Over the past few days I have been doing a lot of research into American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf culture. Through this research, it occurred to me that I really should take a moment to introduce myself and give my readers some background into who I am and why I am writing this column. It is only fair, after all.
I am hearing, and as such, I cannot claim to know what it is like to be deaf or to live in a Deaf world. I can only read as much as possible about deafness and Deaf culture, learn ASL, and spend time talking to Deaf people who are willing to share their stories with me and educate me.
My earliest memory of ASL comes from the third grade. I was a student at Wailuku Elementary School, a public school on the island of Maui in Hawaii. At the time, the third grade building was the only two-story building on campus. The top floor was for the third graders, and the bottom level was for the “special ed” kids. Every morning before school started, my friends and I would hang out in the hallway of the ground floor.
One day I stepped away from my friends to peek into the special ed classroom. The sight that greeted me was nothing short of amazing. Over their chalkboard were pictures of hands in varying positions with a letter of the alphabet next to each of the pictures. In all the classrooms I was in each and every day, all we had over our chalkboards were capital and lower-case letters. I started trying to manipulate my own hands to form the shapes I saw above their chalkboard. Then I saw a little boy making hand gestures to his teacher. The teacher responded and I somehow realized that they were talking to each other. I determined then and there that I would someday learn this beautiful method of communication.
Years and years later I was at an airport in California. I was standing at a computer terminal typing messages to friends in a chat room. A woman approached me and made some signs to me. I had never pursued my dream of learning sign language, but I somehow understood that she was asking me if I was deaf. (I think she must have thought I was using a TTY machine.) I shook my head to indicate that I was not deaf.
As soon as I got back home I began trying to find somewhere that would teach me sign language. I was directed to Kapiolani Community College on the island of Oahu. I signed up for classes, and soon I was learning ASL! My dream was being realized!
Through my ASL classes I learned that there is a Deaf culture. I studied all I could about this culture, because I believed that simply learning ASL was not enough. I had to learn about the people who use ASL as their primary means of communication in order to learn the language and all its nuances for myself.
My education into ASL and Deaf culture has been many years in the making, and I believe it will never end as long as I am alive. This fact is thrilling to me!
I look forward to learning more each and every day and to sharing what I learn with you, my readers.
A hui hou (until we meet again).
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