Tonight I had my sign language class, which was enjoyable as usual. Towards the end of class we were planning the silent dinner. The rule is that no one can speak in the class and we can only use sign. One woman grew frustrated as she attempted to convey something and began to mouth words, barely whispering.
The charming, pretty teacher was furious. She passionately signed that no one was to speak in this class, that she was deaf and could not hear what was being said. Everyone else could hear it but she could not, therefore it was inexcusably rude. Everyone is to show consideration for the fact that she is deaf, and to only use sign or write it down so that everyone in the room could equally understand. She was clearly enraged. She did not apologize. The poor student must have felt mortified. I know I did.
I felt like a small child being scolded, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach, I felt angry. I went home and promptly picked a fight with Steve on a completely unrelated issue.
On the one hand, the teacher’s reaction seemed extreme. The student was trying to get a point across and couldn’t because she only knew a few signs, almost involuntarily she started to speak. She didn’t mean anything rude or personal by it.
On the other hand, the teacher was right. If we spoke, she was being excluded and left out. It was rude.
Ok, good point. But couldn’t she have made this point in a nice, friendly way? A way that doesn’t embarass people, alienate people, or put them on the defensive? If she signed, calmly and smiling, “please don’t talk, use sign” it would not have had the same impact on us. Plain and simple. We would have politely obeyed and reverted back to sign but then sooner or later someone would have whispered again. Her fiery performance burned it into our brains- it is rude, inexcusable to talk when a deaf person is present and when we could have been using sign instead so that everyone is included.
So I come to the almost unbelievable conclusion- she was right to ream us out. She had the right to get angry, even if the slight was unintentional, even if the slight was born out of behaving in the way one has always known. A way entirely acceptable by the majority. This was the only way we would get the point, the only way we would remember and be particularly careful not to do it again.
Perhaps too, she was reacting out of the pain of being repeatedly excluded by hearing people all her life.
That takes so much courage.
I’m sure there were people in the group who thought it was way over the top and she was being overly sensitive. I’m sure there were those who thought she was being a bitch. There may have been people in her life who dismissed her from the beginning- an irrational girl who was too much of a pain to hang out with because she got testy every time someone didn’t accommodate her deafness. Yet she takes a risk, a stand, regardless of whether people will appreciate it or not.
Has this been my own inalienable right all my life? Should I demand that people adjust to ME, instead of just saying nothing, hearing nothing and pretending and nodding and smiling? Should I have shouted and stamped my foot every time people turned up the music in their car or wanted to go hang out in a poorly lit environment or covered their mouths while talking? Do I dare to ream someone out for talking in a low voice to others in the room and not acknowledging me? I have never dared to get angry with people. I am so aware of the burden my hearing loss can be to begin with for others in my presence that I try to be as easygoing as I can. I try not to ask people to repeat themselves unless I really need or want to know what they said.
Some things are about to change.
Day #100- Wow..one hundred days. We slacked big time last week, no more of that. I went running on midday on the 4th of July, when everything under the sun was absolutely baking. A mistake, it was a miserable one. Today however I ran around 8 pm and it was much cooler. My stride lengthened, my pace came back, it was fun again. From now on, 8 pm is the time.
Jul 8th 2003Uncategorized