Addendum to Changing Perspectives: A New World

Another cuer contacted me to share that her experiences with the Deaf community did not quite match up with what I’d shared in my last post, Changing Perspectives: A New World. I had written that “[the d/Deaf community at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee] wasn’t this cloistered community that I’d expected. People had no problem with the fact that I used a cochlear implant or Cued Speech (most were quite curious about Cued Speech, actually) and could just get by with a smattering of Signed English at first.”

Now, I should clarify that these experiences took place mostly within UWM. Outside of UWM, I got more varied responses, although still overwhelmingly accepting. I think it depended on several factors, which I’ll outline soon.

Truth be told, I will probably not post much about the positive interactions here, because although “everybody got along, got what they needed, and is happy” is generally the desired outcome, it isn’t really much of a post. The few negative parts are where we still need improvement, likely through education and awareness. All that said, I will always, always shoot for balanced, constructive discussion. We really don’t have anything to gain by making enemies out of each other.

For me, I think several factors helped at UWM:

1) Diversity. UWM has/had a quite diverse community of d/hh students. Many came from a mainstreamed background, but we had several students and teachers who attended or graduated from residential schools for the deaf. We also represented a wide range of communication styles, from pure ASL to Signed Exact English to Cued Speech, and many of us used hearing aids and cochlear implants too.

I think a big part of this is our (in my opinion) excellent accessibility services program; they were truly committed to meeting each student’s individual needs and preferences. ASL, Signed English, Cued Speech, captioning– whatever you requested, they made sure their staff were equipped to meet that demand.

The size may also have played a part in it; compared to schools like RIT, Gallaudet, and CSUN, we had a fairly small d/hh community, so it may have been a bit harder to form cliques.

2) Age. I do notice a generational gap, starting around 1990, between what I think of as the “old school deaf”– raised in residential schools, used ASL as their primary language, had bad experiences with the auditory-verbal approach– and younger deaf people, more of whom tend to be mainstreamed and/or implanted, and with much better educational approaches too. The latter tended to be much more open-minded and accepting.

3) Mutual Respect. Pretty much right away, I took up ASL– I got many compliments about how fast I’d improved– and started learning about Deaf Culture. I always tried to show respect and appreciation for others’ perspectives, even when we disagreed. I think that made it much easier for others to show me the same respect and appreciation in return.

Transitions, Part II

One thing to understand: my parents had clashed with the local school district for years to ensure that I got cued language transliteration instead of sign language interpretation, as well as speech therapy services– particularly since there was no way they could have afforded those services on their own. From what I gather, there were several reasons for the district’s resistance:

  • I went to school in another district (first, the one near Chicago, then the ones in Racine while we lived in a neighboring district).
  • I attended private instead of public schools.
  • Possible underfunding and understaffing in the district, from what local educators told me years later.

I’m not saying these reasons were right or wrong; that’s just what we had to work with. Ultimately, it came down to this: as residents of our particular district, we were legally entitled to the best services for me, whether we got it directly from the district, or elsewhere. This did not stop them from throwing my parents curveballs, though. I think at least a couple times, it came down to hiring a lawyer and having him send mean letters to city hall.

So, when I enrolled in University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, my parents and I were expecting another similar fight. Much to our pleasant surprise, they just asked if we knew of any transliterators in the area whom they could hire. We gave them Rosie’s number, and they hired her immediately. Over that next year, they would proceed to train four or five of their staff– interpreters and captionists– in cued language transliteration. By the end of my second year or so, UWM had three transliterators who could cue fluently.