Sherrie: Deaf and Loving It!
The title is a pun from the movie title – Dracula: Dead and Loving it!
Speaking of which, I haven’t seen that movie in yonks, and apparently it’s difficult to track down. I’ll probably find a copy on the Internet somewhere.
Anyways, back to the topic – I wanted to write about why I love being Deaf…so here I go!
I was one of the 644 delegates at the recent 2nd International World Federation of the Deaf Conference here in Sydney, Australia, and it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. The theme of the Conference was: Equality for Deaf People. Very fitting. A staggering 644 delegates from 67 countries were at the conference!!!
The conference has made me think about why I love being Deaf, especially that this week is the National Week of Deaf People (NWDP for short) in Australia.
Community as a whole.
In the last week, I was amazed at witnessing a community becoming united on an international level – right here at home. Everyone shared their stories of growing deaf from many different aspects – be it educational, social, cultural, etc. I watched a lecture about Deaf Equality and the possibilities and limits of “DEAF DEAF SAME”, which was presented by two PhD holders, Annelies Kusters (Germany) and Michele Friedner (USA). Annelies and Michele are both Deaf anthropologists – which is a huge relief, knowing that I am set to become an anthropologist myself and there’s a fantastic opportunity to share future research papers with them and other anthropologists within the Deaf community.
There is a Deaf village in Ghana, named Adamorobe, which is similar to Martha’s Vineyard in the US. There is a huge difference between Martha’s Vineyard and Adamorobe – the latter does not accept Western perspective and attitudes. Deaf Adamorobees feel rather exploited when Deaf and hearing tourists visit and take photos of them and the village itself. Sign language in the said village is very different to that of Western sign languages and iconicity – and would be rather difficult to pick up on. Annelies said that Adamorobe has the “otherness”, which is a African and a Deaf village, whereas they have the “sameness”, in which the residents share the same identity – deaf identity, that is. Tourists to Adamorobe are encouraged to bring donations of clothing, food, book and other simple items and to try and get to know the village rather than exploiting them through photos and the like.
The concept of “DEAF DEAF SAME” is rather powerful, because we, within the Deaf community, share the same identity. This is why I was and still am amazed at experiencing the Deaf community uniting as a whole on an international level. So many different languages, sign languages, nationalities, cultures, etc – yet we’re all the same and we manage to create new friendships no matter where we are from.
Overcoming communication barriers with sign language.
A lot of people assume that sign language is universal. It is not – there is 200+ sign languages being used all over the world. You wonder how we all communicate when the Deaf community gets together at an international level, right? International Sign (IS) comes to the rescue. I first learnt of IS 10 years ago when Brent Phillips introduced us to it at a national deaf leadership camp, and I’ve been intrigued to learn more ever since then. I first got to use IS at the Melbourne 2005 Deaflympics – a lot of awkward moments back then, but hey, it’s a learning curve! After moving back to Sydney in 2009, I used IS more every summer when Deaf people from different countries came to Sydney, and I used it regularly when I was in Europe, and now again, at the WFD Conference and at other events following the conference. I love being able to use IS – and I’ve also picked up on British Sign Language and American Sign Language. BSL is similar to Auslan, so there wasn’t any difficulties, however with ASL – it’s a lot different to Auslan, yet easy to learn. I originally thought it was difficult to learn, but I participated in a group conversation with a bunch of Americans on Sunday, and we were able to communicate by using ASL only – I even surprised myself! I love having the ability of picking up various sign languages – another advantage of being Deaf!
Sign language has numerous advantages – chatting underwater, through glass walls/doors, across train platforms – you name it, and we can do that with sign language!
At the Conference, there was a wonderful team of interpreters working together to convey information in SIX different sign languages!! Amazing. Auslan, IS, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and ASL – all at the same time. I was mesmerised by the Norwegian sign language interpreter – she was SO animated and, yeah she was cute. There’s one ASL interpreter – I think her name’s Lori Whynot – who looks like Felicity Huffman from the Desperate Housewives. They all did a sensational job of interpreting the conference!
I love working with interpreters. I’ve worked with too many throughout my university years, and I’ve become good friends with a couple of them. Sign language interpreters are the bridges between deaf and hearing communities – and connects us together.
Defying all odds.
Being deaf, we have had to defy all odds life has thrown at us – even showing our family and friends that we are more than capable of achieving my dreams. There’s no way we’re going to have shit lives just because we are deaf. We can do the same things as our hearing peers – only one percent difference between us: our bleedin’ ears don’t work! I met a lot of Deaf people at the conference who have achieved so many things in their lives, especially if they didn’t dream of achieving it yet have surprised themselves and many others.
I was surprised at the fact there’s 10 Deaf MPs all over the world – and I had the privilege of accidentally meeting Raghav Bir Joshi, a Deaf MP from Nepal at the Centenary Afternoon Tea. I accidentally bumped into him while walking into the Town Hall, and I apologised and he was cool about it and then we got talking. Very inspirational man, that one. I shrieked like a fangirl when Mojo Mathers, a Deaf MP from New Zealand, thanked me via Twitter for live-tweeting her presentation. I’m still amazed at the number of Deaf MPs around the world – obviously Australia needs a Deaf MP! And no I’m not going to become a MP – I ain’t ready for that stuff.
Prior to April 2013, Deaf Nepaleses were not allowed to obtain a drivers licence. Wow – makes me feel lucky to be an Australian with a drivers licence. Deaf people in India are still barred from obtaining a drivers licence – hopefully they’ll be able to change that in the near future.
So many Deaf people around the world have gone to university, gotten promotions at work, graduated with either Masters or PhDs, established a successful business – you name it, and they probably have done it.
I remember when I quit high school right before the HSC trials, one grumpy Teacher of the Deaf did not think I would go to university and be awesome.
Me: Hey teacher, I’m quitting school.
Teacher: Oh? Right before the HSC?
Me: Yeah. Heart’s not into it.
Teacher: Well, you’ll have a shit future. You’ve been talking about going to university, right? You’ll never get to go.
Me: *determined to prove that bitch wrong* YOU. WATCH. ME.
Many Deaf people like me have had to prove people wrong – their teachers, parents, relatives by defying all odds. We’ve had to work hard, overcome obstacles and taken different paths in order to achieve our dreams. Not everything was served to us on a silver platter.
We’re just like everyone else, regardless of our deafness.
We have had to fight for equality and not to be treated like second-class citizens. We advocate for our rights in the wider community. It’s constantly exhausting but we do not give up. The theme of equality for this year’s NWDP is rather fitting, as NSW finally saw Auslan interpreted emergency broadcasts from NSW Rural Fire Service, AND in the wider community, the ACT achieved same-sex marriage equality, which means same-sex couples can finally get married in the ACT. Two fantastic examples of equality happening this week alone. Kudos to NSWRFS and SLC NSW/ACT for making that happen, and same goes to the ACT Government. NSWRFS also ensured that Auslan interpreters were at community meetings, which is amazing. Coincidentally, the report on Resilience of the Deaf Community in NSW to Natural Disasters was launched by the University of NSW at the NSW Parliament House on Monday morning. I’m excited to see more access to Auslan interpreted emergency broadcasts happening across NSW from this point on – it’s about time this state caught up. Queensland achieved this during the 2011 SEQ Floods and Cyclone Yasi. New Zealand took a page out of Queensland’s book and did the same for the Christchurch earthquakes. New York, USA did the same during Hurricane Sandy.
We’re lucky to receive education, social welfare, and everything else our hearing peers can get. Deaf people in some countries are not as lucky, but they are working hard to achieve the equality they deserve.
There’s still a lot of work to be done yet regarding equality for deaf people worldwide, but we’ll get there some day. Don’t give up – keep fighting. Advocate hard. Use the UN Convention of Rights for Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – Australia ratified it and it’s a legally binding document, and don’t forget the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
To sum it up, I absolutely LOVE being Deaf and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I also love being a member of such a diverse community, and being able to share my identity with 70 million other Deaf people around the world (I don’t know that many if you were wondering!).
Yours in Deafness!