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American Annals of the Deaf

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Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School

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At a party, about twenty-five of us were playing a group game where there was a lot of talking. I have a really difficult time in situations like this. In the game, each of us had to name something we did that we believed no one else in the room had ever done. If you guessed wrong, you were out of the game. Of course, I didn't catch any of this and was sitting there thinking, "Oh my goodness! What am I going to say when it comes to me? I have no idea what is going on here!" This girl came and sat beside me and asked if I knew what was going on. She filled me in and pretty much saved me right there. We became good friends after that. F 91
Sometimes the deaf children's friends would invent creative ways to be of assistance.

This friend always spoke clearly and slowly. Plus, she wasn't afraid to write things down if I didn't understand. As we grew older and my speechreading skills became less reliable, I would carry around my TTY. And if I didn't understand her, she would type on it. She was careful to let me know what was going on around me, filling me in on the things she knew I couldn't hear. F 81

Many participants spoke about a best friend who taught them different things about life, helped them in social situations where they didn't hear or understand what was going on, or stood up for them. These friends "filled them in" with important youth culture information, such as lyrics to popular songs.

My best experience was with the girl that lived next door to me. She taught me all the words to all the new music. We would sit in front of a stereo and play songs over and over while she would enunciate all the words. It meant a lot to be able to "sing" along to all the music. F 85

I recall my own great desire, particularly in junior and senior high school, to know the lyrics to popular songs. Deaf and hard of hearing children and teenagers can frequently use their residual hearing to discern certain parts of music. It can be difficult for a hearing person to imagine what this is like. When I give lectures about hearing loss, I write on the board, "The cat in the hat is fat." Then, to demonstrate how a hard of hearing child would hear this phrase, I take an eraser and remove all the consonants, reducing the phrase to gibberish.

What did this mean for a deaf or hard of hearing person's ability to hear music? It means we hear some sounds in a musical composition, but not others. So when I listen to a CD, I hear something that I can enjoy. But it's not the same as what a hearing person would hear.

Even now, more than thirty-five years later, I know the lyrics to most Beatles songs. I also know the lyrics of many musicals, such as West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, and The Fantastiks. If I had the printed lyrics in front of me, I could often follow along with the music. If I did not have the printed lyrics while the music was playing, I would have no idea what the lyrics were. When I first arrived at Gallaudet, I found that this was yet another commonality I shared with many other deaf and hard of hearing individuals. My hearing loss is much worse today than when I attended high school; yet my ability to enjoy music, albeit limited, remains.

Several participants spoke positively of friends who encouraged them to get involved with any manner of extracurricular activity.


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