Hearing in a Deaf World

Hearing in a Deaf World

Hearing in a Deaf World

Part One

Last September, the documentary Deaf Out Loud (A&E, September 12th at 8 pm ET), which follows the life of three deaf and combined deaf and hearing families, was previewed.. I was personally excited to watch this program mostly because I’m the hearing child of deaf parents. I enjoy learning about other people’s experiences in deaf culture and I can relate to them. I’m also eager to learn about the progress that has been made for deaf people since I was a child, and since my parents have passed on. People tend to be surprised that deaf culture is a “thing,” but it is, and I’m honored to have had the privilege of being brought up a hearing child in a deaf world. I wouldn’t change a thing because it has shaped me into the person I am today.

Throughout my life, people have asked me if I wished I had “normal” parents. As a young child, I don’t think I understood the question and probably answered most times with a simple shrug. As I got older, I learned to respond that a person can’t miss what they never had, so the answer was always “no,” but that it was certainly different from a typical childhood experience in many ways, and was also the same in many ways. I try to encourage people to ask me questions about my childhood because there’s a natural instinct within us to be uneasy and fearful about things we are unfamiliar with. The more I can share my experiences, the less people will be uncomfortable around deaf people and deaf culture. I would like to share some of them here to further that mission. I invite you into the world I grew up in, and encourage you to ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.  I will answer all of them.  Part One of my story follows.

When I was a child, we had a doorbell that made no sound, but which lit up several strategically placed lights throughout our house. I remember times where I was locked out of the house and “ringing” the doorbell rapidly and aggressively, which would ultimately set my mother off. Seeing the rapid blinking of the lights irritated her probably as much as the sound of the doorbell being audibly rung so aggressively would irritate a hearing mom. Those same lights would illuminate when the telephone rang – my parents knowing the difference between the phone and doorbell lights and inevitably causing either my mom or dad to yell and simultaneously sign “PHONE RING!” as if their children couldn’t hear or see.

Before there was texting, video calling, closed captions, and the internet, my brother and I had to make important calls for our parents and act as their interpreter when people called them. My parents had to watch television and movies with no sound, having to rely on their imagination to figure out what was going on. My dad enjoyed watching sporting events because there was action. My mom despised TV because it was boring for her. Later on when Closed Captioning became the standard, she definitely made up for many years of lost television time, always proclaiming what a wonderful thing Closed Captions were.   

Instead of being bored at home with nothing to entertain them, my parents chose to socialize with other deaf people – their friends were my “aunts” and “uncles” and their children my “cousins.” We were related not by blood, but by culture. We would gather regularly so that the adults could play cards or have “Movie Club.” I remember the mailman bringing the huge brown suitcase, which held the large movie reels - the name of the movie written in black magic marker on the top. These movies were special because they had “sub-titles” as my parents would say. The adults would finally be able to get to see a movie where they understood the story, simply by being able to read the words being said out loud. There we would be – all of us gathered in someone’s basement with snacks everywhere, hands flying in sign language, and kids of all ages running around delighted to be reunited with their “cousins.” As kids, we would sometimes watch the movies with our parents and other times we’d be escorted upstairs to play as soon as someone determined the movie wasn’t suitable for children. Either way was fine with us – we were just happy to be with our people. I always remember fondly the time spent with our deaf family because those nights were not only fun, but were also special. Other children I knew didn’t have Card and Movie Club nights to look forward to.   

More to follow.

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