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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Identities in the Making: Local Lives, Transnational Connections

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My state of confusion was also a result of my upbringing and school experiences. Without having accepted my deafness, I didn’t feel at home in the deaf world. Without the ability to hear/speak well enough, I couldn’t manage to be a full part of the hard of hearing milieu either. The hard of hearing persons I met at school also thought bad about deaf persons. As they told me: “The deaf cannot do anything, not even speak!” Of course I was frightened, and would not be identified with such people. But when I was together with deaf persons, I felt more relaxed. However, at the age of thirteen, I was not able to choose the right thing, and I was certainly not going to accept the label “stupid.”

Her fear of being regarded as stupid thus contributed to her too-long stay in the “pretenders club,” and in secondary school, she clearly suffered from both boredom and social exclusion:

I followed the courses on Commerce and Trade, and I got through. Then I worked at an office for two years, but I didn’t feel comfortable. I was isolated as the only deaf person. I felt sad when I returned home from work every day, and I longed for a workplace where other deaf persons worked as well. But I had the “wrong” education.

Changing Plans

She then realized that her previous choice was a misguided one, as misguided as her identity orientation. With her renewed sense of Deaf identity, she was ready to re-educate in order to find work in a signing environment where she could feel more at ease. The new workplace that she had been thinking of was a nursing home for old deaf people. She therefore started studying at the nursing school to qualify for the position.

I had to go to a hearing college, because there is no such education for deaf students. It was really tough. I was the only deaf student in my class. I was often about to give up, but I was stubborn. I wanted the specific job so badly, and because of this, I endured the hardship. At the nursing school they knew nothing about deafness, and they showed no mercy. I had problems in having them accept that I had notes copied from others because it was too much for me to both be watching the interpreter and be writing at the same time. I was denied copies and I felt that I was a burden to them.

However, she was far from being servile and she tells about how she regularly quarreled with the teachers. Here she tells about “a funny, but serious” instance:

Once, I decided that I didn’t want to listen to the teacher. I told the interpreter to stop, and I just stared into space. The teacher stopped talking, and then he asked what the hell it was all about this time. I reacted with indignation: Everyone else is allowed to disconnect now and then, and to look around philosophizing on own matters. Why couldn’t I? But he demanded that I followed the lecture. He became terribly angry, and I couldn’t understand why. I tried to tell him that the interpreter should not bother him and that the interpreter was an aid for me.

However, the teacher was not able to cope with the situation or to see it from her point of view. Her fellow students had similar problems with her. In one of the students’ colloquial sessions, she refused to use the interpreter when five to six students talked at the same time. It was simply impossible to translate such events. Then she tried to tell them what it was like to be deaf and about sign language and Deaf culture. It helped a little bit, but she also realized that “it is not easy for them to understand us.” Her college life was thus quite restricted, and her social life was quite hampered:

There were a few co-students that I could talk with in the breaks, but very often I was too exhausted. When I had watched the interpreter for seven hours each day, I had little strength left for lip-reading in the breaks. Because of this, I often preferred to be alone, and I guess that many looked upon me as a strange loner.

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