My Deaf Childhood Experience vs. Covid-19 Experience
Indian Sign Language (ISL) Translation is posted on my Facebook Page – www.facebook.com/drjahan
While walking to the park this morning, several questions came to my mind.
Why am I calm during this quarantine period in India where everyone is practicing social distancing and are staying home?
Why do I struggle to relate with people who continue being shocked or frustrated with social distancing & being stuck at home despite the lockdown being in place for over a month?
I remember how in August 2019, Jammu/Kashmir went in complete lockdown where there was a communication blackout. I would assume that they are now clapping at all of us. What we are experiencing is not even close to what they have been dealing with since last August.
I personally am surprised that I am calm during this sensitive time. I live alone in India while my family is in USA. They are worried about me more than I am for myself. I often wondered why am I not experiencing worry or anxiety. I discussed my concerns with my Deaf friends and found the answers to my questions.
I am only expressing for myself as a Deaf person. I and many other Deaf people around the world have been isolated for most of their childhood due to lacking access to full communication with their family members or others. The main reason is because people don’t know sign language to communicate with the Deaf person. We cope with being isolated within our family in different ways. For example, I handled my childhood isolation by having imaginary friends.
I moved to USA from India/UK when I was 8 years old. From the time of being 8 to 21 years old, I have tried to fit into society by being “normal” based on what Hearing people told me I should do. I learned how to speak and read lips. I tried hard to use my hearing aids to follow the conversations among people. Sadly, no matter how badly I wanted to fit into the “normal” crowd, I always felt different. I was always left out. My mind was stressed with multiple “what ifs” such as: What if the Hearing people don’t understand my speech? What if I misunderstood what the Hearing people are saying? What if I am trying too hard? The ‘What If’ list goes on and on.
My Hearing family tried their best despite not being aware of what’s best for me as a Deaf person. They always told me in error that I am “normal” because I can speak and hear well. In reality, I never had or will hear or speak like they can. As a result, I constantly have to work at least three times as hard to try to understand one word out of each sentence that is being verbally expressed by my family members.
I was used to being alone with my own company. I remember going to social functions with my family. I did enjoy going to those events because I loved observing people and fantasize the conversations that they are having despite not knowing what was being said. I never get bored spending time with my imagination. However, there was a big gap. I had no one else who understood what it felt like to be Deaf. I didn’t know that there was a world where Deaf people have their own culture and language, sign language.
When I went to Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY as a 21-year-old college student, I finally understood that I was a Deaf person. I accepted that I am ’normal’ as a Deaf person despite not being able to naturally hear or speak. Through socializing with other Deaf peers, I realized I am not alone. I am a member of the Deaf community with our own culture and language. I learned I have the power to create my own identity based on who I truly am, a Deaf person who signs.
Ironically, the experience of surviving isolation with the lack of access to information for the first 21 years of my life has given me coping skills during this Covid pandemic while I am living alone. The main challenge is there is lack of access to information for Deaf people in India. There are no English subtitles on ‘Breaking News’ on TV. There are no available accessible services such as sign language interpreters at public places such as hospitals. Deaf people are not independent to make their own phone calls due the lack of video relay services where sign language interpreters translate the calls between Deaf and Hearing customers.
Despite the lack of accessibility to information, I am grateful for technology such as FaceTime that allows us Deaf people to video chat in sign language with friends & family members. Deaf friends that I have lost contact with over time are reaching out to reconnect. Due to various video platforms, the bond among the Deaf community is still strong.
For those who don’t know what it’s like to not hear or speak, can imagine what it feels like to be alone or locked up for a month with no genuine access to communication with others? Us Deaf people have experienced that for years from the day we were born. For the majority of us Deaf people being born to Hearing families not using sign language, we often feel like we can only express ourselves to the wall without anyone responding to us our whole lives. No one understood what it’s like. Ironically, recently the Psychiatric Association posted on Instagram, “A notice from Psychiatric Association: Dear citizens, during the Quarantine time it is considered normal to talk to your walls, plants, and pots.” Is it ever really ‘normal’?
This quarantine period has taught me many things for sure. One thing I am grateful for is the Deaf community, sign language, and our culture. What we have is beyond stronger than ever thanks to sign language. It is what brings us together.
Covid-19 Tips to avoid having Deaf people being isolated during this time:
To Hearing parents of Deaf children: Take advantage of this time to learn a new language: Sign Language. Build your relationship with your Deaf child by communicating and listening to what they wish for. There are apps and websites available to learn sign language. Ask an older Deaf person in your community to teach you and your family sign language.
To the Deaf individuals who do not know sign language or resist learning: Break down that wall and take a chance in learning sign language. It would be a great alternative for you when the batteries in your hearing aids/Cochlear Implant die. You’ll be surprised at how there is a whole new world for you to join. You will realize you don’t have to work so hard to ‘fit in’ compared to trying to fit in with Hearing people.
To Teachers and School Administrators of Deaf Schools: Remember that you are accountable for your Deaf students as they look up to you for guidance to be successful in their lives. Therefore, take the leap of faith and learn sign language so the Deaf children can fully communicate with you. You’ll cry happy tears when you see the biggest smiles on their faces due to seeing you use sign language to communicate with them.
To Audiologists & Speech Pathologists: For your information, I have nothing against you for providing devices for Deaf people to try to hear. I, myself, am a hearing aid user. I strongly encourage you to advise parents of Deaf children to learn sign language so that they can communicate with their own child starting at an early age. This will establish a lifelong bond between the parents and child. Clarify the myths that learning sign language does not reduce or eliminate their ability to speak. For you being in this profession, you’ll gain much more respect from the Deaf community if you become our allies in promoting sign language. You could spark this transformation for millions of parents who lose hope for their Deaf children due to being misinformed by your professionals.
To the Indian Government: With more than 10 million Deaf people living in this country, make us proud by approving Indian Sign Language to be our 23rd official language of India. You could be a model for many countries around the world by giving your Deaf community more rights as a result of their language being recognized by your country.
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