Deaf & HH Adults, Family Support

I Am Not the Sum of My Communication Choice

tommie copper shoot If you turn on the TV in the wee hours the morning you will find me barefoot waterskiing in an infomercial called Life Recharged. In the infomercial, there is no signing until the end.

The infomercial has been on TV for a year. Ever since it aired, I have been receiving comments and questions about my method and mode of communication. Some asked me why I didn’t turn off my voice and use American Sign Language. Others asked me why I didn’t sign and speak through the whole thing.

The answer was simple: I just did what felt right at the time given the environment, people, and purpose. If you look on the web, I did another filming for a videophone company in which I didn’t use my voice at all.

And yes, someone asked me why I didn’t speak in that video.

What saddens me is that I come across this communication marginalization almost on a daily basis. Through my work with families and young deaf and hard of hearing adults I see this happening all the time: separation, judgment, and segmentation based on communication skills and choices. I’ve seen families torn to shreds on the web about the choices they make for their deaf or hard of hearing baby/child. 

It breaks my heart.

I love American Sign Language. I’m fascinated by cueing. I enjoy using my voice and sometimes I sign along with it.

And I’ve been praised, criticized, shunned, or celebrated for whatever aspect a person likes or dislikes about my communication method or modes.

The thing is, I’m not the sum of my communication skills, methods, or choices.

To focus solely on that is to miss the message.

And the person behind it.

Karen Putz



  1. As with most choices we make in our lives, some people feel that by making YOUR choice in YOUR way, that you are judging THEIR choices;esp if they are different choices.

    I think it’s less of a judgment against YOU and more of an insecurity or fear of the judgment that others fear is being placed upon THEM.

  2. Beautifully said, Karen.

    Like yourself, I am a Deaf individual who also has strong oral skills, which I use on a regular basis. I have worked and currently work a job where I’m the only deaf person working with non-signing hearing individuals, and thus using my voice is a necessity. I have hearing non-signing friends. So yes, there are times I will speak without signing. I don’t think that makes me any less of a Deaf person. I love American Sign Language and I use it when I can. But not every situation will demand signing. For that matter, not every situation requires I use my voice either. I choose the communication method I consider to be appropriate for that particular situation. And yes, I have been both praised and criticized for such choices, much as you have.

    But in the end, we have to do what feels right for us. We can’t make our choices based on what we think will please others, because like it or not…you can’t make everyone happy. So we might as well make the choice that makes ourselves happy, because those are the choices we have to live with.

    This does bring to mind a quote that I have always enjoyed, spoken by Dumbledore to Harry Potter: “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are…it is our choices.” I have the ability to speak, and I also have the ability to sign. I will make choices to use one or the other or both as I see best. It is my hope that the choice I make in any given situation helps to show the person I am…but the person I am is far more than just one single choice in one single situation. I am the sum of many different choiceS…plural. To focus on only one is indeed to miss the message, and the whole person that makes up this individual known as me.

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