Alone in the
Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School
The entire Oliva clan at Mom’s eightieth birthday party. We have had four
Taking Matters into My Own Hands
I knew I had to find a way to join my people. So, in my junior year, I arranged to spend my senior year at Gallaudet. That decision to enter the Deaf world, made at the age of twenty, was the best decision I have ever made in my life.
Over the next few decades, I learned a new way of living. I learned that by using sign language, I could participate in group discussions. During my K-12 years, everyone thought I was very shy. I learned later that I wasn’t shy at all—just deaf! I could be a committee chairperson, a teacher, or a group exercise instructor. Within the Deaf world, my life became full, vibrant, satisfying; I could function at my full potential. Gallaudet and my new friends became a home away from home—a real home where I could be myself, and be everything I was capable of. No longer was I trapped in a world where I could not be myself.
As mentioned earlier, my father grew up as a solitaire and he chose to remain as the only deaf or hard of hearing person in his circle for his entire adult life. I, on the other hand, made a decision to immerse myself in the Deaf community. I spent a good part of my twenties trying to convince my family to learn sign language. Dad had no interest. “I’m too old to learn,” he would say. He was about fifty at the time, the same age I am as I write this book.