If you have any questions, comments or contributions towards our celebration of Deaf Awareness, please feel free to contact our Deaf Awareness Committee:
CHS Deaf Awareness Committee:
Welcome to Deaf Awareness Week, we are thrilled to be celebrating this exciting event.
I am your host, Mitchell LaFrance. I work as Manager, Administration & Support, Community Development. I have worked for CHS for a year.
CHS is proud to be part of Deaf Awareness Week as organizations, such Silence Voice, churches, etc., work together as partners to support the Deaf community. The Deaf Community includes hard of hearing, oral deaf, deafened, and culturally Deaf, which includes Deaf and deaf. They are recognized within the Deaf community. I am Deaf.
In this video, you will watch CHS staff telling their story, jokes, experiences, ASL handshapes, ASL stories, etc. You'll enjoy watching. CHS provides a variety of services for the Deaf Community for 72 years. I want to share some of the interesting past of CHS, our first Deaf Executive Director, Gord Ryall. Two years ago we got our first Deaf President/CEO, Chris Kenopic.
Shortly you will see Chris Kenopic sharing his story, then you will have the opportunity to enjoy stories from the rest from the staff.
Chris Kenopic, President and CEO
Hello, I'm Chris Kenopic, President and CEO of The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS). I am thrilled to be involved with this initiative for Deaf awareness week. We have a number of our staff participating in this DVD showcasing ASL. Hopefully this will reach far and wide and even attract an international audience as it will be featured on our website sharing stories from a variety of individuals.
I would like to share my experience; I am extremely honoured to be in the role of President and CEO of CHS. The night before the AGM where it was to be announced that was selected, I was tucking my four children in. Braden, who is Deaf, says ' Daddy, I'm so excited they're telling everyone you are the new President and CEO of CHS tomorrow, I wish I could be there.' He wasn't able to attend because he was going to his Aunt's wedding, where I would join them later the next evening. He then said 'because you are the new President and CEO that means that Deaf youth can think, because you did it they can too?' That exchange resonated with me, realizing that I could be a positive role model for many, they too can be successful.
Looking back on my own life the words that were often used were 'no', 'can't' and 'impossible' by family, friends and society. I always struggled with communication and access, no matter how hard I tried.
I grew up on a farm and back then all of the family would get together, all of them were hearing except for my brother and me, who are Deaf. We got together to watch a Walt Disney program, back then they didn't have captioning like they do today. My brother and I would watch the show not understanding what was being said as my family roared with laughter. We tried to no avail to ask what was so funny, what did they say, the response was often wait, hold on I will tell you during the commercial. Finally the commercial came on and I asked, well what was so funny? The response was 'Oh, it wasn't important,' or they would give me a very quick summary. I was frustrated because I really wanted to know what was said. This happened so often that I finally took action. I ran to the TV, which was an old antennae type, and grabbed the volume knob off of the TV and ran as fast as I could out to the backyard with everyone chasing me, my Mom, grandma, and uncle trying to grab me to get a hold of the volume knob. I did it because now without the volume knob for the TV, they couldn't hear what was being said either. Hopefully they could better understand my struggles and let me know what was being said.
Another time was when our family was eating Thanksgiving; everyone was talking at the table to each other and I was so frustrated. The important thing was that I had my brother so we had our own conversation. One of my family members began joking with us and said that it was rude for us to be signing at the table with everyone there, they were joking and didn't intend to make me upset, but I was because of all of the times I was left out of their conversations. I stood up and I picked up the turkey ran to the door and threw it outside, I can still clearly see the turkey plunging across the yard. As soon as I did it I realized what I did and turned to my family who were looking at me in shock. I just ran, I didn't know how they would react so I hid under the barn for a long time, when I came back in, and to this day, no one in my family has ever mentioned it.
Communication was always a source of frustration for me. I remember wanting to drive the tractor or use other machinery; my requests were always met with a 'No.' My cousins however, even the younger ones, were allowed to use and drive them. It wasn't fair, but they would always cite the reason being their concern because I am Deaf. One day my family was working in the fields cutting down trees, when it was lunch time they were leaving so I snuck back and grabbed one of the chainsaws, it took me a few tries but I got it running and used it. They heard it and came running back; once they saw I was fine and could use it properly it was never an issue again. I did the same thing when I wanted to use the hay truck. They said no so many times, I waited until they weren't around to use it, after they saw me it was never an issue. My Deaf younger brother called me his 'plow,' because I 'plowed' down all of the barriers he would have faced. My family figured, if Chris can do it, so can Teddy.
Thinking back to a time in my life when there really wasn't a lot of exposure to ASL from the world at large and I was still learning a lot. I was a student at Gallaudet University during the Deaf President Now movement. At first, I wondered what was wrong with a president who was a hearing woman; my peers responded to me by saying, for over 100 years we have not had a Deaf president, it is time, and it is time to promote ASL. I remember thinking, what's wrong with signed English? It didn't really hit home. It wasn't until the students were getting more frustrated and upset, and someone significant stood up in front of the crowd and started explaining about the importance of Self-Identity. The idea resonated with me and I continued to learn much more, my perspective changed and I believed of course a Deaf person can be just as successful as anyone else. You may notice many others like me who have shared this experience, growing up always being told 'No' or that we 'can't' but now we know we can be successful, and with that comes confidence. I do not let barriers limit me and I would encourage you to share that frame of mind when setting your goals, it may be a challenge and take hard work but you can do it. My journey here to becoming President and CEO was full of barriers and challenges, but breaking through them has led me here.
Hello, my name is Sally Palusci and I work for CHS as Program Manager, Interpreting Standards and Professional Development. I have been working with CHS for 23 years and I must say the experience of working with a diverse range of staff members has been awesome. CHS environment is unique because we have staff that identify themselves as Deaf, hard of hearing, oral deaf, deafened, ASL user, CODA, a member of hearing family or deaf family, and many more. Some of them attended mainstreamed programs, or attended schools for the deaf, or hearing schools, and the list goes on.
It's really amazing that we manage to work together with our diverse backgrounds. We work together to ensure we represent our consumers, the culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing. For example, as an ASL user, hearing staff would ask me questions about American Sign Language, and hearing staff would return the favour when I ask English grammar questions. What a grand way to have two staff with two different languages to work together!
I am really proud to say CHS is one of the most exceptional environments and a great place to work. It is no wonder I have been here for 23 years. In between our hard work, we do find time to share languages, cultural backgrounds, history, life experiences, and so many interesting stories. From sharing, we're able to serve our diverse consumers with a rich understanding of their diverse backgrounds.
CHS is Awesome!
I remember the old CHS building, Bedford House, where I used to work in 1982. At that time, I was an Assistive Devices Coordinator. I handled a very noisy old-fashioned telephone called TTY, a huge machine with a large paper roll.
Despite the TTY being so heavy, large and noisy, it meant everything to Deaf people. It provided us with a sense of independence. It allowed us to make phone calls with Deaf friends without any assistance. Before the TTY was invented, my family had to drive to friends' homes to see if they were home, but sometimes they weren't, and we'd just leave a note.
As years passed on, TTY has evolved into a much smaller, quieter and lighter device. As TTY becomes more modern, CHS's sign language classes also had made changes to how we teach American Sign Language.
I must tell you about Ray Barton, 'RB.' When he was a sign language teacher at Bedford House, he only taught signs, not sign language. The students sat in classroom and learned signs each time Ray showed an index card with pictures of 'car,' 'boat,' 'office,' 'book,' 'pencil,' and more.
As years went by, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the 'Signing Naturally' curriculum was released, and American Sign Language teachers taught themselves to use it. Then they taught American Sign Language, with conversational phrases such as, 'Hi, how are you?' 'I'm doing fine, what's your name?' 'My name is Ann, it's nice to meet you.' And the conversation expands.
The parallel paths of TTY and Sign Language classes show how history progresses from lack of full communication to much improved communication accessibility among Deaf and hearing people. Learning how to communicate was such an inspiration for a lot of us.
A lot of people at CHS have told me that learning ASL is a truly enriching experience. It isn't possible to imagine life without ASL. ASL has always been with us, and it will continue for many more years to come.
Hello, my name is Bonnie Russell, and I am a Manager for CONNECT and GSS, services for mental health and general support.
I am sure you are wondering why I have three rabbits on a table next to me. As you know, American Sign Language (ASL) Poetry is gaining popularity. I really enjoy watching children signing ASL poetry. When I first began watching Deaf children sign ASL poetry, I compared them with my own poetry experience. When I was a child, I had to learn English versions of poetry. Which meant, I had to learn what rhymes and what does not rhyme. I had struggled writing poetry because I did not enjoy memorizing which words rhyme with each other. At an early age, I became rebellious by refusing to practise writing poetry. But, over time, after watching some Deaf children and Deaf adults sign ASL poetry, I find myself immersed in the world of ASL poetry signers. I also enjoyed analyzing the metaphors of the ASL poetry. I eventually fell in love with ASL poetry. Even though I enjoy ASL poetry, it does not mean I am a skilled ASL poet! I didn't have same educational opportunities as today's Deaf children, whereas they now have ASL poetry included in their school curriculum.
Instead of me signing ASL poetry, I will show you a brief clip of my 4-year-old niece. She will sign a 1-10 numerical ASL poem called 'Rabbit.'
Hello, my name is Joyce Lange. I have worked at CHS for 23 years. Today my job title is Manager, Human Resources. But I won't be talking about CHS – I will be talking about me. I was born in the United States into a Deaf family. My father's side is Deaf for 4 generations, and my mother's side for 5 generations. Or maybe it's the other way around – anyway, it's a lot of family members. I am somewhere in the middle of both lineages. I am from Oregon, a western girl! As I grew up, I attended hearing schools.
Even though my parents were Deaf, they parents forced me to go to hearing schools. I was very unhappy. My parents asked me to try very hard to be 'like' hearing people. 'You are hard of hearing so please try!' I struggled for 12 years, and it was so hard. At the end of each school year, I begged my parents to let me go to the Deaf school in the fall. The answer was always 'No'. In those days, the thinking was that hard of hearing children could be considered as 'equal' to hearing people. It wasn't true, and it was oppressive thinking, but nobody understood that yet. So for me, my school years were frustrating and full of difficult experiences. At the end of each school day, I was thrilled to go home where everyone was fluent in sign language. I had two brothers, one hearing and one Deaf, and both were also fluent. Everyone signed at family get-togethers. There were only few hearing, but they were all signers too. I loved my home life but it was a different world outside. Our neighbours on the street did not sign, and going to a hearing school felt like being in jail.
At age 17, I was graduating from high school and I applied to two colleges. One was Gallaudet and the other was a hearing college in Oregon, and I was accepted to both. I immediately chose Gallaudet but my parents were not supportive. They hemmed and hawed and said that applying to Gallaudet was 'just for 'fun' but really it isn't for you.' Once again – they said no but for the first time I stood up for myself. My patience had run out. I said I was tired of trying to be like hearing people. I said I am not hearing! I am DEAF!!! At that point, my mother realized that it was time to let me make my own choices. She told my father to back off, and she recognized that I had been forced into an environment that had never made me happy. I couldn't believe it – my mother was finally saying it was my decision and my choice. Dad realized that without mom's support, he didn't have a say either. So off I went to Gallaudet. Those were wonderful years – I was in the right world at last!
After Gallaudet I returned to Oregon for a few years. By then I had married a Canadian guy. After a while, he wanted to return to Canada. I didn't really want to move to Canada but I promised that if he ever found a job there, we would go. Sure enough, before very long he was offered a job in Canada so we moved. Although we later divorced and he went back to the United States, I stayed because I had come to love Canada and the life here. I have since become a Canadian citizen.
During my early years in Canada, I could not understand why people said I was a big-headed American. I didn't understand how my comments were considered rough or insensitive. My friends liked to test me about Canada. The first question they asked was 'What's the capital of Canada?' My lucky guess was 'Ottawa' which they praised me for and then in rapid fire asked me 'What's the capital of Ontario?' My second lucky guess was correct too – 'Toronto'. Whew! Over time I would learn that there were subtle differences between the two nations and I would come to understand many things differently.
I am often asked which country is better? I have to tell you that both are wonderful! But I must say that opportunities in Canada are more plentiful for grassroots deaf people. In the United States, it is more of an academic environment and that's where the best opportunities are. This hardly seems fair when everyone on both sides of the border already know that education systems for deaf children are struggling. Although there are many issues in that arena, I do see that Canadians have more employment opportunities because this is a nation that values and respects diversity.
I want to tell you a story that highlights how far I transitioned from being an American girl to a Canadian girl. Several years ago I visited the Martin Luther King National Park in Atlanta with three chums from my college days. The four of us have been friends for over 40 years now. Anyway, almost from the moment we entered the Park, I began to cry, and I cried throughout our visit because everything in the Park was so touching. My friends, while intending to be kind, said 'Wow, you sure are sensitive – you weren't like that in college.' For my part, I couldn't understand why my friends seemed just fine. Then came the defining moment... one of the girls remarked that Martin Luther King is THEIR hero – meaning that he is a hero to black people only. I said, 'Oh, he is MY hero, too.' Our perspectives were so different.
I have greatly benefitted from Canada and its commitment to diversity – it has become a part of who I am. Canada is a fabulous place to be. I have been here for 27 years now and I look forward to the next 27 years!
An elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for a number of years.
He went to the doctor, and the doctor was able to pull out peas from his ears. He remembered years ago, his wife threw a plate at his head. Now he could hear perfectly!
The elderly gentleman went back in a month to the doctor and the doctor
said, 'Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that
you can hear again.'
The gentleman replied, 'Oh, I haven't told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. I've changed my will seven times!'
An old man was wondering if his wife had a hearing problem.
So one night, he stood behind her while she was standing by the sink.
He spoke softly to her, 'Honey, can you hear me?'
There was no response.
He moved a little closer and said again, 'Honey, can you hear me?'
Still, there was no response.
Finally he moved right behind her and said, 'Honey, can you hear me?'
She replied, 'For the third time, Yes!'
If a Deaf person swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?
Three hard of hearing dudes are standing on a street corner.
First hard of hearing dude says, 'Brrrrr, it's windy!'
Second one says, 'No...it's Thursday.'
Third one says, 'Me too, let's go get a drink.'
My neighbour called me over. He says to me, 'I just got a new hearing aid! It's really great, I can hear everything! But man, it was expensive!'
'Really,' I say, 'what kind is it?'
The first man promptly looks at his watch and replies, 'Oh, about seven.'
Taxiing down the tarmac, the 747 abruptly stopped, turned around and returned to the gate. After an hour long wait, a concerned passenger asked the flight attendant, 'What was the problem?'
'The pilot was bothered by a strange noise he heard in the engine,' she explained.
'Oh, and it took a while to fix it,' said the passenger.
'Not exactly.' replied the stewardess, 'It just took us a bit to find a Deaf pilot.'
Two old guys in front of the general store.
One says, 'Hey, you wanna go fishing?'
The other says 'Can't. I'm going fishing!'
Nina Winiarczyk & Jo-Anne Durham
Jo-Anne: Hello, my name is Jo-Anne. Who are you?
Nina: Hello, My name is Nina Winiarczyk.
JoAnne: I'm not sure what you're doing here in Toronto, can you tell me why you're here?
Nina: I just moved to Toronto because I got a job as a Sign Language Service Coordinator.
Jo-Anne: Me too! I moved to Toronto from Kingston. First, I was a Sign Language Coordinator. Tomorrow will be my last work day. Now, it's your new position. Wow, we moved to Toronto for the same thing. I used to be a Sign Language coordinator in Kingston at CHS. What about you?
Nina: I used to work in Kingston as an HR ASL Instructor.
Jo-Anne: Same as me, I used to work for HR ASL instructor.
Nina: Wow... That's awesome!
Jo-Anne: Cool! Where do you live right now?
Nina: I used to live in Kingston, but right now, I am moving to Toronto.
Joanne: Wow, same as me... We moved to Toronto for the same thing. What happened? How do you feel about the idea of living in Toronto?
Nina: It is a big city. In a small town like Kingston, it took me only 15 or 30 minutes to meet my friends and things, while here it takes me about 2 hours to get to the destination. A big difference...
JoAnne: True. I lived in the east end of Kingston; it was beautiful environment and a very quiet town. When I moved to Toronto, I was surprised at how different it is, you spend a lot of time in transit. I decided to move to Toronto because I have three grandchildren, and I want to be close to them.
Nina: My parents are sad that I move farther away from them because they are from Ottawa, but the Deaf community in Toronto is way bigger than Kingston. I guess that makes it better to live in Toronto.
JoAnne: Yes, true.
Hello, my name is Gary Malkowski, I work at CHS, The Canadian Hearing Society, and my role is Special Advisor to President, Public Affairs. I would like to share my own discrimination experiences as well as those of other Deaf people. Discrimination by other people because of their attitude barriers. It's really important that we fight against those who have attitude barriers. We have to stop discrimination. But, how should we fight against attitude barriers and discrimination? We need to provide Anti-Audism Awareness training. The Anti-Audism Awareness training is so beneficial to those who lack understanding of the reasons behind their audist behaviour. We deserve to be respected and treated as equals. We ought to be confident, celebrate and work together to encourage breakthroughs of attitude barriers and discrimination at schools, workplaces, and in communities.
Let's work together and provide cultural awareness to the whole world, because we can!
Deaf Culture and ASL Awareness is CHAMP!
I remember when I first become interested in Deaf culture, I was hired as a babysitter for a 9-year-old Deaf girl. I had no idea she would be Deaf, so I tried my best to communicate with her. At that time, there was a TTY, she showed it to me. We used it to communicate and through it, I learned some sign language. I thought it was a lovely way to be first exposed to Deaf culture.
Hello, my name is Jim Hardman. I am the IT Director for CHS. I want share some personal experiences in regards to technology. When growing up, being mainstreamed had no captioning but still watch TV every day. Watched programs like “The Munsters, cartoons as there is a lot of visual information there. Now with captioning, have full access! Wonderful!
With technology changes for many years, it has become more visual. Now we have video conferencing, communicating with friends all over the world, wow! With TTYs it still important but visual information easily to describe the information as needed. With the new technologies such as iPads, iphones, what the future technologies will be? Exciting times. With VRS coming to Canada, soon to see that happened! With all the technology changes happening, does it solve everything, No! It’s tools for you to use. As it does not solve everything, I still like paper and pen as I am a fan of old technologies.
Hello, I'd like to share a story about my twin sister and me, when we were children. We are 'very' identical. Anyway, when we look at our childhood pictures, we are able to tell which is her or me. But, when I was 18 years old, I went shopping by myself and I saw my twin sister. Naturally, I am thrilled to see her, so I waved a huge 'Hello!' To my shock, I was actually waving to myself to a huge mirror. Oops! I waved to myself, not my sister! What had really happened was that I had borrowed my twin sister's hat and jacket, and that's why I thought I saw her. It was the first time I realized how much we actually look alike.
Hello! I'm Peter Skarp. What do I do? I'm an instructor at CHS, Toronto. The department I work for is the Interpreter Internship Program. I teach interns Advanced ASL. Now, I'm here for storytelling. Here's a story about the ASL handshape 'Y.'
[Note: In this story the 'Y' handshape represents many things: a matador, blanket, bull, award, etc.]
I love to play with American Sign Language. I loved the old TV program 'Tom & Jerry'.
[Note: As Peter fingerspells 'Tom & Jerry,' each ASL letter represents a thing or action verb.]
Hi my name is Pat Morano and I am the Manager for Ontario Interpreting Services and ASL classes.
I have a son, 6 years old, and he's hearing. When he was born, I use ASL with him and growing up, we use ASL all the time. 'How I can talk with my mom? OF course use ASL!' I'm proud of my son. He is in grade one and attends hearing school, uses English spoken language there, and comes home and uses ASL with me. Interacting at school and with my hearing family, he gained a lot of exposure of English spoken language, and learned ASL with me. I'm very proud of my son.
When butterflies fly, they embrace winds with their mighty, thin wings. When someone told me that most butterflies are Deaf, I reflected on butterflies with my experience as a Deaf person, a parallel of similar strength. The strength of butterflies when they escape their strong and thick cocoons, to fly against strong winds, so strong. And that's us, the Deaf.
Hello, I'm Kelly MacKenzie, Director of Marketing Communications here at CHS. I've been here for 22 years, and in that time I have seen a lot of change – changes here at CHS, in the Deaf community, in political and cultural environments. Things are different now compared to before. And one example is my office; the way it was set up, there was one central computer, which all the staff in the department used to take turns using. We'd take our half-hour or 15-minute turn, and then another staff person would take a turn.
And email? We didn't have email. We used DISC and Envoy. Maybe some of you remember Envoy? That's what we used. And now email is not just on computers but on BlackBerrys; it's instant communication. In the past Deaf people – my husband is Deaf and I'm involved in the Deaf community – if you wanted to phone or contact somebody you'd have to wait until you got home, get on your TTY.
Oh 'TTY,' I remember when I joined CHS it was called a 'TDD.' Terminology has changed too, to be more respectful of Deaf people and more respectful of ASL.
Anyway, you'd have to get on the TTY and check if someone was available and make plans accordingly. Now you just fire off an email: 'Now's good?' 'Great.' And I can fire off an email, 'Can you please pick up milk?' Before, I couldn't email my husband to ask him to pick up milk. I have to wait until he got home and then say do you mind going out again and buying some milk.
Also, in the past there was no world wide web. Then, CHS set up its website. At that time it was new, and it was fabulous! However, it was English text heavy. Now there's ASL, LSQ, and French content. It's more accessible.
Ah accessibility – now there are standards in Ontario, in legislation. Of course there's the Human Rights Code, but now accessibility is more strict; it's in legislation. Ontario by 2025 must be fully accessible. That means that Deaf and hard of hearing people should not face barriers.
Hmm, what else? Ah yes, social media – Facebook, Twitter – all that didn't exist before. YouTube videos – now you can just click, open a video and see members of the Deaf community signing. That was not possible in the past. Today, you can find anything on the internet.
Also I think signing has changed for me. When I joined CHS I was a beginner, not proficient. My first boss was Deaf, and she was very patient with me while I picked up the language. I learned from the Deaf community, and Deaf colleagues. But at that time when I joined CHS there was a lot of English influence on the signs. 'room,' 'permit,' 'lunch,' 'dinner,' were all produced with English influence. Now it's 'lunch,' 'room,' 'permit,' produced without the English initialization. That I feel reflects a heightened respect for ASL than in the past.
Deaf Awareness Week is important!
Hearing communities of the world don't have a great understanding of Deaf people, don't have an understanding of signed languages. We have to let them know that Deaf people, hearing people, hard of hearing people, are all equal. Thank you.
Pat Morano & Anna Strati-Morrison
Pat: Hi Anna, how are you?
Anna: I'm fine, thank you. How have you been doing so far?
Pat: I'm good, but very busy at work and going crazy!
Anna: Same here, yeah, crazy. Ain't it the truth! Time flies so fast!
Pat: Yeah! So, you're getting ready for CHS Quest 2013?
Anna: Kind of, really. I know there's a lot to do, lots to process. At the start it seems like a lot, but then as time goes by, it will be fine. And it should be easier now, because everyone knows what to do from last year. Last year, we were awkward because it was our first time, and now we know what to do for the next event. 'Should do this, should not do that.'
Pat: Yes, I understand. That's normal for everyone, but at the same time, it's exciting! New ideas, Quest activities, where it will be... I'm very curious about it.
Anna: Yes. Yes it's the same here in Belleville. The Deaf community is excited. The Belleville Association of the Deaf (BAD) is having a meeting tonight.
Pat: Belleville Association...? Ohhh...
Anna: Yes, the Belleville Association of the Deaf will have a meeting tonight, and inform everyone about this event. Really advance notice!
Anna: Now everyone understands what CHS Quest is like, because they were involved in Quest last year, and now they know. At first it was awkward, not clear, not clear, but now it's better and should be interesting.
Pat: Last year your group were champ! Very loud and very spirited!!
Anna: Very spirited! Hope we can do again.
Pat: Oh yeah! Looking forward to it! It was good seeing you and thanks for the chat.
Anna: Yes, thank you too.
Hi! My name is Rodolfo Chow.
Hi, my name is Wayne Charbonneau.
Hello, my name is James Etheridge. I am the Workforce Literacy Coordinator. I do some teaching, and I coordinate the program. Have a good one!
Hello. My name is Vinci Giancola. I work as an Intake Counsellor, CHS Toronto Region.
I was thinking about what stories to tell you. I decided to pick one to tell and share with you. It's about language and culture and their meanings. How the language and culture instilled meaning in my life. This is the story I want to share with you.
I was born deaf. My family is hearing, communicating in Italian. They told me that I understood some Italian. No English at home, as my parents did not speak English.
I went to Kindergarten in a hearing school. I was sitting at the back of the class with rows of desks. My teacher noticed that I was falling behind, and never responded in class. She decided to move me to the front of the class but that did not help me learn. Finally, my teacher told my parents about my difficulties: trouble learning, no friends, I was isolated. The teacher suggested to my parents that there was a new school, just opened the past year, 1963, that would be good for me. My parents did not like the idea of sending me to Milton, as it was too far away, but they decided this would be the best for me.
I started at the Deaf school in Milton in 1964 and graduated in 1976. There were many changes and different communication methods, from 1964 to 1976. It was a difficult and confusing time. The first was Oral method. Teachers got frustrated with me, as I spoke only Italian, no English. I did not understand the teachers. In residence, I learned ASL from other kids who were signing, especially from Deaf kids of Deaf parents. I felt relief! But during the class time, I did not understand the oral method. I went to speech therapy every day to practice speech.
The next method was fingerspell and oral at the same time. Later on, the method changed again and it was signing and speaking at the same time. This method they were still using when I graduated from Milton.
Around 1974-1975, at my home, my family often had a gathering of other families and friends. For Italian culture, social activity is an important part of our daily life. Often after meals, we get together outside or in our basement and socialize. One day, the topic was language. How many languages have we used? Many replied 2 or 3 around the circle. Then they looked at me.
Feeling discouraged, I replied that I use one language. My dad stopped me and told me I have two languages! I asked him what is the other one? He said I use sign language! I explained that signing was the same as English so it counted as one language I use. He disagreed with me, saying 'if that is true – why didn't I understand it? This means signing is a language.' I was amazed by his comments. He understood more than I understood. I was 15 or 16 years old at the time. I didn't fully understand, and I was truly stunned. What did my dad know? I let this thought go.
After graduation in 1976, I went to Gallaudet. It was another world. Both schools, Milton and Gallaudet, each affected my life differently. There were many Deaf professors at Gallaudet. I thought it was impossible for them to teach. Can you imagine I thought that way, so negatively? I didn't mean to think this way, but I was taught growing up that Deaf people could not do many things, like teaching or different work. I learned so much at Gallaudet. I graduated with my BA.
Just before I graduated, I had an opportunity to take a graduate Linguistics course. At the time, I was allowed to take one graduate course so I picked this one. I really wanted to know and understand what language means. I remembered the comments from my dad. During this course, I fell in love with linguistics!
During 1980-81, there was published work stating that ASL is truly a language, based on lots of research. From the 1970s and prior, lots of research happened, and with my dad's comments between 1974-76, this was a strange coincidence, a historical parallel. My dad is not a researcher, but he knew!
While at Gallaudet, there were many researchers involved. William Stoke, a well-known researcher, proved ASL was a language. There were two other authors, who did the Green book, one of them was Cokely. This Green book strongly impacted me of my thoughts – that ASL is truly a language.
I will never forget my dad's comments. I truly respected him with lots of love. He taught me what language and culture are, as a foundation, instilled in my life by my Italian family. I used this foundation to understand without realizing it, to learn at Milton school, especially in dorm life where I interacted with other Deaf children. That built up in me a stronger person. When I was at Gallaudet, I learned so much more.
Language and culture are truly cherished. Looking back to my conversations with dad, I will never forget. ASL is so important, and I cherish it.
Did you watch the whole video? Wow! I really enjoyed the video. Did you? Yes, you did!
Their stories and poetry, inspired me, touched my heart. I could understand and relate to their experiences.
Deaf Awareness Week emphasizes the need for us to cherish our language, culture, identity, and education, the need to advocate and take down the barriers. The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week is for us to work together.
"As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs. And as long as we have our films, we can preserve signs in their old purity. It is my hope that we will all love and guard our beautiful sign language as the noblest gift God has given to deaf people.“
--George Veditz, 1913.