We have recently come upon Deaf History Month and one of the things that comes up every year is the desire to educate those outside the Deaf culture to view the culture differently than what one has traditionally been taught. This reminded me of an incident many years ago when one of my boys was in kindergarten. I had accompanied him to school one day to give a demonstration on sign language and show off some products then used by Deaf individuals such as Telecommunications Devices, doorbell flashers, baby criers, and the like. I had access to a captioned television and played a portion of a VHS movie without sound. Being in kindergarten, many of the kids thought the TV was broken. It was a fun time with my son and I thought nothing more of it after all was said and done.
Fast-forward 13 years later, my son is working and I show up to visit him. I notice one of his co-workers staring at me and start to think I have spinach on my teeth, a squashed bug in my hair, or something equally disgusting on my face. I am almost afraid to look at her but when I finally do, she asks, “Aren’t you David’s mom?”
“Why, yes. Is that obvious?”
“Well, I remember you. You came to our class once and taught us sign language. I remember a little bit. I remember everything about that day when you were there.”
Ironic that I came across this picture while scanning through folders on my computer. This picture is from that day, and I discovered it at a time I was thinking about how the most effective education to influence change starts with children. Back in 1988 I represented the state of Texas at the Miss Deaf America Pageant and the on-stage interview question for the finalists was, “How do we keep deaf culture alive?” This was the year of the big Gallaudet University “Deaf President Now” victory that captured national headlines and which was touched upon in a recent, all-ASL episode of “Switched At Birth” on ABC Family channel. The winning response was along the lines of educating today’s children because they are the leaders of tomorrow.
So how do Deaf individuals encourage a change in the thinking of the hearing culture towards how they are perceived and what they can and cannot do? Deaf parents with hearing children have the advantage in forging a path towards this change. We have a connection between two cultures through our children and by starting with our own child and rippling out towards our child’s friends, they, in turn, can take information to share with their parents and their friends, but it starts with us and our child.
Who would have thought that after High School graduation I would see someone I had not seen in 13 years and be informed that a simple willingness to demonstrate during “Five Senses” week in a Kindergarten class stuck in the mind of this individual? I don’t know about any of you, but for me, it reiterates the point that we need to live out our beliefs always. One never knows who is watching and really paying attention!