I’m still here!

YIKES!

Has it really been almost a year since my last posting? It’s been a phenomenal year filled with trips, children, and Life. But that means I haven’t had time to vlog/blog, unfortunately. Even so, I have quite a few articles to be posted. . . be sure to keep your eyes to this page. And thank you for continuing to follow my page!

 

 

Giving Credit Where It Wasn’t Due

Video description: Trudy, a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, is wearing a deep royal blue sweater. She is seated in the corner with brown bookshelves on her right and a sea blue wall on her left.

I was the keynote speaker at a world languages ceremony at a public high school last year, and I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity to highlight American Sign Language (ASL) as a bona fide language along with its history of being oppressed. I sent my speech in advance to the interpreters, and arrived early to ensure that I could establish a rapport with them, since they would be controlling my voice and how I would be perceived by hundreds of hearing parents and students in attendance—many of who had never seen or met a deaf person before. I had shared my reservations about the interpreters’ ability to voice for me with the sign language coordinator, but I wanted to believe they would do just fine.

As I sat through the first part of the ceremony, I was reminded of my years as a mainstreamed student: rather than integrating me into the activities, they were providing me with minimal access — and therefore I was isolated just as I had been in school. One of the interpreters sat at the very far left of the stage, even though I was seated near center right in the front row in a reserved seat. It was very difficult to see her in the dimmed lighting. I discreetly asked her to move closer to me, but she couldn’t understand me. After repeating myself twice, she responded that she wouldn’t move because she was fine where she was. I decided to let it go, since I was more focused on my presentation.

Once I got onstage, I began to sign, only to realize that the interpreter was immediately faltering. The other interpreter wasn’t involved at all, not even in a supporting role. Fortunately, the hearing (and fluent) ASL teacher Ms. Doe, who had invited me to the ceremony, was standing next to the interpreter. I quickly asked her to take over the voicing, so she did, and the speech went well in spite of this initial stumble.

At the end of the ceremony, the director of the ESL, World Languages, Bilingual Education and Performing Arts department came onstage to give closing remarks. As the interpreter signed, I did a double take, but decided to hold any reaction until I could confirm what had actually been said. I emailed that director later on to request a copy of her comments. As I read the copy a few weeks later, I realized with a sick feeling that I hadn’t misunderstood, nor had the interpreter misinterpreted. Below is a direct copy-and-paste from the director’s remarks, which she read from onstage:

Before I start, one thing I need to comment on is the power of Ms. Suggs’ presentation. Aside from teaching us so much about the history of ASL, she and Mrs. Doe performed a very beneficial role reversal for us tonight. So often, as speakers of the dominant language of our culture, we take for granted that we are going to understand everything that is told to us. The broadcast news is geared to us, with the little sign language translation box is in the corner —sometimes. Tonight, most of us were totally dependent on Mrs. Doe for comprehension. That brings about many emotions, maybe even negative emotions. Think about how you felt during that presentation, totally dependent on a translator. Were you bored? Frustrated? Engaged in the challenge of trying to decipher it? What about if Mrs. Doe had not been there to help us? Please remember what you felt tonight when you encounter speakers of other languages, in particular the over 800 students who are currently considered English Language Learners in our [town name deleted] Public Schools family. What you experienced tonight is what they experience every day. I would also like to recognize Mrs. Doe’s extraordinary talents. Simultaneous interpretation is one of the most demanding language tasks, and her interpretation was first-rate.

Her comments spotlighted Ms. Doe and the “helplessness” instead of focusing on the message I shared — which was the incredible history behind signed languages, and their equality to spoken language. Ms. Doe was made the hero of my presentation, instead of focusing on signed languages. To add insult to injury, the two interpreters’ failure to work together or adequately prepare for the presentation was converted into a “challenge of trying to decipher” what I was signing, rather than outright incompetency. And let’s not even talk about the “little sign language translation box in the corner” comment.

To be fair, the way the challenges were framed — “. . .bored? Frustrated” and “negative emotions” — were probably intended to remind people about the importance of respect. Yet these very words seemed to imply that signed language was “boring,” as if I didn’t communicate myself clearly and was difficult to “decipher.” If the interpreters had done their job properly, nobody would be bored, frustrated or negatively responding. Finally, “What if Mrs. Doe had not been there to help us?” is a perfect example of deficit thinking.

Deaf people have always found a way to communicate, and it’s our words that interpreters are voicing, even if haphazardly at times. There is no helplessness involved; there is no dependence involved. Unfortunately, this perception of helplessness remains, even among people who are fully educated on how ASL is a separate language and in no way correlates with helplessness.

How do we address this? I’m not quite sure, because it seems like everything we’ve tried in the past few centuries hasn’t worked. I do know that we must educate people about giving interpreters, or in this case, someone who happened to sign fluently, so much credit. We also must have them start shifting the focus onto the message, rather than the modality or translation process. If only the director had listened to what I said in my presentation: “All this stems from the mistaken notion that one language is superior to another . . . .and one way to combat this is as you continue to study languages, embrace their peoples, history, and cultures, and celebrate all that the language stands for.”

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Full, unfiltered access to ASL and the world

whyisign(Reposted from my Facebook page, February 13, 2016)

My (deaf) daughters and I went out for dinner, and my four-year-old asked me why it rained. My oldest, eight years old, started explaining, but the younger interrupted and said, “My friend says it’s because God cries.” I said, “That could be true, too.” We all laughed and came up with different reasons (God sneezing, birds spitting, etc.) — all very silly and cute.

That led to a conversation about why it was cold outside, and how countries below the equator had opposite seasons. I described how the earth rotates daily and around the sun (thank goodness for ASL, because it helped them understand immediately) and how this related to why we count 24 hours and 365 days. I also showed them a few videos off the Internet showing the solar system and all that stuff. 

At that moment, it hit me: how lucky are we?! My girls and I have full access to communication at home and at school/work. I had that growing up, too. I can’t imagine how it would be if we didn’t have this full, unfiltered access to ASL, and subsequently, the world. We *never* have frustrations in communication with each other — not even for the most complex of topics.

That’s why it’s so important for parents like Cam (see previous post) to share their stories. I’m so grateful to Stacey Abrams for creating the Why I Sign page, and even more grateful to all the parents and family members who have responded overwhelmingly to that page. Teach deaf children to speak if it’s really important to you, but never, ever, ever at the expense of sign language or the child. I speak from experience, and so do my children. ‪#‎whyisign‬

Deaf Life Magazine Person of the Month

How awesome. At the risk of tooting my own horn (does it make a difference if I don’t hear the horn?), I learned that I had been chosen as Deaf Life Magazine’s Person of the Month for May 2015. It’s a bit startling to open up a magazine and see your face spanning the entire page. When I showed my kids the magazine, their faces lit up and they said, “Mama’s in the newspaper!” Close enough.

P.S. The earrings I wear in this photo I bought from Jasmine Garcia-Freeland of All That Jazz. Check her work out!

2014 Holiday Hop: A Spotlight on Deaf-Owned Businesses

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T.S. Writing Services (TSW) and Your Desk’s Assistant (YDA), two deaf-owned small businesses, have come together to create an exciting, never-before event to take place on December 1-14, 2014.

To promote deaf-owned businesses, and to help spread awareness of the fantastic diversity among such businesses, Holiday Hop will showcase different deaf businesses each day. Many have provided items or services for raffle drawings as giveaways. To participate in the Holiday Hop, go to www.facebook.com/deafholidayhop and click LIKE. Be sure to also turn on “GET NOTIFICATIONS” (usually found as a drop-down option in the LIKE/LIKED box on that page) to stay updated.

To enter the raffle, each individual has three opportunities: liking the TSW Facebook page, the YDA Facebook page, and the showcased business Facebook page if there is one.  A new set of businesses will be showcased each day, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern. Each raffle will last for 24 hours, and end the following day at 1 p.m.

There are at least 35 deaf-owned businesses participating to date; we’re thrilled by this tremendous response. So come on over to the Holiday Hop Facebook page and become part of this exciting event!

The Power of the Written Word

My oldest, six years old, has started to understand how powerful the written word can be. I’ve been marveling at her acquisition of English as a second language and remembering my own acquisition. Still, when I saw a piece of paper on my table last summer, I was stunned. My grandmother, 91 years old at the time, was visiting us from Illinois. She and I have always had a very special relationship growing up; I stayed at her house so often that she was like a mother to me. Actually, she still is like a mother to me. She doesn’t sign other than homemade signs, although she says she wishes she did. She’s tried to learn many times, but has never really succeeded.

DSC00379 - Version 2Grandmother learned my mother was deaf when Mom was three. Like so many others back then, she was told to teach my mother to speak instead of sign. I don’t think she ever imagined she’d be the lone hearing person in my family, my children being fourth-generation deaf on their father’s side.   Whenever she’s at my house, she has never once complained when we all sign without including her—although I often feel guilty about that, and always try to have her know what we’re talking about. I remember asking her once at a restaurant when she was the only hearing person in a group of 11 how she felt being the only hearing person. She said, “I think it’s great.”

My children absolutely adore her for so many reasons, and they especially love her “spin” game where she spins the kids around by their legs on any smooth floor. It’s a sight you have to see to believe. The kids clamor for this game the very minute she enters the house, even as big as they are now.

So, last summer, I was cleaning and picking up random pieces of paper from tables and shelves and countertops. I took a second look at the blue piece of paper in front of me, because I recognized Grandmother’s handwriting. I also thought I recognized my writing, from when I was a child. I thought it was from my childhood. It wasn’t. IMG_4158

My heart warmed as I read it more carefully. It was a conversation my oldest had with Grandmother. I immediately reminisced about when I was six years old. My grandparents lived two hours away from me, and I spent practically every weekend and every break with them. I loved being at their house; it was the only stable home I had until I was much older. My best friend lived across the street from my grandparents’ house, and we made up all sorts of creative schemes. And Maid Rite! The best place to eat in Quincy, hands down.

Since my grandparents didn’t sign, and I didn’t speak, we had to find a way to communicate—especially when my mom wasn’t around to interpret. The answer was easy: we wrote back and forth. My granddad was a man of a few words, but full of mischief, which could be seen in how he wrote. My grandmother was always a wordsmith, the poet in the family. She and I would talk for hours. We’d watch THE PRICE IS RIGHT (which wasn’t captioned back then) when she was home from work, and she’d patiently explain the rules to me, or tell me what Bob Barker was saying. In fact, I credit this for much of my English acquisition, along with having ASL as a first language and reading.

IMG_4156When Grandmother tucked me into bed, she would sit next to me and write in a notebook. She’d ask, using rudimentary gestures, “TRUDY TODAY WHAT?” (“What did Trudy do today?”) I’d tell her what I did, and she’d make me fingerspell the words one by one, or she’d write the sentences out and make me read them. It was my all-time favorite activity with my grandmother. Today, the notebooks are my most cherished documentation of my relationship with her. She was the best at doodling next to the sentences, even though she scoffs when I tell her that her drawing skills are awesome. She still doodles on her cards and letters to me, which I get such a kick out of.

Happy 92nd birthday, Grandmother. Thank you for the loving and lasting impact you’ve left not only on me, but on your great-grandchildren as well.

Copyrighted material, used by permission. This article can not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed without the written consent of the author.

The boy at Target

As I sit here working well past midnight, I can’t stop thinking about the most random encounter at Target last Saturday that lasted all of three or four minutes.

My family and I had just arrived at the store, and my younger two were throwing hissy fits over having to sit in the cart (control, folks; carts are how we control our younger kids in stores). My oldest two were pushing each other and giggling. As I attended to the youngest — deeeeep into her terrible twos, which means she screams bloody murder if we try to make her do anything — I saw a father with two kids walking by. The oldest, an adorable boy with the cutest black-rimmed glasses, shaggy short hair, and a green shirt (soccer game, maybe?), kept staring at us. I ignored him at first thinking he was just some hearing kid fascinated by our ASL or our unruly children. But then I looked up, and suddenly noticed his hearing aids with the coolest green ear molds. He had stopped in his tracks, and was watching us intently.

I was trying to calm my daughter down while my husband was herding the other three. As I looked down at my daughter, I could see, and feel, the boy staring at us from maybe five or ten feet away. He seemed to be eight or nine. His father and sibling had already gone into the dollar bins area, and he was standing there, staring at us with so much interest. As I got my daughter happily comfortable in her seat, I mentally debated about how to react to the boy’s gaze. Should I ignore him? Does he know sign language? What if I try to talk to him and his dad gets upset? What if he doesn’t sign and doesn’t understand what I say? What do I do? Are my kids ever going to calm down?

I glanced back at him and gave him a big smile as I snapped my daughter’s cart belt into place. “Hi!!” I signed, looking at him directly.

The biggest smile came over his face as he excitedly signed back, “HI!” Just then, his father came back, looking a bit unhappy at his talking to us. The boy looked reluctant about having to join his family, glancing back at us twice as he walked off. I hoped to see him again in the store so I could talk a bit more with him, but I never saw him again.

I’ve been thinking about him a lot since then. The look on his face was so filled with hunger and hope. It’s a look I’ve seen a million times before, usually on the faces of deaf children (or even adults) meeting other deaf people for the first time. It’s the look of realization that they’re not the only deaf person in the world, that signing is perfectly acceptable and natural, that we’re all incredibly ordinary people just like them. I am so grateful that I have never felt like the only deaf person in the world, because I’ve always had deaf role models around me from day one of my life. I’ve never gone a single day in my life wondering what other deaf people were like or if they even existed.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my children and their unfiltered, unlimited access to communications 24 hours a day at home and in school. They will not realize for years to come just how fortunate they are, just like my husband and I didn’t realize how fortunate we were to have deaf families and 24-hour access to sign language. I’m extremely grateful that I can chat with and listen to my kids, especially their references to poop and boogers. I’m also fortunate every single person in my household can argue, joke, and love each other without a single communication barrier, even if it means we (namely me) have to be careful what we say at the dinner table because every word we say gets repeated the next day in school, thanks to my children’s eagle eyes.

I hope that the boy in Target is in an environment where he can sign freely and can be as deaf as he wants to be, to whatever degree. Maybe all my assumptions are wrong, and he’s perfectly happy. I just wish I had paid more attention to him once I realized he was deaf. And I so wish I had said hi sooner.

Bad Business: Not a Deaf Thing

Yesterday, on Facebook, I was disheartened to see two posts by deaf people lumping deaf people into a negative category. The first post said,  “Supporting a deaf owned business is one thing and getting ripped off by one of your own is another thing. We need to ‘out’ those who take advantage of their own people and any other people.”

The other said “. . .hearing people won’t understand any Deafy English. That’s why we have to approach them properly after we write…and hire hearing editor to edit them out [italics added]…”

The second post was in reference to a letter sent by Alison Aubrecht, who is deaf, to Delta Airlines. This letter was put together by Alison and T.S. Writing Services — a company I own. All my writers and editors are deaf or hard of hearing. I’m not sure if the person posting this comment about hearing editors realized that the letter had been developed and edited by all deaf people — either way, her comment was audist.

As a business owner who is also deaf, I’m always frustrated when people say, and believe, bad service is a “deaf thing.”  So many of us quickly badmouth deaf business owners or employees simply based on our experience(s) with them and/or what people say.  Even I have been guilty of this. This may be in part due to our community’s close-knit nature and how everyone knows everyone. Yet, we must be careful. The more we badmouth other people and say that it’s “nothing new about deaf people doing this,” the more we shoot ourselves in the foot. If we tell the world that deaf people are not to be trusted, then how can we expect the world to trust us?  We cannot proclaim that “deaf businesses and workers are rip-offs” and then expect the world to see us as the exception.

Ask deaf people to name other deaf people who are bad to work with or rip-offs, and you’ll get a list, especially those involved with the recent video relay service fraud mess. Yet the list of successful deaf business people and leaders is unquestionably  longer. Besides, if you go online and do a search on bad business practices, I can guarantee—yes, guarantee—that there are millions of people who provide poor service…all hearing.  Just search for reviews or referrals of mechanics, cleaning services, HVAC installers, electricians, plumbers, interpreters, technicians or any other professional.

This is why there are so many websites that seek to expose bad business practices through customer reviews and referrals: Angie’s List and Yelp are two examples. There are also television shows that capitalize upon bad business practices, such as HGTV’s “Holmes on Homes,” Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible,” and Bravo TV’s “Tabatha Takes Over.” Each of these shows has a renowned expert go to the place of business and take care of messes either left by previous contractors or in place by current business owners. Each and every show tells the backstory, and to date, I haven’t seen a single deaf person on any of these shows. News shows like “Dateline NBC” and “20/20” have often gone undercover to expose poor business practices by different professions. Guess how many were deaf? Not one (although deaf individuals or businesses providing poor services certainly exist).

Bad businesses are not a deaf thing. Bad service delivery is not a deaf thing. Bad business practices are not a deaf thing. Nor are they a black thing, a female thing, a Jewish/Muslim/Mormon/Protestant/Catholic/religious thing, a male thing, a gay thing, a hearing thing, a whatever thing. Bad service, bad business and other bad things happen in every community.

We cannot keep killing our own opportunities by labeling our own people who are trying to earn livings—even if dishonestly. Rather, we must address people who have wronged us directly. If enough people have been ripped off by an individual, it will eventually get out. Complaints can be made to the appropriate entities, and perhaps that person will learn from the mistake—or not. It is your decision whether to patronize a business again or not. Do it based on work quality, customer service, and other factors—not based on cultural, racial, or other identities.

By saying that bad service is common among deaf people, we are doing a major, major disservice to ourselves and all the other honest, hard-working business owners and employees who are deaf. Let’s simply call it for what it is: bad business — with nothing else attached to it.

Workshop: June 29, 2013 | Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter (New Jersey RID)

Deaf Disempowerment and Today’s Interpreter 
New Jersey Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Eatontown, NJ

Trudy’s thoughts:

This group was one of the most attentive, open-minded and supportive groups I’ve ever worked with. I felt so welcomed, and that really helped set the tone for me. And the group was incredibly gracious about my shameful vice: Real Housewives of New Jersey. Such kind people, indeed.

This was a bit different from previous Deaf Disempowerment presentations I had done. Usually, I do a 30-minute presentation, then the participants choose whether to attend the follow-up workshop (which takes on a think-tank format) or the other workshops the conference offers. This time, I was asked to incorporate both the presentation and workshop into a two-hour format, with all conference participants present.

An interesting challenge was that the room was a good size, but not in the right direction. The room was more wide than long, so people were on either side of me–which made for some challenging sight lines at times. My neck actually hurt from having to swivel from left to right so much.  Even so, the overall experience was very positive, and I credit the audience for this. A lot of great questions were asked, and they will be used to tweak future combined presentation-and-workshop events.

Evaluation comments:

Very excellent! Great workshop! The presenters were wonderful, knowledgeable, and professional. Thank you!

Her presentation style was excellent. Truly enjoyed her explanation and teaching style.

Excellent examples. Extremely important topic!

This would be great as an all-day workshop, open and great discussion on topics, would be great to have her back to NJ for an all-day workshop.

Gave me great tools to use to keep evaluating myself, my role and my work. Thank you for highlighting areas for me to watch out…always better to do that than regret in hindsight!

Very open feelings to presentation, not judgmental but mature perspective.

Real-life examples make our own work relevant. Sometimes I ask myself, “Could this situation ever come up in a workshop?”

Fabulous – really got to the meat of the “little indignities” that Deaf people face everyday.

Fantastic! Truly will inspire more thought and discussion on topic. Thank you!!

Workshop: June 8, 2013 | In Search of Interpreter Heart (Minnesota RID)

In Search of Interpreter Heart
(co-presented with Doug Bowen-Bailey and Paula Gajewski-Mickelson)
Minnesota Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, St. Paul, MN

Trudy’s thoughts:

This was a last-minute request that turned out wonderfully, especially with us co-presenting together for the first time. With nearly 40 people in attendance at the MRID spring conference, Doug, Paula and I were thrilled with the overall atmosphere, participants’ open minds and everybody’s honest exploration of different topics within the Deaf and interpreter communities. What I especially liked was the opportunity to interact with participants and listening to their experiences and perspectives. One of the best parts for me was when we went into the ethical decision-making circles, which consisted of anywhere from five to ten people per circle. The first thing Paula had us do was write down our top three values–not work values, but overall values in our professional and personal lives. We had to then choose the top one out of our list. It was harder than I anticipated, because I had so many that I couldn’t figure out which ones to choose. We then shared our top value with each other, and that provided me with such a major insight into each circle participant’s perspectives and even life experiences. That was a great activity.

We three are already refining our presentation and are eager to present this again. I was, and am, honored to work with Doug and Paula especially because they are two of the most sincere, committed and fun allies I know.

Evaluation comments:

Thank you! One of the best workshops I’ve ever been to! Please offer it again for those who missed it today.

Great workshop! The presenters were wonderful, knowledgeable, and professional. Thank you!