Learning from Friends
Maya (right) and Lana
My daughters, Maya and Lana, bring richness in my life. Maya’s hearing loss has enhanced that richness. It has enabled our family to meet lots of great people and families we never would have met otherwise. There are so many reasons I count Maya’s deafness as a blessing. Without ASL, I would not be able to discipline two young girls quietly in public. I didn’t know that meeting deaf adults would also teach me how to be both a better friend and a better mom.
I have always wanted to instill in my children a sense of self confidence and self-worth. I believe that these attributes are extremely important as we go through life. At this year’s Hands & Voices National Leadership Conference in Portland, Maine, I met Bailey Clark. She instantly struck me as someone who is confident and successful. Bailey is a ballerina, a well-styled woman, a fantastic dancer, an activist for children with hearing loss and, a superb mom. I spent a lot of time with Bailey in and outside of the conference, including Karaoke night. I didn’t truly realize she was deaf until the last hour of the conference.
“I forgot to call a taxi to get to the airport, Valerie, would you call me one?” Bailey says to me. This being the first time I have ever been asked to call someone else a cab, I turned to her and said, “Bailey, you’re being lazy!”
I also emphasized by signing “lazy” on my shoulder. Bailey went on to explain that taxi companies often hang up on her because the caption relay services, which she uses because she is deaf, take too long to respond after the phone is picked up. Yup! Open mouth, insert foot. I needed a shovel to scrape my jaw off the floor. I was shocked at the news and what I had just said. Needless to say, I called her a cab, apologized for my verbal judgment, and prayed she would still be my Facebook friend. I needed that shock to show me how easy it was to jump to conclusions and make judgments. A person with a verbal filter may not have spoken so impulsively, but might still have the same initial impression? I wonder if the perception of being “lazy” is something Maya will also battle automatically because she loves to dance, sings on key most days and speaks clearly.
Another one of my friends, who is a confident and independent adult who is also deaf, went out with her family to see the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. My “Aha!” moment from her experience came after she told me it was mighty hard and near impossible to read those little chipmunks “lips.” She spent the 90 ish minutes watching her family react to the movie instead. I am now more mindful of what my daughter watches and listens to. “Is this something which will hinder her comprehension?” I ask myself.
Karen Putz, a writer I met during the national conference explained perception in a lighter way. She enjoys laughing at how people “…who tend to lop several points off our IQ scores before they realize we're deaf,” in her words. Karen gave me another “Aha!” moment. I realized what I had done to Bailey when I called her lazy. I made an assumption about her behavior, based on my hearing-world perception. I am trying to build my own Deaf culture IQ points. As a woman who often just speaks her mind before filtering, I may not earn points fast but I hope to win them for my daughter’s sake. I will never be able to smooth out all of the ruts in the road ahead for Maya, but I’m hoping to cut a wide swath for her by informing myself with experience; things I learn in conference sessions, and through life and, above all, from good friends.