Tag Archives: CODA

ASL Unlocking Communication

asl-communication-faqs-sign-language-info-01What is American Sign Language? Is it a culture? Is it an identity? Is it a foreign language? Is it an art form? Is it for Deaf people only? ASL fills a variety of roles in different people’s lives, but most importantly: it is a communication tool. ASL is emotional expression, it is connection; it is a way for humans to build meaningful relationships.

asl-communication-faqs-sign-language-info-02The use of sign language has been discovered all around the world in areas where groups of Deaf people have had the opportunity to interact with one another. Nicaraguan sign language spontaneously emerged in the 1970s, after it was developed by deaf Nicaraguan school children. In Martha’s Vineyard, MA, from the early 18th century until the mid-20th century, there was an unusually large deaf population among the island’s residents. This led to the development of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), a unique form of sign that all island residents knew and utilized, regardless of whether they were deaf or hearing!

why-i-sign-hashtag-asl-info-03Last month Stacy Abrams, a Family Mentor Program Coordinator at Arizona Schools for the Deaf/Blind and the Arizona Early Intervention Program, launched the viral video campaign called Why I Sign #WhyISign. According to Abrams, she started the campaign “to inspire families everywhere to share their personal stories of why they elect to sign with their Deaf children.” #WhyISign quickly caught on with the Deaf community as parents, children, and whole families shared what ASL means to them. These personal and passionate videos depict hundreds of members of the Deaf community explaining in their own words why they choose to use ASL with their family and friends. The campaign also appealed to a number of hearing individuals such as parents of Deaf children, Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs), Deaf school employees, and sign language interpreters; all of whom consider ASL an important part of their lives.

why-i-sign-asl-faqs-info-04#WhyISign was so powerful because of the community pride it generated and the incredible diversity of ASL users that it showcased. The campaign also brought an important issue to the forefront: giving deaf children access to signed languages.

Research has shown that learning to sign improves cognitive and linguistic development skills in both deaf and hearing infants. Because babies develop basic motor functions before they are able to orally communicate, knowing certain signs can help children express their wants and needs, thus reducing frustrations. Unfortunately, this seems less clear-cut for parents who decide to go the oral or cochlear implant route for their child, as these parents tend to worry that teaching their child signs will prevent them from acquiring spoken language skills. Recent studies however have shown that this fear is unfounded, and in fact learning ASL “may mitigate negative effects of early auditory deprivation for spoken language development.”

asl-communication-faqs-sign-language-info-05Peter Hauser, a deaf clinical neuropsychologist and associate professor in the American Sign Language and Interpreting Education Department at NTID, has been studying how exactly deaf people’s brains are wired. Hauser’s research indicates that not having comfortable access to language from a very early age can delay the development of executive functions in the brain— this includes emotions, impulse control, memory, and thought organization. Sign language provides deaf/ HoH children who are learning to communicate orally with another (potentially more effective) way to sort through their own thoughts while they learn English.

Language Equality and Acquisition for Deaf Kids (LEAD-K) is a national campaign by ASL4Deaf Kids, which aims to end language deprivation amongst Deaf children in the United States. This growing movement, which features celebrity spokesperson Nyle DiMarco, recently helped pass SB 210 in California: a bill designed to help assess and support literacy amongst deaf young people. LEAD-K promotes an integrated approach where deaf/ HoH children are offered both ASL and English, and not made to choose between the two languages.

asl-communication-children-faqs-info-06Some people believe that signed languages will die out as medical technology alters the social landscape of deafness. Members of the Deaf community and deaf allies are working hard to change this perception. As the previously mentioned research suggests, teaching ASL to deaf/ HoH children is actually beneficial to language acquisition, as well as their emotional development, and it has been linked to long-term educational success.

April 15 is asl-communication-kids-faqs-info-07celebrated as National ASL Day and marks the last day of Deaf History Month. On April 15, 1817, the first school for the deaf in the United States opened and the language we know as ASL began to form— born from a mix of Native American Signs, French Signs, and Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language. ASL is a language created right in America by deaf Americans for deaf Americans. It is the key to a visual culture that has its own folk tales, stories, and sense of humor. Offering yet another tool to figure out this crazy world, sign language is the birthright of every deaf child.

CODA, Advocate; Deaf Ally and Proud of It

lydia-callis-sign-language-interpreter-advocate-ally-coda-01In October of 2012, following the Hurricane Sandy press conferences, I was stunned to find YouTube clips of myself interpreting for NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg spreading across social media. I assure you that becoming a viral video is not something any person can prepare for— it was overwhelming and quite disillusioning. When all was said and done, the biggest lesson I took away from the experience is that mainstream hearing society knows next to nothing about deafness, Deaf culture, American Sign Language, or ASL interpreters. I realized that the media exposure afforded an opportunity to help bring more attention to these topics, and this has been a primary focus of my life ever since.

Working in the Deaf community every day, from my years as a staff interpreter at Rochester Institute for the Deaf – National Technical Institute for the Deaf, through to my current position as the owner of a sign language interpreting agency, I’ve witnessed the ongoing fight for deaf rights. I work alongside deaf individuals from all walks of life, in all situations, and see that no one is immune to the struggle against discrimination. I regularly offer pro-bono services for members of the NYC Deaf community, and am active in various organizations including the NTID ASL Interpreter Education Board and the NYC Metro Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Board. In my day-to-day life, Deaf consumers, colleagues, and friends regularly share their stories. These are the voices I seek to amplify.

By publishing articles on my website, the Huffington Post (where I am an unpaid contributor), and the Buzzfeed Community section (another unpaid venue which anyone can submit to), I strive to bridge the cultural gap that has been so obvious to me for all these years. Through my writing, I aim to educate, entertain, and ultimately raise awareness about deafness and the Deaf community. Blog topics range from ways to support deaf employees, to celebrating Deaf women throughout history, to interviews with successful deaf people working to make their dreams come true. Centering deaf perspectives while reaching hearing audiences is my end goal.

lydia-callis-sign-language-interpreter-advocate-ally-coda-02Not only do I strive to educate through my writing, but also through my company. I work with hearing businesses all the time to help make their organization more culturally competent for deaf employees and customers. LCIS makes the process of securing interpreters comprehensive and we offer literature on working with both deaf individuals and sign language interpreters. By working very closely with deaf consumers, we assess the needs of the individual and help advocate for any accommodations that they feel are necessary. Deaf interpreters are assigned whenever possible and we make sure to educate organizations about their importance. At LCIS, our ASL instructors are Deaf, as are the corporate Cultural Competency trainers, and any ASL coaches who work on film or TV sets that feature deafness or sign language. We could not do any of the work that we do without deaf people!

This is why the New York Times piece that was published this week was highly disappointing. The author offered an audist perspective that I do not endorse. At the time of the interview, I was led to believe the article would focus on discrimination against deaf individuals by highlighting the ways even public entities such as police fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, thus denying deaf people their legal rights. I referred the author of the piece to several prominent Deaf advocates within the community, and I know of at least one person who was interviewed whose perspective was excluded from the final draft to the detriment of the entire article. I was led to believe the NYT piece would show the vast spectrum of advocacy work that is ongoing in the Deaf community by and for Deaf people. Needless to say, the piece missed its mark.

All I can do is all that I know. I have been fighting for deaf rights alongside my family since I was a little girl. Born and raised in 3 generations of deaf family strong, I was the only hearing person. My mother and siblings all use ASL, my friends use ASL: this is the language of my roots, and the language of my culture. As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), I walk a fine line between the deaf and hearing worlds and I spent much of my life wondering where exactly I fit in. Now that I have an opportunity to help promote deaf issues on mainstream platforms, I use these outlets to help raise awareness and fill the cultural gap, and I will continue using them to help make the world a more deaf friendly place.

Getting Involved in the Deaf Community

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-01So you’re interested in Deaf culture and want to connect with the larger community. Great! But how do you go about taking that first step?

Everyone has been in a situation where they feel completely out of place. Maybe it was the first day in a new school or at a new job. These moments, as uncomfortable as they might seem, often provide us opportunities for personal growth. For hearing people, the thought of entering a Deaf space — a place where all conversations happen in American Sign Language— can be a little intimidating. Ultimately, however, stepping outside of ones’ comfort zone is a priceless experience that has the potential to open our minds to a whole new reality.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-02If you are nervous or shy, just take it slow. A good first step is to get involved in an online community where Deaf people dictate the conversation. This is an excellent way to “get to know” people without feeling too much social pressure. The way you connect with others will depend on your personal and professional interests. Try searching the #Deaf hashtag on Twitter, or find an active community on Facebook or LinkedIn. Follow the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), World Federation of the Deaf, Deaf Nation, and Deaf World as a place to get started.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-03The internet has given deaf people a public voice like never before! From online discussions you can get a feel for the tones people use to communicate with each other, the types of things they find funny, and what issues they find important. Like and share content created by deaf individuals to amplify their voices, and don’t be afraid to follow new people and jump in on discussions if you have something to contribute. Help bring attention to issues that are “hot topics” or in need of support. Pay attention to what is being discussed, what rumors are going around, and what events are coming up in your area.

Be sure to add some Deaf-created content to your RSS Feed or Blogroll to get educated while exploring the many dimensions of Deaf culture. Follow news and views from d/Deaf/ HoH activist Rikki Poytner, watch the hilarious “Don’t Shoot the Messenger,” or explore any number of other YouTube channels for videos that help bridge the culture gap. “Fridays” is a new ASL web series about two deaf best friends just trying to figure out life and relationships, it’s written and produced by Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman. For cute and totally relevant comics about Deaf and CODA life, follow “That Deaf Guy” Matt Daigle.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-05Getting involved with the online community will make it easier to take the next step, which is to get out and meet new people! Some people find that using Meetup, a site and mobile app that allows users to form groups and arrange meetings, offers a comfortable transition between online discussion and in-person engagement. Look for a Meetup group in your area and, if there isn’t one, create a group! You never know, there might be other likeminded individuals who are looking for the exact same thing.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-07If meeting people off the internet isn’t up your alley, there are plenty of other options to connect with the Deaf community. Try Google searching for a Deaf coffee chat or Deaf club in your city. If you live near Rochester, NY, check out the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) campus. Or, if you live near Washington, DC, look for events at Gallaudet University. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local deaf organizations or the local interpreter training program for more information, you will find that most people are happy to help.

Attending Deaf Expos is an awesome way to meet new people and immerse yourself to an environment where ASL is the primary language. These expos are growing in popularity, making their way from major cities to more regional venues. Learn about all the services, events, and cool things happening within the Deaf community. Another option is to find out if there is an ASL Slam or Deaf cultural events coming up nearby. Maybe there’s a monthly Deaf coffee meetup, or another type of casual social meeting that is open to the public. There are deaf-owned and operated restaurants popping up in major North American cities, such as Mozzeria in San Francisco, Signs in Toronto, and DeaFined in Vancouver where you communicate with mostly deaf waitstaff. Remember that it’s perfectly natural to be nervous the first time you do something, but that should never prevent you from seizing the opportunity to expand your horizons.

getting-involved-with-deaf-hoh-community-08If you are training to be an ASL interpreter, sign up with your local RID chapter. It helps to not only be connected with the Deaf community, but also to participate in the Interpreting community. Learn about upcoming workshops and events. Meet other interpreters from all backgrounds, expertise, and experience levels. If anyone understands how scary it can be to push yourself outside your comfort zone, it’s others who work in this field.

If you want to get involved with the Deaf community, there is no reason not to. Deaf people spend their lives marginalized by the hearing majority culture, so taking the initiative to form a connection is generally appreciated. Start by practicing your ASL and learning about the different methods of deaf-hearing communication, which will lessen any anxiety about engaging new people. Educate yourself on Deaf issues, understand what it means to be an ally, and attend an upcoming event in your area. Then just find a friendly face in the room, and strike up a conversation!

If you are in an interpreter training program and looking for ways to get involved with the Deaf community, consider mentoring through LC Interpreting Services. Our mentorship programs are individually designed to offer exactly what you need to feel confident as an intepreter, from strengthening skills to providing guidance, and everything in between!

Inquire about mentoring services

 

Bridging the Communication Gap in Your Own Family

deaf-hoh-communication-family-holidays-01This holiday season, try to imagine what it would be like if no one sitting around the dinner table took any interest in getting to know you. What if no one in your family asked about your life, or seemed to care how you were doing? Picture how the holidays would be different if you were excluded from the stories, the jokes, and the games that your family shares.

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The feeling of isolation at family events is sadly common for deaf people. Deaf individuals who come from hearing families often grow accustomed to spending holidays quietly in the background. They get used to watching captioned TV, texting with friends, or simply daydreaming in a corner during holiday gatherings. If hearing family members choose not to learn sign language, deaf children grow up without ever really getting to know their own relatives or learning their family history. When there is no communication, it is difficult to form relationships. After years go by, it becomes harder and harder to bridge the gap.

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As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), I spent many family events doing the best I could to provide my Deaf mother and siblings with access to conversations. CODAs often fall into the role of interpreter for deaf family members, and we usually don’t mind doing it. But one person can not realistically provide full access to communication when there are multiple deaf and hearing parties. Additionally, a person who is involved in the social dynamics of the family can not facilitate communication in an impartial way. For example a CODA might alter one family member’s actual message to avoid hurting another relative’s feelings.

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For my deaf family members, holiday events were always pretty boring. Any conversations they did have with hearing family members were limited and generally basic. So last year, for my mother’s birthday, I hired an team of ASL interpreters to provide services for her surprise party. My hearing family absolutely loved getting to know our deaf family in a whole new way. My deaf siblings and nieces were thrilled to have real conversations with all these people they had only known on a superficial level; the ability to communicate allowed their relationships to grow and strengthen.

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But for my mother, a whole lifetime of feeling excluded could not be erased in one day. While she appreciated the way the interpreters connected the family, it was hard to make up for all the family gatherings spent as an outsider. At the end of the party, everyone kept asking “why haven’t we hired interpreters before?” It hadn’t occurred to them what a big difference the ability to truly communicate would make.

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As a hearing person, maybe you’ve never considered what it is like to be deaf in a hearing world. You might take it for granted that you can walk around a party and casually chat with people, whether they are friends or total strangers. You can easily discuss current events, gossip, or TV shows. The ability to communicate aurally/ verbally is a cultural privilege shared by many. It can be easy for people to forget how much of our social bonding relies on communication.

deaf-hoh-communication-family-holidays-07When you provide professional interpreters, you actively welcome your deaf relatives into a hearing space.You invite them into your family– all the laughs and debates and reminiscing that bond us with our kin. Providing communication access for deaf relatives sends a clear message that their participation is valued. It was such a joy to watch my deaf siblings and little nieces get to know my hearing aunts, breaking through generations of communication barriers, making real connections. It’s hard to believe they all went so long without sharing these moments!

At your next family gathering– whether it’s a holiday dinner or a wedding– consider providing a professional sign language interpreter so that your deaf and hearing family members can get the most out of the time they spend together.

LCIS is pleased to offer event interpreting services in NYC and the surrounding areas. If you are seeking a high quality interpreter for your next family gathering, or other event, please contact me to request interpreting services. I strive to make the process of hiring an interpreter as simple and seamless as possible!