Posts Tagged ‘Sign Language’

Those Rude, Rude, Deaf People

I gotta say, this week’s ISL class was exceptionally dull, except for that bit when we’ve gone through the signs for the world’s countries (it appears that the ISL sign for Zimbabwe kinda looks like that thing they do on “Walk Like an Egyptian”.) Also, I found myself surprising the missus that there’s actually a sign for “Macedonia” in sign language. A few months ago, I couldn’t even sign “Greece”.

Usually, I find 3 out of 5 classes particularly indulgent: Ethics, Sign Language, and Deaf Culture. Like I said, SL rocked, but Ethics was rather a snore and Deaf Culture, for the first time, was also kinda dull. Maybe I was just tired, but I just couldn’t relate to the “theme” Gal, the teacher, had in mind. We were supposed to be two opposing (and apposing, now that I think of it) juries in a trial where the defendant is the Deaf Culture. Cool concept, but unfortunately, at the onset, Gal simply abandoned it and simply turned the trial into a class discussion. We’ve basically reached some very old conclusions that didn’t enhance our knowledge at all: the Israeli Deaf are aggressive, callous, crude, direct and frankly, a bit rude and often insolent.

These are facts that both the Deaf Community and the Friendly Hearing (and I think CODAs fit into that category like a glove) conceded a long time ago and normally don’t give it much thought (nor is it a knot in anyone’s knickers. There, I finally found use for that phrase!). Since Gal is the one who brought it up, nobody can say that we were assaulting the deaf “unprovoked”. I always thought that the Deaf are somewhat ruder and more impertinent than the Hearing simply because they tend to be intellectually isolated from the Hearing population, and that leads them to a sort of collective social retardation, easily alleviated by education, exposure and inoculation of the right social skills. This is probably still true, but Gal gave another explanation which I find simply fascinating and elegant:

Deaf people, like all people, are in a constant state of ignorance. To mitigate that ignornace, we ask questions, imitate, go to school, read books or even find out for ourselves the things we don’t know. Even though research and books and even schools are excellent tools for getting smarter and better, there is little subsitute to social immersion, and that, unfortunately, is the great bane of the Deaf experience. As Helen Keller succinctly put it: “Blindness distances you from scenes, Deafness distances you from people” (I paraphrased it a bit, since I couldn’t find a citation I can trust).

The problem for the Deaf, Gal explained, is that for the most part of their lives, they’re disconnected from the most important means for alleviating their horrible affliction: they’re lonely island of silence. Because of that, once they’re finally grouped together, capable of injecting in a hordes a cornucopia of (often trivial) details, they grant no quarter when they’re finally allowed a lively exchange of information and ideas. Sure, the internet allows the Deaf to communicate, sure, signed TV exposes the world to the Deaf, but there’s nothing that can replace the raw trade of ideas, feelings and interactions that exists in one-on-one communication (by the way, this is passionately animated by the new Israeli Deaf trend of using Webcams for conversations.)

So the explanation elegantly explains the cultural “vices” of the Deaf: you insert this kind of psychological pressure, that horrible affliction of social isolation, on members of a society, and you will not find yourself surprised if they skip the formalities and just fire away whatever it is that they want to ask or know. There’s no time for trying to figure stuff out behind people’s back (thought that obviously happens, too), you can’t call the other guy to affirm what was just said, you’re very much confined to the social event, which usually takes place about once a week, and you have the make the most of it at the minimum of time.

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The Power of Sign Language

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This past few weeks have been tumultuous for me. I’m constantly reshaping my view on sign language and interpreting for the Deaf. When I started studying ISL, I was determined to acquire the skills and credentials of an ISL interpreter because of a combination of my love to Mother and my life-long infatuation with the Deaf, mainly as a result of reflecting the love I have for Mom and Dad on the entire Deaf community.

At the onset, Cocoon stated firmly that “wanting to help the Deaf” is a dangerous agenda for an interpreter. The Interpreters’ code states clearly that objectivity must be had in relation to both Hearing and Deaf. In every interpretation event, the Hearing are my clients too, and as a professional sign language interpreter, I must avoid any biases against the hearing just as much (and equivalently so) as I should avoid biases in favor of the Deaf.

So how do I do it?

At first, I thought that it is impossible for me to uphold the Code without turning against my own ideals as well, but I’ve come to reshape this thought in the past week:

The best thing I can do for the Deaf is to be as professional an interpreter as possible.

This is not to say that there aren’t any ethical issues to be had, but as a basic principle, it does absolve me of the self-torturous occupation with my agenda as an interpreter.

This week’s article was all about interpretation ethics. Besides from recapping the code as we’ve discussed it in class, it brings some real-world examples of collision between the Code and a person’s own ideals and moral principles.

I will use one such example to clarify the remaining dilemma I have with the ethical code:

An interpreter was sent to interpret for a deaf patient who was visiting a gynecologist about having her uterus removed. The interpreter notices that clearly, the doctor is not giving this patient all the care (he believes) she deserves, and it is easy to see that the deaf patient hasn’t a clue that she’s being mistreated.

What would I do?

Well, if it was Mom and Dad, I’d probably turn the table and use loud-volume complaints and admonition, as my agenda is clear: I’m here for Mom and Dad, and I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the doctor’s interests so long as he takes care of them.

As soon as I do that, I’m no longer a sign language interpreter, end of story. I’m a “signer representing my deaf parents”. Cocoon firmly stated that anyone who’s ever signed to his family (or even his friends!) has never “interpreted”. Knowing how to sign does not perforce mean “being an interpreter”.

The article offers one interesting possibility of upholding the code without hurting the interpreter’s conscience: resigning the instant there’s a clash between ethical and personal principles.

The issue, however, remains for me unsettled. In my case, I would resign and then immediately become very, very subjective and particular about what happened. I would admonish the doctor for his malpractice, I would feverishly explain to and negotiate with the deaf patient, even to the point of arguing with her that going through this or that length of research and so on would be the best thing for her.

I would be making a stand, I would be appointing myself as an advocate and guardian without receiving this appointment from my deaf client.

My instinct would probably be to self-appoint myself as a guardian for the deaf without their consent, merely because it’s a life-long habit. I’ve yet to find a deaf person who didn’t happily accept that, by the way. I’m sure that a lot of deaf people would refuse to be belittled (although I don’t actually belittle, not consciously, anyhow), and I will immediately cease playing “Signman” at their expense if they ask me to, but still, this is what I would do by default, unless requested otherwise. I highly respect and revere the Deaf, and I only feel obliged to appoint myself as their “savior” because I’m horribly empathetic to them, not because I think they’re weak or incompetent.

So, in conclusion, I would still be breaking the code, or be improper by exploiting the information I received (the doctor being an ass) to promote my personal (and the deaf patient’s) agenda.

As of right now, I have no idea what I would do that aligns itself both with the Code and with my moral principles. And that, frankly, keeps me awake at night.

In class, Cocoon suggested that it is proper (and okay with the Code) to not so much as intervene in anyone’s favor in the interpretation-scene, but to simply supply the patient with some healthy advice that doesn’t assume any actual responsibility or, heavens forbid, requires contamination of spoken content with agenda-ridden signs.

She suggested, for example, to cordially ask the patient if she’s sure of what she’s going to do and humbly recommend her to consider her actions (such as signing the form that authorizes her surgery) well before anything potentially harmful happens.

This is a prudent and somewhat cunning alternative to breaking the code or letting a deaf person rot in the course of upholding it, but I still think it’s problematic. In a way, I AM breaking the code, or at least jabbing it hard enough to leave a crack. Personally? I’d do just what Cocoon suggested because I haven’t thought of a better idea. Perhaps I’d be a bit more adamant with my “cordial suggestions”, but I admit that I wouldn’t replace Mom and Dad with the deaf patient, I have to remain professional, for everyone’s sake.

Getting more intimate with sign language and the deaf is like a dream coming true for me, but I’m appalled as I wrestle with the horrible acknowledgment of the fact that sign language interpreters and the Deaf can never be friends and “work together” at the same time. The power to mediate between the hearing and the Deaf creates a chasm between Hearing and Deaf. The all-encompassing notion that one side is impaired and depended on the other makes the politics of this situation too cumbersome. I believe that although not impossible, being a professional sign language interpreter to a Deaf friend is highly unlikely.

I find this notion to be the most tragic conclusion from this course imaginable.

Silent Classroom

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This is the first post I will write about my college experience, and not only because it’s about the first courses I attended.

In 3 days, I’ve trekked (boy, I did) to 3 faculties: Classical Studies (looks like the place where Kent Hovind got (read bought) his Ph.D in), Languages (a branch of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities here at BIU, in a building that kind of reminds me of Prague) and Life Sciences (for my Biology B.Sc.

The first thing that popped into my head when I entered the classroom this Sunday was: “Hell, each and every one of these people is just like me, a hearing person with access and affiliation to the deaf world”.

I remember thinking that I find it much easier to feel special and my signing to be a sign (ha) of my exotic background while interacting with the hearing, but I felt helplessly inferior with this population. With these guys, I’m just another peer. In fact, it’s the first time in my life I was really in a place filled with my peers, since I belong to a very unusual minority, this is quite an extraordinary occasion. Sometimes, the classmates had to sign to each other. It was the first time in my entire life I have ever used sign to communicate with the hearing.

There’s much to tell about my experiences (it was 10 hours straight, sheesh), but frankly, I’m not interested in writing a journal entry and document the whole thing. I am, however, interested in recording just one amazing aspect of studying Sign in an academic institute.

Firstly, we have 2 teachers who are 100% deaf. Moreover, one of our hearing teachers is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) who’s married to a deaf person, and also someone I’ve known in person ever since I was a pup.

Thirdly, and this is the big whopper for me:

Two classes out of five were conducted in a foreign language. It is the first time in my life I ever sat in a class that was taught in a language other than Hebrew (or English and Hebrew, in cases where the subject was “English”).

In fact, the most amazing part about studying sign language interpreting is the fact that the classes themselves are in sign language. It’s an extremely exhilirating experience, and more so, an incredible phenomenon:

20 students sitting in a class, for hours on end, that is completely silent. Not a squeak, not a peep, but throughout the entire session, people were livid, burning with passion, teasing and gossipping, voicing (hur, hur) their opinions, and generally: behaving like your garden variety young and enthusiastic students, except everything was in brain-dead silence. It almost brought me to tears.

There’s nothing more amazing to me than a silent classroom.

A Sign for Mommy

These days, I don’t write about Mom as I used to back in the pre-Efes days, but this is an extraordinary occasion, and it demands a reference.

Tomorrow is the first day of my training as a certified Israeli Sign Language interpreter.

I often, in my many sojourns into the (mostly) foreign blogosphere, point out that I was “born and raised Jewish”. I add that I’m an Israeli, ethnically Jewish, a person of some Jewish or some Israeli tradition, a modern-day tri-lingual Hebrew.

But the truth of the matter is different, and I can’t blame myself for not stating it bluntly whenever I introduce my “origins”.

The truth is, really, that the true upbringing that I had can only be faithfully be described as “Born and raised Deaf”.

After the Efes, I decided that my infatuation with Biology is not enough. I felt  that it’s vitally important for me to remember not only where I want to be (a cog in the massive cogwheel of science), but also also where I came from (a Deaf person with functioning ears).

This is for you, Mom. I will always love you.