||Deaf Women’s Lives
Bainy Cyrus, Eileen Katz and Celeste
Deaf Lives, Volume 3
Published in 2005, “Deaf Women’s Lives: Three Self-Portraits” is an absorbing read, with stories of three different deaf women from three different eras.
The first story, “All Eyes,” written by Bainy Cyrus, is a portrait of a deaf child raised during the oralist movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Touching and humorous at times, Cyrus takes a look at her past: her parents’ struggle in getting her correctly diagnosed (which came at 2 ½ years of age), and their painful decision to send her to the Clarke School for the Deaf. Cyrus also writes in depth about her life-long friendship with two other deaf girls. Each of the girls’ lives took a different direction as they slowly found their place in the deaf and hearing worlds. In relating her experiences and ultimately her self-acceptance, Cyrus has a positive outlook on both the oral and culturally deaf worlds.
The next chapter, “Making Sense of It All: The Battle of Britain through a Jewish Deaf Girl’s Eyes,” by Eileen Katz as told to Celeste explores the story of a grade-school Jewish girl attending a Jewish school for the deaf in Britain during World War II. Air raids and the very serious possibility of Nazi invasions forced the administrators and teachers to evacuate the school to safer places during Katz’s childhood. The lessons taught at the Jewish school parallels nicely with Katz’s childhood journey in understanding her surroundings during wartime. Katz’s tale of her loving relationship with her hearing family and school staff and her struggle to understand the traumatic events is enthralling, and would make a wonderful book by itself.
The third and final story, “I Dared!,” by Frances M. Parsons, covers Parson’s travels in 1976 to worldwide cities and third-world countries to convince schools to adapt to Total Communication, a then-popular teaching method for deaf children. Parson’s struggle to educate schools on Total Communication and the controversial argument she presents against countries learning their native sign language without speaking may not sit well sit well with some readers. However, anecdotes about her experiences as a single white deaf female traveling alone to dangerous locales in the 1970’s were interesting.
Overall, the book was an easy and quick read. Each woman's life story brings a unique perspective on the experience of being deaf and a female.
Bainy Cyrus is a counselor for mainstreamed deaf and disabled students in Tidewater, VA.
Eileen Katz teaches sign language to twelfth graders at a hearing girls’ yeshiva and tells Jewish stories to a senior citizen Deaf club in Brooklyn, NY.
Celeste Cheyney has worked for nearly 40 years as a teacher at J47, the American Sign Language and English school, and as a mentor for new teachers in various programs for people who are hard of hearing in New York City, NY.
Frances M. Parsons was an associate professor of History of Art, and coordinator of International Collections at Gallaudet University.