Monday, July 18, 2011

Deaf Issues and Awareness in Lou Ann Walker's "A Loss For Words"

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In the book A Loss For Words, Lou Ann Walker tells what it was like to grow up with parents who are both deaf. She relates that she became very responsible at a young age. She had to do most communicating for her parents. This is presented right at the start of the book in the prologue on page “I was the child who did all my parents’ business transactions, nearly from the time I was a toddler. I spoke for my parents, I heard for my parents. I was painfully shy for myself, squirming away when the attention was focused on me, but when I was acting for my parents I was forthright.” Lou Ann made their doctor’s appointments and went along to interpret to the doctor and sign to her parents. She ordered for them at restaurants, she corrected grammar in their letters because the deaf have no way to gauge verbal sentence structure and that helps vastly in learning it. She also had to tell them when a call came in saying a friend had died and call others. This relates to some of the deafness issues and situations mentioned in the syllabus. On page , in chapter 1, the ignorance of hearing people is shown in the incident at the gas station “Dad and I had gone in to pay and get directions. The man behind the counter had looked up, seen me signing and grunted, ‘Huh, I didn’t think mutes were allowed to have driver’s licenses.’ Long ago I had gotten used to hearing those kinds of comments. But I could never get used to the way they made me churn inside.” Another implication of Lou Ann’s parents being deaf was when she walked to their hotel after they left her at her dorm at Harvard. On page 1, chapter 1 “I made my way to their room on the third floor and as I raised my knuckles, it dawned on me that knocking would do no good. I knew they were awake, I could hear the television. I took a notebook paper out of my purse and bent down to shove it underneath the door, working it in and out. There was no response. I tried crumpling up a small piece to throw into the room but I couldn’t get it between the jamb and the door. I pounded on the gray metal, thinking they might feel the vibration. I must have stood there for 0 minutes, hoping Dad might come out to get ice from down the hall or perhaps go to the car to retrieve a bag. But he didn’t. There was no way that night to get the attention of my deaf parents. I walked back to my dorm.” Being the child of deaf parents and the deaf child of hearing parents can be a tough situation. There are many passages in the book that substantiate this, but if I were to delve into them, they would become the whole 5 page limit for this paper. There are many devices used to aid the deaf in everyday activity. Mentioned in the book are the flashing light for when the doorbell and phone ring, a cry box that flashes when the baby cries, the TTY for the phone, pulsing light alarm clock, vibrating bed alarm clock, and so on. I personally have had experience with using TTY, well, placing calls through the California Relay Service at least. Sometimes my friend would talk, others he would have the operator read his messages to me. I would talk too fast sometimes, and when the operator would ask me to repeat myself, I would sometimes forget what it was that I wanted to say. Lou Ann’s parents tried to avoid talking in public, they used a pen and paper to write back and forth with whomever they were trying to communicate with. Where I was working there was a deaf woman, and this is how she managed to talk with people. I tried signing to her a little, but since she is in her sixties is my guess, she may have been taught by oralist means. Then again, I am not all that great in my signing yet, which quiet easily could have been a factor. The deaf are subjected to peoples’ stares and they have feelings of isolation. Kids at school mocked sign language, and Lou Ann’s parents were even denied service at places. These are among deaf issues not mentioned in the syllabus, but that take place in their world. In the book it was said that some insurance companies will not sell the deaf coverage or they charge them higher premiums. In answer to this, there are deaf auto insurance companies. There are also deaf electricians, accountants, everything. The deaf are expected to go to the deaf first since they would be less likely to rip each other off. “There are deaf social clubs, national magazines, local newspapers, fraternal organizations, insurance companies, athletic competitions, colleges, beauty pageants, theater groups, even deaf street gangs.” I found this all on page of chapter . On page of chapter , it was mentioned that deaf people have been shot in the back by police when they had not heard the command to halt, so, rare as it most likely is, that would be yet another deaf issue. Even though sign language is visual, signers get away with telling secrets by turning their backs and making smaller gestures. Another incident in the book is when Lou Ann’s mom was nearly 8 months pregnant with her, and dad had appendicitis. Mom got locked out of the house and she didn’t want people thinking she was less capable or more dependent because she was deaf, so she broke a window and crawled in the house to get her keys. Lou Ann’s parents bought a television to help her learn to talk. Her parents signed as they spoke to her and her sisters. Adults talked to Lou Ann and not her parents. On page 68 in chapter 6, Lou Ann says that “I hardly ever brought kids home with me. Mom asked me not to, saying the house wasn’t straightened up enough, in fact, it was always neat and clean. The real reason was that in this new place among strangers, her house was a refuge. It was easier having her daughter run small errands, talk to door to door salesmen, and act as her buffer to the outside world.” Deaf people are very perceptive. Lou Ann’s parents knew when there was something wrong, even if she didn’t say as much. There was a time of her dad’s co workers called when she was about 8 or 10 I think and said very dirty things. She told her parents it was a wrong number. On pages 14 and 150 in chapter 1, Lou Ann discusses her methods of teaching sign to hearing people “We were midway through the first term. I believed in total immersion, which was hard on the students, but I felt it would ultimately make them better signers. From the first two hour class on, I had not said a word. I wanted them to know a little bit of what it is like to be deaf lost, confused, unable to communicate. In the beginning I had to pantomime much of what I wanted to get across. I’d pretend I was turning on a set of faucets, holding out one hand like a cup. I pointed into the glass, then took it to my lips. ‘Water,’ I signed, the first three fingers of my hand pointing upright, lightly touching the edge of my lower lip twice. If the students didn’t understand the charade, I’d turn and write it on the blackboard, but I tried to avoid even that. I didn’t want the students automatically translating everything from sign to English, that slowed the process.” This is very much the way Mr. Rennie teaches, like in one of the first sessions of class, he got across the point that if someone is fishing in Alaska, there are no make up tests. There is nothing wrong with the deaf. What is wrong is the people who do not give them a chance.

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