Posts Tagged ‘new zealand’

Helen Mackay: Turning the Tables

August 1, 2016

Three Amigos - 1

I cried today.

I went to a Deaf community meeting. No interpreter available for signing impaired people like me. I went anyway, keen to know about the new voting options for the local Deaf Society and new club room plans. I took my kids. One hearing. One deaf.

Today. The. Tables. Turned.

For just a few hours I experienced a little of what it must be like for my deaf daughter in a ‘hearing’ world. I think I understood about 30-40% of what was being signed. Enough, I think, to fill in the blanks with context. Perhaps as much as my deaf daughter picks up when reliant on lipreading when people don’t sign to her or caption TV. I will never know if I did understand so there’s a nagging doubt I missed something, but I think I’m OK.

But it was hard. My head hurt so much it is throbbing, still, even as I write this.

I concentrated intently on the signing in front of me, unable to be distracted by kids tapping on my shoulder for me to do something. I simply couldn’t multi-task, I had to focus on the people right in front of me. The note pad in front of me, rendered redundant as I couldn’t take my eyes off the ‘speaker’. The distant but loud noise of a builder banging felt out of sync with what my brain was trying to do visually. I had to close the door to help drown out the background interference. My daughter tells me sometimes she just has to take her hearing aids off at school as she cannot focus with them on “mummy they don’t help, its just noise”. Perhaps this is what I was experiencing inside my brain in reverse.

I felt compelled to get up and ‘sign’ to the community about something I felt strongly about. I was nervous. As a sign language beginner, with every sign I made, I was conscious that it was far from perfect and desperate that people would understand me. Perhaps this is the same experience my daughter has when she has to stand up and speak without hearing her own voice. Without knowing whether her words sound right and looking for reassurance from her friends to let her know she has been understood or turning to me for assistance with a word she struggles with – just as I had to fingerspell words I could not sign. I looked to the crowd who supported me by signing the word I was stumbling on. But I was vulnerable. The emotion of it all – the subject I was signing about and the way I felt, the tears dripped!

When it came time to leave, my eldest daughter wanted to stay. She was at home.

This is not the first time this year I’ve cried at a Deaf community event. A few months ago, it happened twice in a week at events held to celebrateDeaf Aotearoa New Zealand Sign Language week.

The first, was a solo outing for me. No kids, no husband. Just me. A special screening of the British Deaf Association film the “Power in Our Hands” hosted by Terry Riley, visiting from England to attend the World Federation of the Deaf – Official Board meeting.

It’s a powerful film, complete with captions so people like me can follow. It tells the true story of suppression / oppression of the British Deaf community and the gradual recognition of British Sign Language and deaf culture in British society. The film had captions and the signed introduction by Terry was interpreted. I was challenged by the film but linguistically I was still in my comfort zone. My needs were “accommodated”.

However the message of the film was so incredibly powerful it cut me to the core that this might happen to MY daughter. I felt ever so grateful for people like Terry who has been instrumental in the UK to make the deaf voice “heard”. He has been instrumental to the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust who produce wonderful video directly relevant to the Deaf community (and accessible to people like me with subtitles). I resolved, as I powered down the pavement away from the event, that the “power” was indeed “in my hands”. As a parent I have a responsibility to ensure I do everything to make my daughters’ lives full, and free from discrimination. And to learn more sign. (My daughter is fluent receptively already and has a full time interpreter in her mainstream school where she is the only Deaf child in a roll of 400+. Our family are all learning to sign).

Me and my Deaf daughter

In another event that same week, we went to ‘listen’ to Drisana Levitzke-Gray speak – or should I say sign, to a Deaf community event, about her experiences as Young Australian of the Year. There was an interpreter. Again I was moved to tears and compelled to stand up as she shared her experiences of mainstream schooling, rising above the challenges of isolation and her advocacy for children like my daughter. Her message resonated with me, and both my daughters. Again, I strengthened my resolve to be a ‘hearing’ ally. A partner for good.

But today with no captions, no interpreter, no ‘signing aid’ and no voice, I had no “accommodation”.

I knew there wouldn’t be any, but I choose to go anyway, just as my daughter has had to do every day this week to her wonderful school (her educational interpreter has been away). Except that she doesn’t have a choice, she must go to school regardless, like tonnes of other deaf & hard of hearing kids that don’t have their needs met either. Perhaps they are Cochlear Implant users, denied teaching assistance as they are “cured”, or with an inability to access sign language lessons because the kids are oral and not on the priority list for sign classes. Perhaps they are hearing aid users who are not ‘quite’ deaf enough, but struggle to piece it all together using a combination of lip-reading and technology.

Today, it was just me. Laid bare, in a room of people about the same size as my daughters year 6 class. I felt vulnerable, scared and exhausted as I concentrated to understand and then be understood.

The tables turned, on me, today. But you know what, that’s no bad thing.

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My daughter is deaf. Like many deaf children she was born into a family of hearing parents. Being deafened post-lingually she talks. But she is most at ‘home’ with her deaf friends. They get her. Many many times since she went deaf, I have fought to be sure she has full access and treated equally in society.

Today, I cried because I realize how much load this ten year old carries, just to get through the day with a smile, let alone understand and be understood.

I’ve done deafness ‘simulations’ before and I thought I ‘got’ it.

But today, I really got it. You know the best thing? When I cried, no-one judged me. No-one stopped me and said (or signed) “you can’t do it. I was welcomed, appreciated supported and encouraged. For that, I am truly blessed.

You see, regardless of whether some form of ‘technology’ may help my Daughter now or in the future, she is Deaf. She speaks, she signs, she has choice. She’s Deaf and proud, and I am thankful she is growing in her own Deaf confidence.

I am sure some people will say that I shouldn’t cry about this stuff, and definitely not in front of my kids. But they hugged me tonight and as I signed “I love you” to my Deaf daughter she said “I love you” back. My hearing daughter did the same. I need to be able to switch in the moment, just as they do daily. To see me struggle too helps them both know, life ain’t easy, but it sure is what you make of it.

As I write this, again I cry. But tonight, they are happy tears. I know that my daughter has a community of support who get it much more than me. I too value the friendship and welcome. My hearing daughter also gets to see and play with other children who too have deaf brothers and sisters and that’s cool too.

To everyone that hesitates to get involved in the “Deaf” community, I offer these words of encouragement. Do it! Let your kids have choice.

I know we are all stronger together – Deaf & Hearing. For that, tonight, I give thanks. “Hands wave”.

In case you are wondering, I’ve also made a note to myself. I must NOT cry at the next event!

Helen Mackay

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Bridget Ferguson: Reflecting on Our Parenting Journey

January 16, 2015

ferguson family

Bridget Ferguson is the Project Manager for the Family Sign Language Facilitator Service. Her husband, Oliver, is a Visual Effects Technical Director and has worked on major films such as The Hobbit and Avatar. They are the parents of Zoe and Elijah and reside in New Zealand. Bridget shared her thoughts about parenting on her blog and gave permission to share it here: 

 

I’ve been reflecting on what, if anything, I would do differently if I had my time again as a mum of a new born baby. I vividly remember that overwhelming sense of excitement, fear, joy and exhaustion! I remember the day that it hit me that this little life was utterly dependent on us.

Our first child, Zoe, was born in 2001, at that time Wellington did not have newborn hearing screening. In a sense I feel fortunate that we did not have to contend with the numerous professionals, appointments and conflicting advice that often follows the newborn hearing screening. We had 15 months of just bonding and growing together as a family. Language was acquired in a playful way in our home and in the wider community. Our two children were born into a bilingual/bimodal home. I am hearing and my husband, Oliver, is Deaf. We have two children, Zoe is Deaf and Elijah is hearing, NZSL is their first language and by the time Zoe was identified via an ABR, she was signing in sentences!

Prior to having children I had worked as a sign language interpreter and a teacher of the Deaf. But my most rewarding and challenging role has been as a mum. All the book knowledge and experience of working in schools and in the community didn’t prepare me for the parenting journey!

One of the struggles we had early on, when Zoe was very young, was finding a community of families, using NZSL. We struggled to find deaf or hearing children with whom our children could play, interact and sign with. We relocated to Sydney Australia and found an amazing community of parents and children who had sign langauge as a language in their homes! This made a world of difference. Both of our children attended a bilingual pre school. Zoe then went onto a bilingual primary school in Sydney.

Even when we returned to New Zealand and no longer had the option of a bilingual education setting for Zoe, the thing that has made the mainstream schools more accessible has been having Deaf professionals involved in the school in a variety of ways and having a community of users who have made the effort to learn NZSL.
When I reflect on Zoe’s primary school years, the biggest priority in the mainstream schools has been friendships and social acceptance. There was often a greater focus (by the professionals) on learning goals and academic learning, however we found very quickly that if Zoe was not happy and was having issues with friendships then her academic learning was taking a back seat anyway. So it made sense to us to put the effort and focus into ensuring Zoe felt confident and comfortable at school.
Her final two years of primary school have been amazing. She has been at a primary school that has adopted NZSL as the alternate langauge for the years 5-8 students. This has created an environment where sign language is a language seen throughout the school not ‘just for the deaf student ‘.

The notion of inclusion has been made more of a reality via the provision of a professional educational interpreter. This has enabled Zoe to relax and learn alongside her hearing peers. And with the peers also having the opportunity to acquire NZSL, it has enabled Zoe to develop real friendships.

In our home we want to raise our children to know that they can do what ever they put their minds to, and to instill in them a sense of confidence and pride in their bilingual/bicultural identities. Oliver and I work hard to ensure that both children have access to NZSL and English. Within our bilingual/bimodal house there are a number of things that we do that I believe brings us closer as a family unit and adds more clarity to our communication.

For example:
Signing at the dinner table- when seated around the table for dinner, NZSL is the language for conversations. This is because it is accessible to all of us and ensures that no-one is left out.
For families who are starting to develop NZSL in the home, this can be a great way of developing confidence and practice in the language. The conversation is often predictable and provides a safe setting for the family to all give it a go.

Storytime in sign- bedtime stories were always signed to Zoe. For Elijah he would choose particular stories to be read in spoken English and others he preferred to have signed to him. Again for a family starting out with developing NZSL, learning a particular story, rhyme or song, can be another way of developing confidence in the language and bonding with your children.

Signing around the child – I believe it is important that deaf children see conversations around them and that they are aware that there are many users of NZSL – both Deaf and hearing. It is important that parents take time daily to have conversations in sign language, not necassarily with the deaf child, but with hearing children and each other. This provides the deaf child the opportunity to ‘over hear’, ask questions and learn about the world around them. In the same way that hearing children pick up information incidently from conversations around them.

Seeking out Deaf examples- we are always exposing our children to Deaf examples in all walks of life. There are so many benefits to this: for Zoe it provides her more opportunities to have greater aspirations and a variety of role models. For Elijah it reiterates the validity of his first language and a sense of pride that he is connected to the Deaf world. For the teachers working with Zoe and the general hearing community, seeing successful Deaf people in a variety of roles broadens their understanding of what it means to be Deaf and raises their expectations of deaf children.

As parents there is nothing we want more than happy healthy children. We aim to have an environment that enables our children to communicate with us about anything. I love that Zoe and Elijah can sit with us at the end of a day and tell us about the highs and low of their day.

I am in awe of Zoe’s perseverance. As inclusive as her school is she is still faced daily with a predominantly hearing environment and it is exhausting at times. There are many days when she just wants to be in a Deaf environment and access information directly (not via an interpreter). Her experience this year attending the WFDYS children’s camp at Gallaudet University, was incredible. This was her first time staying away from us for that long. She found it challenging but again her perseverance and courage served her well. She has connected with deaf children from all over the world. She has met Deaf leaders and seen parts of the world that have so much meaning to her and have inspired her to strive to get back to Gallaudet University in the future.

For families who are beginning to develop NZSL I believe it is important that they feel connected and comfortable with the language. This happens by having a connection to a community of users of the language. Having access to Deaf adults, hearing signers, deaf and hearing children who use NZSL, means that families can relax and enjoy learning NZSL alongside their child. This also provides numerous opportunities to practice and refine their use of the language. Although Oliver and I were bilingual before having our children, it was having access to a community of signers at a variety of ages, that made a huge difference to how our children acquired the languages.

Our parenting journey over the past 13 years has been a roller coaster ride that has seen us relocate to different cities in NZ and even to Australia, in search of what we wanted for our children. I have no regrets and I am thankful for the lessons learned with each move we have made. This year we have entered the ‘teenage’ years I am again feeling that overwhelming sense of fear, joy and exhaustion…but most of all excitement about what the future holds for our bilingual/bimodal children!

Read the original post on Bridget’s site: Reflecting on Our Parenting Journey So Far

Deaf Aotearoa in New Zealand

 

 

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