My girlfriend recently enrolled in a sign language class at an area community college in hopes that she will be better able to communicate with some of her disabled members. You see, she works at Cal’s Recreational Sports Facility as the director of the disabled program – better known as the Cal Star program. Anyway, she needed a particular text book for said class, and it happened to be selling at a Deaf Community center near my day-job. So I volunteered to pick it up, though I had no idea what I was really getting into.
It probably only lasted about 5 minutes, but my time at the Deaf Community Center was well spent. I walked in to find the bookstore completely devoid of sound. No annoying elevator music, no murmuring amongst the others there. Yet there were full-blown conversations taking place. I know what you are thinking, “Of course there was no talking, these people are deaf!” But I just wasn’t prepared to walk into that particular room on that particular day.
I felt much the same way I did on my first day living in Spain – only I at least knew how to ask for a bathroom in Spanish. Immediately, the lady working the register begins signing to me. I smile and nod. No idea what she is “saying” to me.
I show her the paper that has the name of the book I need, and she smiles real big. I can read her lips telling me “Good for you!”, thinking that I was taking the class. I didn’t want to take the credit, but didn’t know how to tell her that she was mistaken. So I just smiled back.
Just then I turned to “eavesdrop” on the other conversations going on. It was very different to see information flowing between people so effortlessly, without words. The most interesting thing to me was that I didn’t find myself feeling sorry for these “disabled” people, because there was nothing to feel sorry about. Without meeting any of my fellow patrons, I was sure that each and every one of them would tell you that they were proud of their deafness. They have a culture not unlike the cultures of foreign language speaking people. (Later I found out from my girlfriend that there is a procedure that more or less gives hearing back to many deaf people, but it is sort of frowned upon in the deaf community as “selling-out”.)
By the time that I left the bookstore, I had met the proud mother of the textbook’s author. She told me that the book was really good, of course. And I got all of this info by reading lips, body language, and her smile. Kind of funny how you can pick up on alternative forms of communication in just 5 minutes. And in just 5 minutes I was able to take a look into a deaf person’s world and realize that life wouldn’t end if I couldn’t hear. I would just have to rely on more than my middle finger to “be heard” in everyday life.