Random Thoughts and Musings by moi

Musings by a feisty, opinionated Deaf gal who wants nothing but the best for her community and her people

vendredi 8 septembre 2006

Reclaiming our dignity and equality

This issue has been bothering me for a while. In fact, I blogged about it on my private blog last week and just now decided to bring the topic over here. I work in a school for the Deaf, in a position that has frequent, direct student contact. The mission and values of the school purportedly provide a safe, fully accessible place for all of our students and all of our staff. But that isn’t completely the case.

To me, full access means not using voices on campus when everyone else around you is capable of carrying on a conversation in signs. Yes, this includes simultaneous communication or “simcom,” which is to voice and sign at the same time. This may seem extreme or radical to some of you, but it’s not about “my way or the highway” at all. There are studies documenting the following when simcom is used:

*Signs are dropped
*Signs look unnatural
*It is harder for deaf people to understand, no matter how good their English, lipreading, or voicing skills are.
*Conversations happen quickly and deaf people miss out because they’re turning their heads and don’t see what was said because the hearing person(s) didn’t bother to wait.

Because of these factors, hearing people are in control of communication and information in a way that deaf people are not when the hearing people simcom.

I would like to posit the idea that simcom is a form of disrespect, even if it is unintentional. This is how I feel when people at work simcom even if everyone else present can sign. I feel disrespected because my understanding what is being said is apparently less important than that of the hearing people. I deeply resent the loss of access when this happens. I feel like hearing people must think it’s harder to communicate with me. It’s apparently easier to call someone’s name than to have someone else get my attention. That, in turn, makes me feel like I must be a burden to hearing people. I wonder why we adults don't get the same respect our students get in terms of signs only. Are we less important than our students? Are our access needs less important? Furthermore, I question their commitment and acceptance of Deaf culture and Deaf people because they are not willing to fully immerse themselves in the language and culture while they are at work. It also makes me wonder how comfortable they are signing. If they were comfortable signing, they wouldn’t need their voices, would they?

To hearing people reading this, I ask you to consider this: Do you use your voice when you are around deaf people? If so, please consider why you do that. Is it necessary because some people don’t sign or maybe because you are an interpreter and part of your job is to voice what is being signed? Do you do it with other people who can sign in front of deaf people? If so, why? How do you think this helps your relationship with your deaf clients/coworkers? (Slight tangent here - one of my pet peeves is team interpreters who chat with each other in voice when I’m standing or sitting right there. To me, that is the height of rudeness.) Back to the point - please take the time to consider your choices of when to use your voice and when not to. I have worked with some wonderful hearing people that I love to death, so please don’t feel like I hate you guys. I just want you to consider whether or not you are behaving in culturally appropriate ways and showing appropriate respect to us. And if you are, THANK YOU! If you aren’t, I hope you’ll change and encourage other hearing people around you to change too. *smile*

Here are a few situations that have occurred recently at work and they have made me wonder.
Situation 1: For example, one woman called another by voice to get her attention during a meeting recently. Why was that necessary? That deprived both hearing people of an opportunity to practice culturally appropriate means of getting attention. It also made me feel like “Gee. Is it THAT hard to get my attention?”
Situation 2: Another time a large group of colleagues went out to lunch. 5 hearing people and 6 deaf people were sitting at a long table. (I do love my worksite because hearing and deaf people mingle freely and often eat together). Three hearing people sat at one end and they were simcomming through the entire lunch. Some deaf people turned to join the conversation, realized there was simcomming, and turned away to join another conversation. I was one of them and I turned away, because simcomming gave me the impression they were signing just to be polite but they preferred to use their voices. Their voices became a wall dividing us, and that was unnecessary. The other two hearing people kept their voices off and they were part of many different conversations going on at the table, which is the way it should be.
Situation 3: Simcomming can be bad professionally because it becomes a question of access to information that we all need in order to do our jobs. Recently there were 6 hearing people out of 9 present at a meeting and I missed out on a lot because they were going so quickly and not waiting for all of us to turn our heads to follow the flow of conversation.
Yes, when my coworkers use their voices, they tend to simcom... which is a step above voicing only. But adding signs does NOT make using their voices okay, period.

Yes, I fully acknowledge the need to respect hearing people and to allow them to be hearing. I would never go so far as to forbid them to bring cell phones on campus or to say they couldn’t use the phone in private. And if a nonsigning parent wants to talk to them privately without a Deaf person present, who am I to insist that they use an interpreter? But they chose to work in this field when they have a plethora of career options available to them. I don’t get why they can’t keep their voices off at all times when they are around other staff members who sign too. They chose to be part of our world for part of the day. We have a right to expect them to integrate themselves into our norms and not to deny us access nor to show us disrespect.

The bottom line is that using their voices at all when everyone else is capable of signing is blatant disrespect in my book. It disenfranchises us and subtly cements “hearing power” in a way that we do not need, whether they intend to or not. Again, this may seem strong or extreme. But the issues here are access to information and the subliminal messages that using voice sends to us deafies. Voices OFF, please.


  • At 17:55, Blogger gnarlydorkette said…

    I concur. If they want to be part of Deaf community, then they should share the same goals as ours-- to promote and embrace American Sign Language! By using voice, ESPECIALLY at Deaf schools, is just a step backward from the goal of equality.

  • At 17:57, Anonymous Curious Eyes said…

    moi, I too feel your pain. I work in an environment with mixed deaf and hearing. Some of the hearing signers aren't fluent at all, and honestly never will be, but their hearts are in the right place. They really do try. Some of the deaf signers are really hard of hearing and comfortable using their speech. Some of the deaf signers are DEAF, yet comfortable with both ASL and sim-com. Some of the hearing signers are rank beginners and will never get enough face time with deaf signers to improve quickly. And so it goes... I don't see demanding sign without voice as a solution that will work for everybody. But I do notice our lunches have us sitting separately according to communication mode: deaf at one end, hearing at one end, and sim-commers in the middle! What does work for us is checking on each other for communication involvement and repeating the conversation a lot. That's not the ideal situation, no, but quite acceptable, and accommodates everyone's limitations and abilities.

  • At 19:32, Blogger moi said…

    gnarlydorkette, well put. Thank you! :)

    curious eyes, thank you for sharing what it's like at your workplace. It seems that you and I are talking about two different types of situations. Before I address your points, I'd like to clarify something. I wasn't demanding voices off; I was simply expressing my wish and belief that this is what should happen in a worksite like mine. I absolutely agree with your point that generally speaking, some hearing people are absolute dears who really try but just don't "have it." My heart goes out to those people.

    The reason I think we're talking about different types of situations is because my worksite does not have the hearing signers you describe. For one thing, "rank beginners" cannot get a job where I work if they come in contact with students. All applicants are required to pass an internal sign evaluation similar to the ASLPI before they are even considered for employment. Volunteers are also required to have a minimum level of proficiency. Also, the hearing people I talked about in my post are all good signers with pretty good receptive skills. Ergo, because of these two factors, I see no reason why they need to use their voices. I stand by what I said for my worksite at least, but I concede that it may not apply to all "mixed" worksites.

    What you describe is probably a good solution for your worksite, and it appears to work quite well for you guys. That's terrific. :)

  • At 19:59, Anonymous Curious Eyes said…

    oh... I was thinking about a variety of situations where there is a variety of communication modes... like when a group of certified interpreters for the deaf, fluent ASL signers, receptively and expressively, get together with certified deaf interpreters, and either sim-com, or use voice alone if they think no one deaf is paying attention to their conversation. That's a really tough situation for me... I try to be respectful of the fact that they are in both Hearing and Deaf cultures... it's like during a social gathering, don't hearing ASL interpreters have the free choice to communicate with each other any way they want, but show respect for Deaf people by using ASL when they are in the conversation? is it still a different situation? I don't think just by using sim-com, it means they don't respect Deaf culture or ASL ... they're in the middle ground where two cultures intersect, and it's natural that the "mother tongue" will predominate. No disrepect was intended, and no "dys-" anything, subconscious or not, just human nature. When I'm with my hearing parent who does not sign, and have a deaf friend visiting who does not use voice, I'm caught in the middle because I can do both, and it's HARD!

  • At 20:53, Blogger moi said…

    Oh, we're on the same page here in that there are so many different situations where we all need to be flexible. My cousin R, who mumbles so I can't lipread him also takes a full minute to fingerspell a 7-letter word. Insisting that he sign wouldn't do. My mom simcoms when we're with other relatives, some of who can sign and some who can't, and that *is* the best approach in that situation. When we're alone, Mom often doesn't sign with me, expecting me to lipread her. When I'm with hearing nonsigners and with deaf friends who don't voice at the same time, I'm caught, just like you said. It's tough. You're right in that we cannot be rigid and inflexible when it comes to communication. We need to go with the flow many times. My post was intended to focus on situations where *everyone* can sign and understand signs. Does that make more sense?

    About interpreters... I see what you're saying. I agree with you that many times interpreters are caught in the middle and I don't wish to come down hard on them. I *am* sympathetic to them many times. What rankles, for me, is when everyone present has, at the very least, reasonably good expressive and receptive skills, and some choose not to sign. Not every deaf person feels comfortable walking up to people who are voicing only and expecting them to sign. To me, the choice not to sign in that type of situation disrespectful. Perhaps you're right and it's human nature... I still don't think it's okay. Maybe you and I disagree on this point? Dunno. If we do, that's okay. I'm glad we were able to talk this out and understand where the other is coming from... you raised some valid points.

  • At 07:51, Anonymous Diane Plassey Gutierrez said…

    I totally agree. Simcomming is devilishly hard when trying to accommodate mixed company, such as families in a holiday gathering. I can just barely keep it up for ten minutes before giving up and resorting to ASL or deaf speech.

    However, it troubles me that people are coming down so hard on the practice. It should be recognized for what it is: a good faith, if misguided, effort to establish communication and to include deaf people with hearing people. I don't look a gift horse in the mouth. I'd rather be where hearing people are simcomming than in a group of all speaking, nonsigning people who say "Later, I'll tell you."

    Ideally, an ASL environment is best for everyone, but we have to consider those who are still learning and who honestly would like to join in if they are not criticized and rebuffed. We cannot afford to become a closed, insulated community.

  • At 10:28, Blogger moi said…

    Diane, your thoughts are beautifully expressed. I agree with you completely! Simcomming is a great way to bridge the gap when necessary, and I've said many times in the past that we need to be flexible and willing to go with the flow when it comes to communication. However, my post focuses on situations where everyone present can sign well enough to carry on a conversation reasonably easily. In those cases, I believe there is no purpose nor need for simcomming and it actually hinders rather than helps communication. Again, I agree that there are situations where simcomming is a good solution.

  • At 19:59, Anonymous Curious Eyes said…

    that's why I asked about gatherings with hearing ASL interpreters and deaf friends -- should we demand, or at least feel entitled telling all them to voice off and only sign, even hearing with each other, and even if there are no deaf people in sight? When you work in a school where all the teachers can sign fluently, then is it reasonable, fair, or expected for everyone to sign voice off, even if only a handful of people in the group are deaf? I absolutely agree it's wonderful and such a relief when they (hearing fluent signers) do it without being told, and I wish everyone would do it automatically, but they don't. And it's not because they don't understand, respect, or appreciate ASL, Deaf Culture, or Deaf people. Could it have something to do with ASL being their second language? Or an automatic reflex when they hear someone talking, they talk back and their first language just kicks in and takes over?

  • At 22:31, Blogger moi said…

    That's a very good question. I personally feel they SHOULD keep voices off in a Deaf gathering or at a worksite where everyone signs reasonably well. It's a question of respect as far as I'm concerned. We have the right to expect certain "Deaf spaces," yet we do need to be flexible in many other situations - I'm not disputing that. Deaf schools, for example, should be places where deaf children feel fully included - and for that to happen, deaf staff need to also feel fully included. I mean, if you can't expect full, comfortable access at a school for the Deaf, where else can you expect it?

    But would I walk up to two hearing interpreters at a party and say, "Excuse me. Would you mind signing?" Probably not. I'm not sure why some hearing people do this, and I've wondered the same thing many times. It could be one of the factors you've mentioned. I believe for a few hearing people, it's a power thing, and those few need to seriously re-evaluate their role in our community. But I also believe for many others, it's something else and they don't really intend disrespect... but that's how it comes across, unfortunately, at least to me.

    As for what we can do about it... I've been talking with several people over the past several days and we all agree that the best approach is engaging people in dialogue. For example, with the interpreter situation, if I feel close to one or more of them, I would find a good time to bring it up and ask them about it. "What do you think about this situation?" "What does being a hearing ally mean to you?" "Where is the line?" "If someone said this was disrespectful, how would you react? Why?" ... and really listen to their answers, not jump in and attack them. The same could be done with hearing colleagues. For them to stop using their voices, they need to "buy into" the idea, not just be ordered to stop. So comfortable, open, honest dialogue is the way to go... one by one.

    I'm sensing that you wouldn't be comfortable just barging in and saying, "Sign. You mind? Thank you." I wouldn't, either. This is one reason why I wrote my post. It's another way of approaching the situation. I'm hoping that some hearing signers will read it and think it over, and maybe even discuss it with their friends and colleagues. It's a non-threatening approach. I believe if we frame it as an issue of respect, accessibility, and a good way to work with your deaf peers rather than an order or a command, people are more likely to buy into it.

    This may not be what you're looking for, but it's the best I can do... I don't have all the answers, and I'm hoping we, as a community, can talk about it and figure it out together.

  • At 20:02, Anonymous Curious Eyes said…

    me too would love to "hear" from some hearing signers about this question. takers, anyone? Especially in a deaf school, that's a very good point about it being a "deaf space," meaning 100% communication access for deaf students AND deaf staff. Outside of a deaf space, though, I dunno.

  • At 21:20, Blogger moi said…

    I would too, and if any hearing signers want to weigh in, I'd love to hear what they have to say. :) Thanks for your contributions - food for thought.

  • At 19:12, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    Hi. I’m a hearing ASL III student and found your comments very interesting. For me it is very difficult to sign and talk at the same time. I have not seen to many simcom conversations but I think that is because I am new to sign and Deaf culture. Everyone has brought up some interesting points. I do think that moi and other Deaf people have the right to expect an environment of total sign in that type of situation. As for interpreters who talk when they can sign, if front of Deaf people- I equate that to hearing people who whisper to each other when they are in a social gathering- it is rude. Once we become aware of offenses, everything should be done to avoid them. Thank you for your insight.
    Thank you Curious Eyes and everyone else for your patience and understanding for those of us who are learning and trying to become more fluent in ASL. One last thing- moi referred to it being a “power thing”, almost all of the Deaf people I have met have been patient with me and none have every made me feel stupid or inadequate. That was done by a second year Interpreter student, who could not be bothered with me. Thank you all for you insight

  • At 00:03, Blogger moi said…

    I apologize for the delay in moderating your comment - I've been laid up with a particularly nasty stomach flu.

    Thank you for your contribution! It's food for thought and I appreciate your perspective. I'm glad you've had such positive experiences with us. :-D

  • At 03:34, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    hearing signer here.

    i dislike simcom in general, because the language access is never fully there for deaf people.

    however, i know a few hard of hearing new signers who specifically request simcom so they can match the English with the signs. i'm a believer in providing whatever langauge access someone prefers. however, if it's a social situation and the person is my friend, i will remind him/her that siging fully grammatical ASL is only possible without voicing, and that voice-off signing and voice-off signreading will allow their ASL skills -- both signing and signreading -- to develop much more efficiently, and with better access to grammatical ASL models.

    i will say this: when a hearing person simcoms, there is an auditory feedback loop. i hear myself think and speak in English, and i subconsiously monitor what my spoken language sounds like, and make constant almost subconsious adjustments so it "sounds right" - i can correct a fumble easily, and thus my english always comes out darn near perfect (with corrections).

    when simcoming, my signing, on the other hand, is much much less attentively monitored. it's nearly impossible for me to adequately monitor both at the same time, and i make many more signing errors than speaking errors. as long as the stream of english is there, my brain relies nearly completely on my speech output to monitor whether what i'm saying makes sense. (answer: yes, the english makes sense, but the signing often doesn't). of course, if i turn my voice off, it's the ASL that i can monitor, and the english is not there to interfere with the production of a clear, grammatical, visuo-spatial message.

    simcom makes hearies lazy - in hands, eyes, and mind - when communicating. it's easy to listen to ourselves talk - we've been doing it all our lives. but when we learn to let go of that, turn our voice off, we can become much better signers, and learn to attend to the VISUAL and grammatical needs of deaf people (and, oh yeah, of all the hard of hearing and hearing people who sign with us without voicing).

    while i was a grad student at gally, i noticed that we hearies tend to simcom with each other. that is, we speak english to each other and include some sign support. most of us know this is not the same as signing accessibly for/with deaf folks, but i dunno. sometimes we want to use our native language, i guess, but not totally without signing while on campus. it's not a perfect solution, but it happens. once there's voicing, it's so hard to tune it out and/or stop doing it and just sign. speaking and listening are like reflexes. maybe talking is too ingrained in us... which is why simcom makes us lazy signers. - talking is easy, in our comfort zone. as speakers of this country's majority-language, we're used to having that unearned privilege and power that comes with it. we need to step out of that comfort zone and do our best in voice-off ASL as much as possible. otherwise we're (even if unintentionally) contributing to the linguistic oppresson of deaf people, and missing opportunities to become more fluent ASL users.

    i look at it this way: especially on a deaf-majority campus, *everyone* has the opportunity and capability to use ASL, even while they are developing their ASL fluency. we all have eyes and hands and can make an effort to use visual and/or tactile ASL.

    but.. NOT EVERYONE has the equivalent access/opportunity to use spoken English. ... so use ASL as much as possible on campus!

  • At 06:18, Anonymous j~* said…

    Came across with your blog from Deafread.com - I truly enjoyed reading this blog entry because I can related to this 100%. That's what I am struggling in past 4 years here at my job in a deaf school. I have nothing againist the hearing co-workers but the simcom style had always put a sore on my eyes on a daily basis during meetings. They do acknowledge that I PREFER them to sign without voice but the simcom eventually comes back from time to time - and I had to be the "reminder" to them that I tend to be LOST every time they "slowly" faded themselves back into simcom after realizing that it is better OFF for me to understand their signs without the voice.

    I am only one deaf on the "team" in the support services department and I even considered leaving that job sometimes due to one of these reasons.. but it can be "foolish" - so I am sometimes so unsure what to do. All I can do to raise hand and keep reminding them that I am lost... but I am sick of playing a role as a "reminder".

    I am glad to see someone who FELT the same way I DO when it comes with hearing people and simcomming...


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