(International Deaf Awareness Week is recognized each year the last week of September.)
The Value of Your Deaf and Hard of Hearing/Hearing Impaired Communities
When my hearing was worsening in the 1980’s, I took some Sign Language classes at the local college. While I found comfort in knowing that I was being pro-active with my condition, I was isolating myself more and more from the “hearing” community.
When I returned to college in the 1990’s for more Sign Language classes and working toward my degree in Human Services, our Deaf assistant teacher took me under his wing, so to speak. I was invited to his home with a Deaf gentleman I was engaged to at the time for movies and casual gatherings. Signing was my main language those days, and my fluency thrived.
About the same time, a group was forming in a small room of an audiologist’s office that called themselves “SHHH”, or “Self Help for Hard of Hearing”. It was an odd name, because most of us who had been losing our hearing used the phrase “hearing impaired”, and “hard of hearing” was not a common phrase to us at the time.
Many people from other agencies outside our community found our group interesting because we were the first community they visited that had a large gathering of members of members from both the Deaf Community and the “hard of hearing”, meeting together and working together. When we grew too large to meet in small offices, we moved a local library’s conference room. We had ASL interpreting at our meetings, as well as real time closed captioning. When the PUC (Public Utility Commission) sent representatives to our area to discuss the phone directories being created for ttd (telecommunications device for the deaf) users, they commented several times that they had never been to such an inclusive meeting as ours.
Around this same time, I became involved with a local non-profit agency called B.A.R.D., Bay Area Resources for the Disabled. B.A.R.D. was a bit ahead of its time. This was an agency that had representatives of ALL disabilities involved. We were a resource center that had a lounge where people could meet for coffee, board games, meetings or just to socialize. We had many disabled veterans hanging out during the open hours, some helping kids with homework after school.
B.A.R.D. was similar to a one stop information center. No matter which disability or issue a person was dealing with, there was someone available with the same disability to offer assistance, direction or information. We had a regular newsletter that went out not only to our members, but others in our community to promote awareness and education and information. I often wrote articles related to hearing loss and deafness. We had a writer who was blind who wrote about blindness, and other writers who wrote about living and working with their particular disabilities. What was wonderful about this agency was that rather than having many small voices and groups individually trying to raise awareness and funds for their issues, B.A.R.D. recognized that as a larger group working together, we had a larger voice. Unfortunately, even then, there weren’t enough funds to keep the agency open.
One of things I often did as part of my duty with B.A.R.D. was to visit all the pay phones in the stores that had tty machines under them. I made sure they were in working order. I also frequented the police departments and the hospital to see if the person who answered knew how to use it, and if they didn’t, or if they forgot, I would demonstrate and refresh their memory. Sadly, one office actually had it hidden in a bottom drawer, but that was remedied after one visit.
Along with this, I would regularly send in a letter to our newspaper’s editorial page and list where the tty machines were in our area for new residents.
I was active with these organizations until I started volunteering my time at my daughter’s school and working with children. As my hearing worsened, however, I became more and more isolated and stayed at home. One year, my daughter’s teacher had an organization come to my home and they gave me a computer and software compatible with what the school used. I was able to help her from my own home with the classroom projects for a number of years. That was my first introduction to using computers and a network called propoint bulletin service, which connected me to others online. It wasn’t long after that I was learning how to use Windows.
Today, my journey is picking up where it left off all those years ago. I’m looking forward to returning to school this winter and completing my degree in Social Services as I continue to become active in my new community here in PA with our local Hearing Loss of America organization, promoting captions with the upcoming “Show Us the Captions!” #showusthecaptions (learn more about that from Sarah at Speak Up Librarian ) event in November, sharing presentations at schools and soon at a local library about hearing loss and deafness.
The value of your Deaf and hard of hearing/hearing impaired communities are a rich addition in your neighborhood. Someone you know, a family member, or perhaps you, yourself will be touched by hearing loss or deafness at some point in life. Captions on your tv or at the movies or even one of the captioned phones that are available now have all been made possible because the Deaf and hard of hearing communities have worked extremely hard at voicing the need for accessibility, advocating for others and ourselves, and educating the public as well as being involved with being on top of ADA laws.
I, for one, am appreciative for how my former community all those years ago helped me learn to adapt and learn how to use the old closed captioned decoder boxes for tv and video viewing, introducing me to the tty telephones, as well as continuing my education with sign language. Thank you for helping me with my journey.
Thank you to my new community, and the strong online support system that continues to enrich me through kind words, emails, blog posts and social media relationships. My life is enriched because of all of you.