We have a difficult year coming that reflects not only the health of everyone, also affects how we communicate. This time is doubly challenging for those who do not have immediate access to information.
I write this as a deaf person who teaches American Sign Language and also advocates for deaf and hard of hearing people, which includes students. The ability to hear and speak are taken for granted and those who have challenges of the same are ignored or rejected. Not everyone hears the same way in reality. “You’re not listening”, especially to hard of hearing students is demeaning and a barrier to socialization and education. The ability to speak fluently does not make a person hearing (able to hear). Trust me, I know this well.
A mask reduces one’s ability to acquire information visually. This is also challenging in the use of American Sign Language because the grammar is mainly facial. Most deaf and hard of hearing students or people include behavioral manners when they read people’s lips. Masks increase that barrier. There will be clear masks, yet one needs to be conscious when communicating with people.
A story – I have been accused of lying about my “off the charts” deafness because of my proficiency in lipreading and speaking. When a parent would monitor kids on the bus going down to Indianapolis (to the deaf school), I would interpret for the parents who couldn’t communicate with the kids. They told my mother I was faking it (my hearing). She told them to cover their mouths while speaking. I had no clue what they were saying with that barrier.
This is what deaf and hard of hearing students will go through. That is why conscious communication is important. It will not only help these students, also help other students who acquire information in different ways (also applies to adults). Captioning is a big asset. Use Google Slides to present – it has captioning features. Find videos that are captioned (expertly we hope). Write on something, if you are tree conscious like me, there are apps and softwares that can be reused or use a Boogie Board.
In addition, people find themselves challenged on the notion that they understand speech and when other people are masked, they personally find that they have been a visual communicator the entire time. They admit that they have difficulty in understanding others and that the mask has brought that reality to the forefront.
Be bold in using your hands and body to communicate. You do not need to know or learn ASL. It is nice but not a requirement in communication. Gesture if possible. This is a fantastic time to expand communication consciousness. I am not saying that there is no challenge to this process. I have along with these students, a lifetime of a communication journey. We often get frustrated when people give up on communication – we are left in the lurch and forgotten. This impacts the quality of our work and contribution to the world as human beings.
The school district(s) has a Deaf/Hard of Hearing Teacher – they know their stuff and want to see their students succeed. They encounter the huffy attitudes from teachers on a daily basis. This attitude is not necessary and is a barrier to a conscious effort to become flexible in communication. They are the experts and will provide the support and resources.
Let me close out with thanks to those who have consciously opened their communication experience with me and the students. It continues to be challenging and with confidence, we will continue to navigate successfully.
A side note: language is a part of the communication system, not the only communication method. This is why the myth that speech equates to intelligence still floats around, people believe it just because rather than acknowledging the reality that comes around with communication in all animals, including human.
22 August 2020