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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Daughter, Hearing Father

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As it happened, Brenda had a friend from church named Paula Buckingham, who was a teacher’s aide at the nearest high school, Danforth Technical Collegiate Institute, which had a Deaf students’ program. Paula posted a help-wanted notice at the school as a favor to us and also encouraged a couple of girls to consider applying for the job. One of these teenage girls was named Hao Wen Kong.

Hao Wen remembers, “I called Brenda through the relay service. I can’t remember what we talked about exactly. I do remember saying a few things about how I could teach Miranda and her parents sign language and Deaf culture. I had no experience with little children. I was a little mortified of making mistakes.”

Hao Wen wanted the three-afternoons-a-week job, but because of her class schedule and extracurricular activities could only work two days a week. So she asked a classmate named Jodie to job share. We agreed to hire the girls under this arrangement. Brenda also agreed to pick them up after school and bring them over to our house to babysit for a few hours at a time so she could teach piano, run errands, and enjoy a few moments of freedom from the two kids.

One pleasant spring afternoon, when I arrived home from work, I was introduced to Hao Wen. She was an Asian girl with cute freckles decorating her cheeks, long dark hair, and an outgoing personality with a wonderful sense of humor. A few days later, I met Jodie, an African American girl, who was shy and sweet. Jodie smiled and nodded a lot. At first, we were only able to communicate with the girls writing in a notebook back and forth.

Hao Wen’s enthusiasm was great. In time, when her schedule permitted, she became our permanent regular babysitter/nanny. As we got more proficient in signing, we learned more about her. She was a delightful person who was very popular in school, even with the hearing students. In fact, her boyfriend, Glendon, was hearing. They made a sweet couple. According to Hao Wen, he learned to sign nearly fluently in a matter of weeks.

Hao Wen’s Story

When Hao Wen Kong was born in Guangzhou, China, in 1974, she had two hearing parents and two hearing brothers. Later, another hearing daughter named Helen was born. Hao Wen is very close to her younger sister. Because Helen is the only one who knows ASL, she serves the role of family interpreter. As Hao Wen recalled:

My deafness was caused by unknown reasons. My mother took me to several doctors. They said I would be able to hear if I took herbal medicines and had operations. The last doctor we saw told her that I would never hear again. My mother finally accepted that I am officially deaf.

We moved to Canada where my father and grandmother lived in 1980. Deaf education in Canada was valuable to me because the deaf schools in China were more expensive than the public schools [which my family could not afford].

In the fall of 1980, I was placed with an oral class at the Metro Toronto School for the Deaf. I had zero knowledge of letters, words, and numbers. It was frustrating to learn how to speak. Finally, in the fall of 1983, I was placed with a different class of children who knew sign language. I did not know more than twenty or thirty words because I was forced to learn to speak all the time without [learning] what the words mean during oral classes in the past.

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