Wednesday, March 28, 2007

403: ASL Paradoxii

My own response to Allison Kaftan's "Silent Hands Sculpt Epitome of Beauty... Not," with a nod to the Deaf Pagan Crossroads.
ME (after being told how beautiful my sign language was): Do you know there's over 100 different signed languages?

HEARING PERSON: No, really! That's amazing!

ME: And few of them make any sense to each other, they are all completely different.

HEARING PARROT: That's so stupid! Deaf people should only have one language!

ME: You would destroy that much beauty? (Walk away)
But then there's:
DEAF PARROT, SIGNING VERY FAST TO SHOW HE CAN: Me use only ASL! No English! English hard!

ME: Well, yes, but they're both languages, and therefore English is as beautiful as ASL, just sorta... leaky. Dribbling.

DEFF PERRAULT: But ASL have own grammar, own structure, own vocabulary, etc., etc., same English! (smiles, as if he's proved a point)

ME (pause): So... why is English so much harder? Do you know any OTHER signed languages? What do you think of BSL? LSF? If we're a cultural group do we still have the right to demand interpreters under the Americans with *Disabilities* Act? But then don't we gain rights under language charters? My point is, if we're saying we're a culture and a language group, don't the boundaries change?

DEAF MAN: No! Because we're Deaf! We have to have rights!

ME: So we need a totally new group, because we're not disabled, but we're not just a culture, either? (And maybe we do.)
HEERING PEEPUL: ASL! (siiiiiiigh) So pretty!

RAINMOUND: Can I tell you a story about sign language?


RAINMOUND: Do you know in the old days signed languages were the inspiration for what we know as magic? Witches knew signed languages. They were wise old women and healers who would go round the country and be nosy and check on people, and being nosy and intelligent they could talk to Deaf people. Witches would meet the poor Deafie in the woods and bring him food and dance with him and sign with him, and the jealous townspeople would say, See that witch, she goes to speak with the Devil, the duyvil, the Deaf-ill, the Deaf man, we must burn him, we must end her, we must drown her heart... They hated the nosy old ones who were smarter than they were and far more pitiless so they said, knowing perfectly well the truth, that the moving hands were witchy gestures, and they had their excuse and burned the scary gesturing witch but they never caught the Deaf man, who ran naked through the woods and through the high alcoves of roaring trees.

Deaf people never forgot the witches, and the witches never forgot the Deaf, and even today Deaf people are blessed always with the wonder of a witch's last dance, all because they could speak our language, all because these hands had meaning... and witches, even on television, still twitch their noses and wave their hands...

DID THEY EVEN UNDERSTAND?: But... sign language is SO beautiful!
And then there's:
DEAF WOMAN: I not trust VP (videophone) interpreter, no! But I want to communicate in my sign language!

ME: But you have to accept that not all hearing people have VP. Suppose you accept go ahead VP, must accept ASL interpreter will see your SSN number!

DEAF WOMAN: No, no, no, me not accept, no! Must direct VP to bank with my beautiful sign language!

ME (exasperated:) Fine. How you think the bank person will understand you, with your beautiful sign language?

DEAF WOMAN (pause): Can they get an interpreter?
And so, to quote Kurt Vonnegut: And so it goes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

402: Guest Review: Garrett Zuercher's "Judgment Day"

Last night I had various personal committments and couldn't go see a reading of Garrett Zuercher's "Judgment Day," accordingly, I asked Erfo to give her take on the show!
Judgment Day passed without incident: chairs weren't shoved aside, an empty bottle of seltzer water was left undisturbed behind a chair, and the audience was captivated. If Garrett Zuercher has written worthier productions, luckily this was my first. In fact, donning blue metallic Lycra was the hardest decision I made last night.

Though it was hard to determine which parts were song (if watching a voice actor was my idea of fun, I would have tracked the chanting, which in itself was bizarre)—Judgment Day is after all a musical—I found my eyes riveted to what I would normally discard as another Deaf theatre experience that smacked of trying too hard and eludicating too little. Most of the voice actors were instructed to be more English in their signing; that unfortunately worked only when I lipread. The room was small so I was close enough for the luxury. Anne Tomasetti carried the reading. Unlike a story unfolding onstage, this was a very direct connection with the audience, but I can only imagine a heightened experience seeing the musical. Darren Fudenske also leapt into excellence once he settled into character (a terrific multitasker!). Seasoned actors clearly took the stage and charmed the audience.

To feel my shoulders jog with amusement? Surprise of the year. A slipshod lipreading career and thick lenses do not normally a happy Deaf theater-goer make, nor do I understand anything in between ASL and English for sustained periods of time. A well-told story is one of my favorite things and for two hours I didn't evaluate how well I could feel my seat. Just don't ever try mint soda; chewing gum and bubbles can very nearly ruin a beautiful man's Channing-channeling number.
Thanks, Erfo! Anyone else see the show? And now off to another day in the great big city....

Friday, March 16, 2007

401: The Signing Family.

Cool video. Click on the link. It's from the association known as the BDA:
‘Signing Family' , produced by Deaf Association of Northern Ireland, is an information resource for parents of Deaf children, Deaf parents of hearing children and professionals. It is a multilingual information resource parented in British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) with English voice over and subtitles.

The DVD presents the most current research to demonstrate that a bilingual approach and introducing sign language to your child early on will give them the best opportunity in life.

This is so smart - create a resource based on modern research and maximise your audience to three groups instead of advertising it only to one.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

400: Freedom to Choose Deaf

When we met with the hospital administration they made a throwaway comment which bothered me tremendously - they compared the provison of on-site interpreters to giving everyone luxury cars. I was like, WHAT? To me, it didn't make sense. To me we were fighting for a car that works. 60% of the time, we don't have a car at all, according to statistics from Rockland County Mental Health; there just aren't enough interpreters. But Beth Israel thinks they're giving us luxury cars. Uh-huh. Interpreters are not a luxury - and we must stop people when they call then luxuries. Interpreters are, in many cases, survival equipment, and it is equipment we fought for.

It's always about money. The hospital needs to save cash. Why? Because they're losing some. Eliot Spitzer has been making budget cuts to the support the state gives to hospitals; Unions across New York as well as independent organizations have been contacting his office on this issue. Yet these cuts haven't taken effect yet. But whether they do or not, money is always going to be an issue.

Still - the hospital MUST respect the Deaf person's choice of communication. At the heart we're really asking for the freedom of choice. God, in some ways this is like the abortion argument: People arguing for morality, in this case the morality of fiscal responsibility rather than the morality of chastity. "We have to save money!" Because we Deaf people aren't worth the spending of it, is the unspoken second line. Our freedom of choice and comfort in an issue of such importance as our health isn't worth the cash.

Yes. Yes it is. Yes, we are. But the case must be clear: I have no issue with the use of VRI in the emergency room. There are not enough ASL interpreters. Some of the interpreters we do have, do crazy things like get sick or go on vacation. VRI is a reasonable pinch hitter. We are advocating against people thinking it's Derek Jeter. But the hospital can still save - by giving people choice, instead of taking it away. Here's three points:
  • My first point: the hospital is starting from a baseline of zero (0.) This means the hospital has zero (0) users of VRI. Were they to make use of VRI an option for all regularly scheduled appointments as well as emergency appointments, this number would increase, resulting necessarily in a savings for the hospital.
  • My second point: most of the problems hospitals have, have to do with their complete LACK of policy regarding the provision of ASL interpreters. We all know you need to request 1 week 2 weeks in advance? Most hospitals do it the same day - then get pissed when nobody shows up and blame the interpreting service and use this as an excuse to switch to the "always-available" VRI.
  • My third point: the hospital wastes money on interpreters unnecessarily for jobs that are not strictly interpreting. A hospital with a large Deaf population could, e.g., hire a few Deaf employees the way they hire other groups for diversity. And these employees would be responsible for orientation, support, and basic services for Deaf consumers.
Interpreters go over forms with clients - why pay someone $100 an hour to do THAT? Hire a Deaf person as a counselor or receptionist. Spend a quarter of the money and get twice as much done. Save the on-site interpreters for the crucial parts - doctor's appointments, surgical procedures, pre-operative and recovery. How many hours do your ASL interpreters spend explaining what aspirin is and how many times to take it? Hire a Deaf person instead for education and nutrition. Concerned about compliance in cases of Acts of God? Get a Deaf person to maintain a list of Deaf patients in the hospital and their locations in case of emergency or terrorist attack to organize and facilitate the communication with and evacuation of those patients. Get a Deaf person to ensure compliance. Do you see now? Rather than reduce the quality and quantity of communication at its most crucial points, save money by reducing in unnecessary areas- while at the same time increasing the number of available services - CHOICE - to Deaf consumers.

We're not asking for a free ride. But hearing people never include us in their Big Plans, and then they fail to see what, to us, are obvious ways of saving money. Other ideas?
399: VRI: Finding the Way

Activism is a spiritual effort for me. You close your eyes and stand in a roomful of angry people and find the balancing point; then you make a world dance on it.

Work still continues as we struggle to get to grips with the situation at Beth Israel Medical Center, which I blogged about here, here and here. When people began to send BIMC letters addressing their concerns regarding VRI, a friend of mine was contacted to go meet with the administration of that agency. I was invited to go along with advocate and friends Zlotte.

This was a pre-emptive attempt at education for myself and my community, especially underserved and disadvantaged Deaf people.

The meeting went as you'd expect. We brought two interpreters and met with the COO and Patient Services Representative, and also the woman in charge of the interpreting department. I can sift through semantics better and more quickly than anyone I know. They promised nothing and said they'd decided nothing - what were we concerned about? (Hearing people don't get that Deaf people gossip faster than lightspeed, and any business working with Deaf people had better stay on the up and up, or the old deaf grannies will be reading about it on the blogs these days.)

Our technique was mostly to ignore their denials. Instead we simply brought out legal points and social points. Deaf interpreters, educators, social workers and counselors described what people experienced and the problems with the technology. New problems came to light as we explored ones we already knew.

Bottom line? They took our feedback and will create a policy and share it with us in a few weeks. We asked for a draft, to provide feedback, but got a very haughty "No, feedback, what do you mean, feedback? I've never heard of this feedback stuff. Can you get it out in a restaurant?" So, we wait.

Which is fine. Another important technique is to remember the role and position of these people. But I have my own ideas about how VRI could be positively incorporated in a hospital, under a more Deaf motivation. And speaking truth to power is never out, right?


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

398: Because Learning Rocks.

Sometimes I really miss academia.
The world’s first sign language dictionary available from a mobile phone is launched today by the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies. is a video dictionary with over 5,000 British Sign Language signs. Produced by staff at the Centre for Deaf Studies, it is a mobile accessory to people who work with Deaf people, have Deaf customers or just want to learn to sign.

There is also help for parents with signs included that are specific to children like “Father Christmas”, “potty” and “naughty”.

...although why the University chose to showcase those particular three child-related words on its website, I have no idea. Read entire article here.

...and also this whole thing demonstrates how behind in technology we are in the states thanks to "capitalism" which should really be signed MONEY-MILK (just ask me for a demonstration...) Basically, this great technology has been around for AGES, but it would "cost too much" for companies to upgrade (read: we have to get rid of our old inventory) so we're stuck with obsolete crap. Do you know they already have mobile video phones in Japan?