This semester, I decided to do an independent study. For a long time now, I have been really intrigued by sign language. I always thought it was so unique, being the only language that is not verbally expressed but rather through hand motion. With this interest, I also became fascinated with the deaf community.
So, I decided to do American Sign Language (ASL) as an independent study. I am learning the basics of sign language and also conducting a research project on how technology affects the deaf community. Mr. Phelps, a teacher here at SLS, is my mentor and learning the language with him has been so exciting for me. However, Mr. Phelps challenged me to go past just learning ASL. As many language teachers encourage us to do, emerging yourself into a place where the language you are learning is spoken is one of the best ways to gain fluency. However, instead of just immersing myself into a place where I would need to sign, Mr. Phelps challenged me to live a day of my life like a deaf person, ear plugs and all, to see what life is like for them, gain more knowledge about their everyday lives, and exercise my knowledge in ASL.
Obviously, I couldn’t do this on a school day, so I decided to do it on a Sunday. My first attempt was a failure. I started out the day with full intent on doing it but then I got invited to go out to lunch with a friend… then I got sucked into a movie… and then I met with my SAT tutor. All of these things were important to me at the time, and I decided to choose them over my experiment. However, looking back at it, I realize that deaf people don’t get to just choose when they are deaf or what holds importance over deafness. This just further proved how separated I am from the deaf community itself.
So, the next Sunday came around and I committed myself to my deaf day. I had a lot of homework to do on this particular day, so being “deaf” actually helped me focus a lot. When I usually put music on or watch TV while doing homework, I did it in silence this time. This felt weird, and boring, but ultimately made me really productive.
Not having music actually ended up being one of the most challenging parts of this for me. Usually, I have music on constantly. Driving, showering, and working out became completely tedious without music.
My family of course was another challenge. I told them multiple times that I “can’t hear them” and that they would “need to sign to me if they wanted to communicate”. But, my family didn’t quite go along with my experiment. The extra few minutes it would take to communicate with a deaf person is often overlooked by the hearing community. And though my family wasn’t completely ignoring me, the reason the hearing and deaf community stay so separate soon became apparent to me. Humans are lazy. Thus, they choose the easier way out of most things. And for communication, it seems that a deaf person would most likely choose to communicate with other deaf people, as a hearing would with other hearing people.
I didn’t really leave leave my house this particular day. I didn’t have anything to do, but in reality the real reason I wasn’t leaving was because I was scared of being “deaf” in a public, social situation. I wanted to commit myself to this deaf day, but I was scared to live the life of a deaf person out in public.
Ultimately, other than some dullness and a little discomfort, the day wasn’t that different from my regular day. I still took part in life, just a little differently. I watched Grey’s Anatomy with subtitles instead of with sound… I attempted to ask my uneducated-in- ASL mother where her chapstick was through sign… but other than that, my life was pretty normal. The next day, I went back to hearing everything I always have been able to hear. This experiment allowed me just the smallest sliver of knowledge into the life of a deaf person. And I would like to do it again in the future, perhaps next time pushing past my fears and going out into the world where I will really be able to feel the effects of living as a deaf person. But, until then, I look forward to learning more about the deaf community and try to intersect my life with theirs more.
– Susanna Montgomery, Staff Writer