Category Archives: Deaf FAQ’s

Hearing the Voice of the Deaf Community

ASL-HoH-Deaf_Camp-01Often, people ask me “what is going on?” with Deaf culture. More than ever, we are seeing deaf individuals on TV, in the news, and other mainstream sources. For thousands of years, deaf people were silent members of society, sometimes denied basic rights simply because they could not hear. But with new communication technologies emerging each day, the world is finally getting a true glimpse into the complex and elaborate Deaf cultures which quietly evolved over centuries.

storrs-sister_ASL-02As we all know, just because deaf people may not be able to hear or speak doesn’t mean they have nothing to say! Throughout history, deaf people have existed, and they have wanted to engage with the world around them. Since hearing society was generally insensitive (remember, deaf people who couldn’t speak were commonly called “dumb”), deaf people were desperate for others who they could relate to. Until the mid-1500s, the deaf population remained uneducated, disconnected, and largely ignored. Over time, official sign languages began emerging and people slowly started to understand communication as a human right.

telephone-operators-1960s-03If you ever played the “telephone” game as a child, you know how difficult it can be to relay a message through multiple sources. The telephone was a revolutionary invention for Americans, making it possible to stay connected with friends and family from a distance. But it was still decades before the deaf population was able to experience the joys of our networked world. If they wished to make a phone call, deaf individuals had to ask a hearing person to place the call and act as their interpreter. It was not convenient, and certainly not a good way to hold a private conversation.

deaf-hoh-clubsSeeking a sense of community, Deaf clubs began to assemble. Outside of the mainstream, away from the hearing world, deaf people began organizing their own social associations. Deaf clubs were among the very first institutions created BY deaf people FOR deaf people. In private spaces, deaf people could express their hopes, discuss political issues, and share stories of oppression. Here, deaf folklore and jokes evolved. Aided by the use of sign language, Deaf culture became rich and nuanced, while deaf people grew empowered. By the 1940s, these social clubs could be found in nearly every major city across the United States.

tty-teletype-deaf-hoh-05In the 1960s, the Teletype (TTY) was invented. TTY machines allowed messages to be typed then transmitted through the phone lines, where the message was received by another TTY device. If a deaf person wished to call a hearing person who did not have a TTY, then a relay service (TRS) could be used. TRS operators would receive the deaf person’s TTY messages then read them out loud to the hearing entity. While this technology was a step in the right direction, it fell short in a few ways. Firstly, if the deaf individual could not read or write very well in English, this was not an effective method. Additionally, TRS call center employees were often hearing people with little knowledge about Deaf culture or ASL. Because TRS operators were not always linguistically or culturally competent, it was very possible for messages to be miscommunicated, misinterpreted, and misunderstood. Although they certainly had their place, especially in deaf families, TTY was not an ideal solution.

how-tty-teletype-works-06It was not until the end of the 20th century that Deaf Americans were impacted by the communication revolution. The invention of cell phones with text messaging finally offered Deaf Americans the freedom that the telephone provided hearing people. When the internet became a household utility, instant messaging and chat rooms allowed deaf people to make new connections. These easy-to-use methods were convenient not only for Deaf people to communicate with one another, but they could now chat directly with hearing people. No more “telephone” game!

deaf-hoh-facetime-skype-video-call-07On the internet deaf people began to meet each other, explore Deaf culture more deeply, and express themselves just like everyone else. As Internet speeds got faster, uploading and streaming videos became simple. Instead of typing out their stories in English, deaf people could now comfortably record video in ASL. By captioning or doing voice-overs, deaf video bloggers could reach both deaf and hearing audiences. For the first time, deaf stories could be told by deaf people directly to mainstream audiences without a third party. Now the whole world can finally see that deaf people are individuals with their own personalities.

video-relay-service-deaf-hohThe ability to have a long distance conversation in sign language has been monumental. Using video chat, deaf people can now converse freely using ASL; whether they are around the block or across the ocean. Apps such as Skype and FaceTime empower deaf people to stay in contact and share their experiences. Video Relay Service (VRS) call centers– staffed with certified ASL interpreters who understand Deaf culture and ASL linguistics– now provide a way for deaf people to make phone calls. Using VRS, deaf people can quickly communicate with hearing people, allowing them to participate more fully in areas of everyday life where they had normally been excluded. VRS is used in businesses across the country to provide deaf access, and empowers deaf employees to become engaged in the workplace.

deaf-hoh-facetime-video-call-09This all takes us to our modern day — with the widespread use of texting, instant messaging, and video chats. The internet has become the biggest Deaf club in history! Deaf people are blogging, vlogging, and connecting instantly on any number of social networks. With the help of modern technology, deaf people have access to better education and communication than ever before. My deaf nieces are growing up in a world where they can call aunt Lydia on FaceTime, and tell me about their day using their native language: ASL. My deaf sister and I can text gossip back and forth, or I can just share a photo of the leaves in Central Park with my mother. I know I am blessed to live in a time where I can be so connected to my deaf family and friends, because it wasn’t always so easy.

deaf-nation-cafeWhen people ask me why they are suddenly seeing so much about Deaf culture in the media, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride. From deep roots of oppression, Deaf Americans quietly cultivated a beautiful culture all their own. The internet allows hearing society to access a wealth of deaf art, music, poetry, news, and advocacy information. Using the tools of the modern age, the Deaf community is able to amplify it’s voice. Finally, the mainstream world is staring to listen.

Working with Sign Language Interpreters: The DOs and DON’Ts

deaf-interpreter-faq-nycIf you do not regularly work with sign language interpreters, you may not know that there are certain rules and expectations. To get the most out of having an ASL interpreter present, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about what exactly an interpreter does, and how they facilitate communication. To avoid complicating the conversation, making the interaction uncomfortable, or even offending the Deaf individual, here are some basic guidelines to follow:

1.) DO: Research how to interact with a Deaf person; with and without an interpreter.
DON’T: Come to the meeting without any knowledge about deafness or Deaf communication.

2.) DO: Provide the interpreter as much information as possible, as far in advance as possible. This helps the interpreter be prepared and alert you to any potential ethical conflicts.
DON’T: Leave out important details about the assignment.

deaf-interpreter-faq-nyc3.) DO: Use the interpreter to engage deaf individuals in conversation. Remember– interpreters are there to facilitate a deaf/hearing interaction.
DON’T: Talk to the interpreter like the deaf person isn’t there.

3.) DO: Address the deaf person directly, using singular phrases. This is the person you are having a conversation with.
DON’T: Talk to the deaf person in the third person. The interpreter is interpreting exactly what you say. Saying “tell him/her…” just confuses the message.

5.) DO: Ask the deaf person to explain how the interpreting process works.
DON’T: Ask the interpreter about their job.

deaf-interpreter-faq-nyc-36.) DO: Talk directly to the deaf person and make respectful eye contact.
DON’T: Stare at the interpreter while having a conversation with a deaf person.

7.) DO: Ask the deaf person how to sign something if you are curious.
DON’T: Say obscene things to watch how the interpreter signs it.

8.) DO: Make sure your message is clear so the interpreter can communicate it.
DON’T: Speak to the deaf person like they are uneducated.

9.) DO: Be friendly to the interpreter, and utilize his/her professional services to speak with the deaf individual.
DON’T: Try to befriend the interpreter.

10.) DO: Plan for the interpreter to sit or stand near the person who will be speaking the most.
DON’T: Try to sit the interpreter next to the deaf individual, or put the interpreter behind other people. Deaf people need to actually see everything the interpreter does.

lydia-callis-interpreting-2014-nyc11.) DO: Speak as clearly as possible.
DON’T: Mumble, shout, or over-enunciate words thinking this will help the interpreter.

12.) DO: Ask the deaf person to explain something if you do not understand it.
DON’T: Ask the interpreter to explain what the deaf person means, cutting the deaf person out of the conversation.

13.) DO: Use sign language if you know ASL and it is appropriate.
DON’T: Start signing the alphabet, finger spelling, or signing random words when the interpreter is right there to facilitate communication.

14.) DO: Feel confident using an interpreter for private conversations.
DON’T: Worry that the interpreter can not be trusted. RID Certified interpreters are held to a professional code of conduct, which emphasizes ethics and client confidentiality.

15.) DO: Understand that although ASL interpreters aim to provide objective interpretations, they are Deaf culture allies and will advocate for the deaf client as needed.
DON’T: Ask interpreters for their personal opinions, ask them not to interpret something you said, or expect the interpreter to overlook any acts they view as oppressive toward the deaf consumer.

16.) DO: Be present and pay attention to the deaf person with whom you are communicating.
DON’T: Look at other people, at your phone, or out the window during conversation.

deaf-interpreter-faq-nyc17.) DO: Hire a professional, competent interpreter who has the appropriate credentials and background to facilitate effective communication. Look for Deaf or sign language interpreter owned agencies that specialize in deaf communication.
DON’T: Hire any interpreter you can find without doing any research on the agency that they work for.

18.) DO: Take an interest in Deaf culture and deafness. There is a wealth of information available on this topic– read some of the many books or articles that are available.
DON’T: Simply expect deaf people or sign language interpreters will take time out of their busy day to provide basic cultural education.

19.) DO: Know it may be your legal responsibility to cover the costs, as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act
DON’T: Expect the Deaf person to pay for the interpreter out of pocket

20.) DO: Learn what types of situations ASL interpreters are required for, and how to hire a high quality interpreter.
DON’T: Deny deaf people equal access to communication in your business, organization, or establishment.

If you are seeking a professional sign language interpreter in the New York City area, contact LCIS for a consultation. Coming from three generations of Deaf family members, I understand the true value of a culturally competent interpreter. My services emphasize the satisfaction of deaf consumers, and bridging the communication gap between the deaf and hearing worlds.

Deaf Rights: What You Need to Know

Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski_MAWorking in the Deaf community, I’ve noticed a great deal of confusion surrounding the legal rights of the Deaf. Both Deaf and hearing individuals have difficulty understanding what accommodations deaf people are entitled to, and how exactly those needs
get met. I recently had a chance to discuss these important issues with Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski, who serves as a Deaf legal liaison, and Deaf discrimination attorney Andrew Rozynski, Esq.

Deaf Rights

Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski — who serves as Deaf Liaison at Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing — explains that Deaf persons frequently encounter barriers when trying to protect their rights. Profoundly deaf since birth, Eisenberg-Michalowski has personally witnessed discrimination against deaf individuals from all walks of life, in a wide variety of scenarios. Utilizing her extensive experience, Eisenberg-Michalowski serves as an advocate for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind individuals; helping people better understand how to protect themselves against discrimination.

professional-asl-communication-nyc“Imagine yourself as a deaf individual with virtually no knowledge regarding the law. You may have been faced with job discrimination, personal injury, sexual harassment, or denied ASL interpreters for medical care. Obviously, legal assistance is needed, but the lawyer who takes your case may have no knowledge of Deaf culture or the needs of deaf individuals.” Eisenberg-Michalowski explains that many attorneys will take valid discrimination cases, but neglect to provide guidance for their Deaf client. “Without interpreters, clear communication with your lawyer is nonexistent. Where are your rights?

“Over the years, many laws have been passed in order to improve quality of life for deaf individuals,” she continued. “But even with today’s laws, I still see so much Audism– a term meaning the oppression of the Deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind.”

Andrew_Rozynski_EsqAndrew Rozynski, a Deaf discrimination litigation attorney and partner at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, offers some insight into Federal legal obligations to provide reasonable accommodations. Rozynski comes from a Deaf family, and his clientele is almost exclusively deaf. He is one of only a handful of attorneys in the United States who focuses his practice on the protection of Deaf persons rights.

“As a Deaf rights attorney, I focus my practice of law on combating discrimination against the Deaf in a variety of settings,” said Rozynski. “Hospitals, government, businesses; these are just some of the areas of everyday life where Deaf people require accommodations.”

ada-deaf-hohThe Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires many public and private entities to provide reasonable accommodations for the Deaf to ensure effective communication. What is a reasonable accommodation varies from situation to situation, and the need for accommodation can be different in each setting. Since each Deaf person has individual needs, determining what accommodation is appropriate can sometimes be confusing. Rozynski offered to elaborate:

“Reasonable accommodation is very ‘fact specific,’ which means it is evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” he explained. “It really depends on many factors, however, two important factors that are utilized are: (1) What are the Deaf person’s needs to facilitate effective communication, and (2) The length and complexity of the communication.”

So, how do you know if an interpreter is necessary?

“Assuming the Deaf person uses ASL as their primary form of communication, hospitals are one setting where a qualified sign language interpreter is almost always appropriate because critical communication concerning medical treatment is being conducted. In government settings– such as court proceedings or interviews with the police– interpreters are crucial for effective communication, because ones’ legal rights can be seriously impacted by miscommunication. In the employment setting, having interpreters for business meetings ensures that deaf employees can participate equally in the workplace.”

three_people_ASL_signingRozynski went on to provide further examples. “In the alternative, if you go in to a sandwich shop and request an interpreter, would that be appropriate under those circumstances? Probably not. “

“But, say a Deaf person is looking for a house and needs an interpreter to effectively communicate with the real estate broker. That might be an instance where people don’t know they have the right to request an interpreter. Or if one is getting a mortgage from a bank, that is another instance where a deaf person may be entitled to an interpreter so that they can fully understand the terms of the agreement as explained by the bank”

For brief interactions, like those in retail and restaurant locations, writing notes may be an appropriate option. The amount of information being communicated is often minimal and the content of the communication is simple. However, note writing is not always the solution.

ASL-in-hospital-setting“Sometimes doctors think writing notes back and forth for an appointment is an effective means of communication. It’s often not,” He continued. “Imagine trying to have a 20 minute phone conversation via handwriting. Would you explain yourself just as thoroughly? When people write, they often only give brief summaries of the information they want to convey. Additionally, people whose primary language is ASL may have some difficulty with the English language, making this method ineffective.”

The more critical and complex the communication, and the longer the interaction; the higher likelihood an interpreter will be needed. For example, a business training seminar or disciplinary meeting would both be times where an interpreter is an appropriate accommodation, because the information being relayed to the Deaf individual is very important and specific. ASL interpreters also serve as cultural mediators, bridging any gaps between Deaf and hearing culture so all parties can fully understand the messages being relayed.

“What accommodation is needed, is what provides for effective communication for the Deaf person,” said Rozynski.

asl-in-workplace-video-relayOne strategy that is being utilized across the country is Video Relay Interpreter (VRI) systems, which provide a professional interpreter through a video connection. “There are a lot of Deaf people who complain that VRI does not provide effective communication because the system will freeze, or not turn on, or staff members who are trying to use the VRI don’t know how to use it. Sometimes the screen is very small, or not suitable for the situation. For example, if someone is giving birth they often cannot look at a tablet off to their bedside. It’s generally not effective. Providing effective communication is key to each situation.”

In the work setting, both employer and employee should work together in an interactive process. The Deaf employee should let their manager know clearly what their communication needs are, and what situations they would like an interpreter for. Employers and places of public accommodation should analyze whether they are truly doing everything possible to ensure the Deaf individual receives equal access to all information being provided by the organization. Deaf parties should be realistic about what accommodations are necessary for each specific situation.

asl-in-metropolitan-museum-of-art“People often think that they can just refuse VRI without trying it, which isn’t always the case. Often times, people should try VRI if it’s offered. If it is not effective, you have the right to request a live ASL interpreter so that you can be provided effective communication” said Rozynski. VRI, if it works properly, can be a solution for short one-on-one communication—for instance when a hearing employee needs to have a brief conversation with a Deaf coworker. But in situations where there are multiple parties speaking, the information is critical, or where the equipment is not functioning correctly, VRI is usually unable to provide effective communication for Deaf individuals.

If you are a hearing entity responsible for providing reasonable accommodation, Rozynski has a few tips to ensure you provide equal access. Step one is contacting a reputable interpreting agency. Look for agencies that employ RID Certified interpreters and have a great deal of experience working with Deaf consumers. Businesses should be aware that if a meeting will last more than an hour, depending on the type of meeting, it may be required that 2 interpreters are provided. Also, make your interpreter request as far in advance as possible so that there will be no problems with scheduling, and the interpreter has ample lead time to prepare. Providing a professional interpreter is not optional when it is the only means of providing effective communication for the Deaf individual.

“Using family members or coworkers is also not ok,” he said, unless the coworker is designated by the business entity as a qualified staff ASL interpreter. Otherwise “it’s not appropriate.”

asl-in-the-workplaceIf you are a Deaf person requesting accommodation, Rozynski advises you communicate with a manager and keep a record of your requests. “I always recommend people make their requests in writing, just to be clear that a request has been made. If you still do not get your request for accommodation, I would suggest going up the chain as far as possible. If you still feel like you’re not being provided appropriate accommodations, ask for the reason why.”

Rozynski says that business often claim they are unable to afford sign language interpreters. “This is often disingenuous. Hospitals, banks, and big corporations are often able to pay for an interpreter.” He points out that the ADA looks at the financial strength of the whole organization when considering if an interpreter is cost prohibitive. A large museum, for example, may not refuse to provide an interpreter because it causes them to lose money on a $20 ticket. The same goes for doctors and dentists offices. It is the whole entity that is looked at, not the cost of the individual service provided.

“If you’re an employer or you’re a place of public accommodation, you have an obligation to provide effective communication to that Deaf person. If you do not provide effective communication to a Deaf person, you could potentially be opening yourself up to liability and have a lawsuit that could cost your organization much more than the cost of the interpreting services provided.”

deaf-hoh-asl-in-court-reportingIf the Deaf party still feels that equal access is not being provided, that person may have a legal claim.

“I would suggest someone who feels that their rights are violated should contact either an attorney or a local advocacy organization,” advised Rozynski. “Some attorneys do charge to take on discrimination cases; others don’t have any upfront charges and take the case on contingency, which means you don’t pay unless you win or the case settles. Many attorneys offer free consultations, and will let you know whether you have a viable case or not. It is also important to note that all cases have a statute of limitations, so if you feel your rights may have been violated an attorney should be contacted as soon as possible.”

“I think a lot of people are scared to take this next step because they worry that they will have to pay money to proceed with a lawsuit. Another reason for peoples hesitation is that they might not be comfortable with the legal process. This can be tough for people because they don’t know what to expect. Finding a law firm that a Deaf person can be comfortable with is key. The Deaf public should know that attorneys do have an obligation to provide interpreters– some attorneys are not even aware of that!”

child-asl-signingEisenberg-Michalowski adds that Deaf liaisons are also critical to the legal process because they can empower Deaf individuals to actively advocate for themselves. “We have had clients who are shocked at how involved they are in their cases, when compared to their previous law firms. One client told me that his (former) lawyer just made decisions without him. This treatment is a violation of these individuals’ legal rights.”

At the end of the day, most Deaf people do not want to go through a lengthy court battle to get the accommodations they deserve. They just want the equal access they are legally entitled to by the law. Providing reasonable accommodation is not a burden, it should be an expected cost of doing business. Welcoming Deaf individuals into all spaces is not just the law. It’s the right thing to do.

“I think the point is that these discrimination laws were created so Deaf people could equally participate in society,” concludes Rozynski. “It is our obligation, as a whole society, to ensure Deaf people have equal participation and that they can access the same kind of information that hearing people do in any type of setting.”

If you have any further questions, Andrew Rozynski and Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski can be contacted at:

Eisenberg & Baum, LLP 24 Union Square East, 4th Floor New York, NY 10003 Voice: (212) 353-8700 Video Phone: (646) 807-4096

 

How Do I Know What Interpreting Agency to Work For?

hearing_speech_agency-interpretingLast year, audiences watched in disbelief as the South African sign language interpreter for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service earned the nickname “the fake interpreter.” Insulted, but not entirely surprised, the global deaf community used this public example to bring attention to an unfortunately common problem. The agencies which provide interpreters, even for large televised events, aren’t always looking out for the best interest of the communities they serve.

Applying to an Interpreting Agency

deaf-hoh-interpreting-agencyWhen interpreting agencies assign unqualified interpreters to jobs, they are denying equal access– it happens at hospitals, police stations, and court rooms alike. From the very start of our careers, interpreters should aware that these agencies are unethical, and that it is our professional responsibility to ensure access for the deaf is provided.

Novice interpreters graduate from their Interpreter Training Program (ITP) eager to begin serving the deaf community. For many, this means moving to a large metropolitan area, a place where they may not be familiar with the community, the neighborhoods, or the job opportunities available. When I first moved to New York City, I just wanted to get right to work! I have learned that professional responsibility starts right here, at this juncture. If you recently relocated or graduated from an ITP program, there are ways to ensure you are working for a reputable agency that cares about the quality of the interpreters that they provide to the deaf community.

Looking for agencies that are Deaf or sign language interpreter owned and operated is a good first step. People who live and work in the deaf community understand the importance of matching a deaf consumer with a skilled qualified interpreter. They can recognize any issues which might arise between interpreters and clients, and advocate for the deaf consumer when needed. Multiple language interpreting agencies are often unfamiliar with deaf specific issues, making them less qualified to mediate these types of cultural misunderstandings.

NAD-RID-agency-nycResearch agencies to ensure they adhere to RID/NAD standards. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) is a professional organization which strives to provide consistent and ethical sign language interpreters. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is a civil rights organization by and for deaf people, representing the interest of deaf and hard of hearing individuals across the United States. Together RID and NAD have developed a Code of Professional Conduct, a set standard practices and expectations for interpreters that protects the rights of deaf consumers. It is crucial that any agency an ASL interpreter applies to is not only familiar with, but in strict adherence of these policies. It shows respect for deaf consumers and a desire to provide the highest quality ethical interpreting services.

deaf-hoh-interpreting-agency-nycWhen applying to an interpreting agency, find out how they treat their employees and pay careful attention to the hiring process. It is important that the agency have an accurate interview and screening process, which will include assessment by a deaf or hearing interpreter to appropriately evaluate each new interpreter’s skill set. A quality interpreting agency will know their interpreter’s strengths and weaknesses, and distribute assignments accordingly.

Seek out agencies that follow community standards and protocol to ensure interpreters are taken care of. Assignment details should provide as much depth as possible to help prepare interpreters for any demands that may arise. An agency which demonstrates concern for its’ interpreters will work within the Demand-Control schema to reduce occupational stressors, allowing interpreters to perform at the highest possible level. Assignment details are so critical for interpreters because we are synthesizing conversations based on a specific situation. If we do not have the correct information, or have an incomplete picture, we will be doing a disservice to the deaf consumer.

spanish-sign-language-medical-interpreter-jobsOne difference between spoken language interpreters and sign language interpreters is team interpreting. When interpreting a verbal language into a physical one, ASL interpreters become prone to both physical and mental fatigue. After one hour of interpreting alone, even the best sign language interpreter will be providing a lower quality of service. ASL interpreters should make sure any agency they apply to regularly provides team interpreting for assignments. Not every situation requires a team of interpreters, but many do and it’s best to look for agencies that are ready to provide interpreters with support in the field.

sign-language-interpreter-agency-nycBefore you sign a contract with any agency, be sure you read it very thoroughly and that you agree to the terms. If you find any questionable items in the contract, bring it back to the agency to discuss how your needs can be met. Look for the following items: a cancellation policy that ensures pay for the interpreter if the assignment is cancelled without 24-48 hours notice; a policy that states payment will be made within 14-45 days of an assignment; and pay that follows the cost of living standards for your area. Whether you live in a city or rural area has a big impact on your income. Learn the standard rates for non-certified and certified ASL interpreters in your city, and seek out an agency that provides all interpreters a fair hourly wage.

sign-language-interpreter-nycWhen working for an organization that understands the deaf community, and truly cares about the quality of services they provide, interpreters will find they are better supported and able to focus. Look for agencies which emphasize the RID/NAD Code of Professional Conduct and have connections to deaf culture. At the end of the day, the people who suffer most when unqualified interpreters are assigned to jobs are deaf consumers. If an interpreter lacks the skill set to perform a specific task, and the agency does not recognize this, the deaf person is denied access. By partnering with ethical, consumer-focused agencies, sign language interpreters choose to support professionally responsible business practices. Beyond that, they choose to support equal access– and that’s what this job is all about!

_____

If you are seeking a professional ASL interpreting mentor, my services are available. It is critical for interpreters to continuously develop their professional skills at every step of their career. LC Interpreting Services is deeply involved with the deaf community, focused on deaf consumers, and passionate about providing equal access in all situations. If you are looking for career guidance and information about reputable agencies, LCIS would be happy to help!

 

Building Communication With A Deaf Child

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-1Picture this: you are a little kid growing up, constantly discovering incredible new things about the world. Now imagine being surrounded every day by people who do not talk to you, tell you stories, or answer your millions of questions. These people are your own parents and siblings. You all live in the same home, yet they hardly communicate with you. They are not able to teach you, guide you, or to provide comforting words when you need them. In fact, they mostly avoid you. This is the experience of many deaf children.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-2For a hearing parent, learning that your baby is deaf might be a bit of a shock. Confusion is a common response, given our society’s unfortunate lack of understanding about deaf culture. Excited new parents are delivered the news by medical professionals in a sobering way. Hearing a doctor imply that your child is disabled is almost guaranteed to stir up some panic!

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-3Communication With A Deaf Child

So, instead of accepting the perfect gift they have been given and embracing the opportunity to explore deaf communication, hearing parents might immediately label their beautiful deaf newborn as defective. They might hunt for a way to “fix” their baby, or try teaching their child to communicate using sound like “normal” people. Or maybe they simply abandon hope that they’ll ever be able to relate to their deaf child at all. This truly breaks my heart.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-4 Let me tell you a personal anecdote. Last year, I hired interpreters for a large family gathering because my mother and siblings are all deaf, while my mother’s family is hearing. Being a CODA, I have served as the “interpreter” for many many family events. Finally, I decided to enlist the help of some professionals so I could just relax and enjoy the party.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-5Throughout the evening, it was moving to witness the interactions between my deaf family and my hearing family using the interpreters. Never before had they been able to experience each other in such a way! With two neutral, professional interpreters relaying even the littlest bits of small talk, we were all able to participate in conversations equally. I saw my hearing aunts really getting to know my deaf nieces for the first time. Almost every member of my family raved about how amazing it was to have interpreters. Every family member, except one.

Growing up the only deaf person in your household can be extremely isolating. If your family chooses not to learn sign language, it is hard to express yourself comfortably. For my mother, the opportunity to communicate with her parents and siblings just felt like it came too late. After a lifetime of feeling excluded from your own family, believing they never really got to know you, how do you make up for lost time? What is there to talk about?

When my mother was growing up, there weren’t many resources for raising deaf children and interpreting was only a developing field. Of course she appreciated the fact that I hired interpreters for our family event but… after decades of not communicating, forming a connection is not so simple. All children want to feel like they belong in their own family and a lifetime of feeling marginalized can’t just be erased. Certainly not in one evening.

sign-language-lessons-deaf-children-nyc-6Deafness doesn’t have to be isolating. Since I was raised in a deaf family, I can tell you: deafness is nothing to be afraid of! The ability to hear sound is not what makes a person whole. It is not what gives a person their personality. The ability to hear sound is not what determines a person’s intelligence, and it doesn’t have to limit one’s life. Perhaps not enough hearing people take note of the deaf community members living happy lives around them. There are plenty of successful business owners, artists, and athletes who use sign language to communicate.

There are few things more bonding than learning a language together. Discovering sign language with your deaf infant promises both of you a richer life and a closer relationship. By accepting your child’s abilities and taking the time to access their world from a young age, you also give them access to yours. You will be able to share stories and jokes, and get to know each other. It is more intuitive for deaf babies to learn a physical language, than one which relies on sound. When deaf individuals are not struggling to live a hearing lifestyle in their own home, they can focus on growing in other areas.

Sign language is the most natural form of communication for deaf people around the globe. Research has shown that in any society where there is a concentration of deafness, signed languages have developed. Humans have a strong desire to express ourselves– relationships form and strengthen through communication. For deaf children, having parents and siblings to use sign language with can truly mean the world. Because, when you are a kid, your family IS your whole world.


I have 10 years experience working with toddlers and I am professionally certified in all levels of ASL, including baby signs. I am thrilled to offer ASL baby sign language lessons for parents! Babies, whether deaf or hearing, are able to express themselves as early as 6 months using signs. Being able to communicate from a young age boosts confidence and builds self-esteem in children. Sign language also aids in cognitive development and have been shown to improve a child’s ability to acquire other languages.

Sign Language lessons make the perfect gift for new mothers or mothers-to-be! In celebration of Mother’s Day, I am running a special on one-to-one ASL training: 2 one-hour lessons for $99. My private lessons provide not only sign language training, but insight into cultural norms and deaf history, as well. Lessons are customized to fit your skill level and learning style, and can be scheduled at your own convenience! We can meet in person, in the NYC area, or remotely via video chat. 

 I AM RUNNING A TWITTER CONTEST THIS WEEK! ONE LUCKY PERSON WINS A FREE ASL LESSON. Keep it for yourself or give it as a gift! CLICK HERE  FOR MORE DETAILS. The winners will be announced on Friday May 9. ENTER TO WIN!

What’s it Like to be an ASL Interpreter?

One of my favorite parts of being an interpreter is that it’s an extremely social line of work. Aside from the deaf clients, I also get the opportunity to interact with many other interpreters, and those who are considering sign language interpreting as a career. Novice interpreters enter this job full of questions, since the interpreting field has… Continue Reading