Something I get asked often is how my parents became deaf and if I’m worried that my children could be deaf. Deafness happens in so many ways and I actually think it’s really interesting to hear everyone’s stories because they can be so unique.
With my mom, she had a fever of 106 at 4 months old, and that essentially melted her hearing away. However, doctors didn’t know she was deaf for quite some time. My grandma would take her to the doctor because she was concerned that her daughter wasn’t really reacting to noise. Every time she would go to the doctor, they would call my mom’s name and tap on the bed that she was on, thinking she was reacting to the sound, when really she was reacting to the movement. It took my grandma hiring specialists to finally realize that she was deaf.
My dad was born deaf and there wasn’t really ever an explanation that we knew of. We recently learned that his mom had a fever during her pregnancy and that caused stress on the pregnancy and he lost his hearing from that. The doctors didn’t predict that he would be deaf, but thought he might have learning disabilities.
Because of how my mom became deaf, I don’t have a super high chance of my children becoming deaf, but because of the advances in technology and because of my upbringing, I know that having deaf children won’t be a difficult thing for me to deal with.
Growing up, my brother was a bit of a practical joker and loved scaring me. But not only did he prank me, but he often pranked my mom.
The most memorable prank is when I was about 16 or so. It was an early Saturday morning and I walked into the kitchen to get breakfast. In the room next to the kitchen, my mom was talking to a friend on her video phone. Suddenly, my brother came into the kitchen and yelled, “Get down and be quiet!” I’m not really sure why we needed to be quiet, but I was not quiet. I could not stop laughing as my brother army crawled across the dining room and under my mom’s chair. He got as far under her chair that he could and then grabbed her legs and scared the crap out of her. I still cry of laughter to this day. My mom didn’t find it as funny as we did.
We often would hide behind doors and scare her as she would walk into rooms, and normally I’m awful at pranks because I can’t help but giggle and I tend to shift around and just make a lot of noise. With a deaf mother, I can be as loud as I want as long as she isn’t wearing her hearing aid.
There are a few stereotypes about deaf people that I want to address. I do want to say that if you’ve thought any of these, that is totally okay. It’s not a bad thing, but these are just some common misconceptions that I wanted to talk about.
The first and biggest stereotypes is that deaf people can’t talk. While there definitely are deaf people that might not be able to speak and there are people who choose not to learn to speak, like Nyle Dimarco. Most deaf people that I know have grown up in mostly oral households and all speak. Their voices aren’t very easy to understand, but they do speak. My parents did help teach me to speak, even though their speech isn’t perfect.
Another stereotype is that deaf people can’t hear anything at all. There are ways to help a person hear slightly and one of those ways is with hearing aids. My dad doesn’t really use a hearing aid, but he does have very little hearing without it. He can hear some things, but he is mostly deaf. My mom can hear a little more and wears a hearing aid more often. Every deaf person is different and some may not have any hearing at all, and some may still have a little hearing left.
Although Sign Language is a non-verbal form of communication, there is still a decent amount of slang that still happens. Now the slang that I’ll talk about is not known to everyone, these are just things I’ve encountered in my community.
A few years ago, my dad came up to me and threw up the shocker and asked me if I knew what that meant. I’m not going to explain what the shocker is but you can look that up yourself. It’s not a very cute meaning. Hesitant, I told my dad “Do you know what that means?” He responded by saying “It means hi!” I’m not sure how many people actually used this, but it makes sense. The shocker does the sign for h and i at the same time, but I frantically told my dad to never use that in public.
There are many little signs my family use, such as the rocker sign for bullshit, like bull horns. I also made up many signs when I was younger, because I didn’t know the actual sign, and because of that, it’s become like slang in my family. Slang happens in all languages and varies between everyone, and obviously there are cultural lapses in slang, such as using the shocker just to say hi. It’s not the greeting I’d really like, so luckily, I’ve never seen it after that first instance.
A question that a lot of people ask is “How do you figure out a sign for your name?” The answer is easy. You make it up. When you introduce yourself to someone new, you spell out your name and then let the person know what your sign name is.
I have a funny story with my name, since I didn’t make my original sign name. My parents decided that my nickname would be the letter T being shook back and forth. For people that don’t know sign language, this makes no sense. Well, that sign also means bathroom. My parents decided to nickname me bathroom. I’m still salty about it.
I’ve now changed my name to a T being squiggled down my face like hair, because I used to do a lot of fun things with my hair but now I’m too lazy so it doesn’t make as much sense. Sign names are fairly easy to make up and there really isn’t much to it. I’ve created names for friends of mine based on things that they enjoy. I have a friend that drinks a lot of beer, so we combined the sign for beer with the sign for S, which is the first letter of his name. So if you want a sign name, it’s really easy to come up with and it’s fun to get to have creativity with it.
I’ve talked about the TTY, but I wanted to touch on the influence of technology on deaf life. Again, this is just what I grew up around, so obviously not all deaf people may have this exact experience.
Growing up, my parents always had the newest technology before most people that I knew. I remember my parents having pagers to reach each other, but I also remember being way too young to understand what it really was.
The next communication device I remember them having was a T-mobile Sidekick and a Blackberry. I loved the Sidekick. I was that kid that was constantly taking my mom’s phone to play games. I was basically the epitome of “You got games?” This was also the era of flip phones, and I remember feeling extremely cool because my parents had cool and high tech phones and I could do so much on their phones.
My parents moved on to Iphones once they became even more popular, and technology has really helped and also hindered their lives. Once again, referencing one of my favorite comedians, Keith Wann, he mentions how talking has turned into just texting and ignoring real life. This is actually one of my favorite jokes and I share it often with people.
There have been a few times at certain jobs throughout my life that I’ve run into deaf people and my background as a CODA comes in handy.
One of the first times that I can remember is back when I worked at a pizza place/Italian restaurant near my house. I wasn’t originally supposed to work that day, but it ended up working out that I covered for a friend, and the stars aligned perfectly. The restaurant hosted a lot of funeral luncheons, and I would often help out by bringing pitchers of soda over. Well, this day, my boss came over in a slight panic and asked for my help. I figured that I would be doing my usual and just filling pitchers and carrying pizzas, but then she informed me that the entire party was completely deaf. I ended up taking everyone’s drink orders and as I was going around, I noticed the priest at one of the tables. His name is Father Joe, and I’ve known him my entire life. I stood there for a minute before he realized that he actually knew me, and that prompted most of the deaf people to start asking me why I knew sign language, and then who my parents are. The deaf community is fairly close, so that’s actually a common question for me. It gets to be surprising how small the world can really be.
Other smaller moments are things like when I worked at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and there was an older couple that were looking for shower curtains and were having problems communicating. I noticed their hearing aids and signed “Are you deaf?” and that sent them into an excited frenzy because they could now easily communicate and their trip took a lot less time than they had planned.
All of my experiences running into deaf people at work have been really positive and it’s really heartwarming to see how much I can help someone, and how excited they get when they see that they’re able to communicate easily with someone and get their errands done just like anyone else.