In college, I needed to complete a foreign language requirement. I had taken Spanish in middle school and high school, a language I struggled to hear clearly. I somehow came up with the idea of taking ASL for the requirement.
My college didn’t have an ASL class, but they did allow me to take my course over the summer at a local community college. My mother decided to take the class with me, so I had someone to practice with. I remember the first day of class, sitting with a group varying from college aged to adult. I met up with another girl with a hearing loss and we started chatting.
At this point I knew a handful of signs. I had some alphabet knowledge, knew “I-Love-You,” and thanks to a live performance I saw as a child, “Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!” I honestly thought this would be a fun, carefree class to take.
I was wrong.
The teacher arrived, along with an interpreter. He stood up front and signed to us, the interpreter spoke his words, and my world shifted off its access. From that first moment, when I truly paid attention to ASL for the first time, I felt the language. It hit somewhere deep inside. It made sense, even when I couldn’t tell you the words.
I picked up the signs really quickly. My mom would take notes about how to form the shapes, I’d just write down the word. Many signs simply appeared obvious to me. After the first few classes, the interpreter no longer showed up. We communicated with our Deaf teacher through our limited signs and writing. And I want to take a moment to stress: if you want to learn ASL, you need a Deaf teacher.
Why? The answer is simple: if a hearing person is teaching ASL, that hearing person can teach another subject. A Deaf person doesn’t have other options as readily available. And if a hearing person is taking a job from a Deaf person, is this person really going to teach you accurate information about our world?
Along with ASL, I also learned about Deaf culture. About hearing loss, what it meant to be Deaf. My world opened up thanks to this one class. I found a home, I found a connection to the community. Yes, I was in a class, learning with my mostly hearing peers. But I was learning about MY world, My culture. My identity.
Until now, I had considered myself “hearing impaired.” This was the term given to me, although I never really accepted being impaired. I felt different, even when my ears held me back. I learned about the term “Hard of Hearing” and it became my term. My label.
I changed a lot through this class, quickly and swiftly. To the point where I didn’t even see myself change. I made my first friend with a hearing loss and she’s still my friend to this day. I became comfortable with my ears, no longer wishing to be hearing.
I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for this class. I transferred to Boston University to attend the Deaf Studies program. Most of my post college jobs have been related to hearing loss. My book coming out in June is about hearing loss. This one requirement, this one decision, has made me who I am. I shudder to think about what would have been.
I can tell you one thing for certain: you wouldn’t be reading this blog.