonsense).

    Anyway, see ya later! Peace.

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