Deaf culture

Deaf Culture: Volunteering at a Deaf Festival (Humor/Inclusivity)

A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered at a Deaf festival. I was put in charge of the kid’s area. Think coloring, simple games and some arts and crafts. I chased balls, I colored in teddy bears, I said goodbye to balls I’d never find again underneath dusty bleachers and I handed out prizes. Mostly, I listened to what the kids had to say–either through signing or verbally. You learn a lot about kids, just by being present.

Towards the end of the day, I started cutting kids off on candy to ensure they still had their teeth at age 20 (and that I still had my sanity at lunch.).  Shortly after, the concept of sharing came up…repeatedly. (I really believe kids have a tendency to hoard resources sometimes). At another point in the day, the Saint cut off a Lord of the Flies scenario from emerging with an older group of boys competing at our cornhole station. To top it off, one of the festival booths handed out Frisbees as their giveaway. Hooray. We were indoors, mind you, with hundreds of people milling about. And most of them were focused on signing. What could possibly go wrong?*

At one point an interpreter came up to me and inquired about the Deaf Kid’s Club banner we had proudly hanging up behind our area. The interpreter and I made small talk inbetween me plucking out blue and green crayons for the kid’s masterpieces. The interpreter said something that made my volunteer experience all the more vivid:

“There’s not a lot of opportunities for Deaf kids to get out and play and socialize. This is really wonderful, what you’re doing.”

Something inside of me twinged. It’s 2018, lady. Are you kidding me?

Humans seem to have a hard time with inclusivity. When kid’s aren’t included in society, I think it’s even more painful in some ways. Some of the kids at the festival were CODAS (or KODAS–Children/Kids of Deaf Adults), along with HOH (hard of hearing) and Deaf kids, too. They were cute, most were polite, some were…moody. Most of all, they were KIDS.

Do me a favor. Learn some ASL–American Sign Language. Learn how to say hello, how are you, etc. (If you’re from a country other than America, learn your country’s sign language).  It means a lot to Deaf people, just for a hearing person to try to communicate. It’s okay if you make mistakes and feel awkward. If you can’t sign, you can also type text out on a cellphone screen, write on a piece of paper, or mime whatever you’re trying to say. If an interpreter’s around, Deaf culture dictates that you look at the Deaf person. All but ignore the interpreter. The Deaf person is the one speaking to you, only just through the interpreter.

Special Books for Special Kids (or SBSK) is a great YouTube channel that interviews children and adults with a wide spectrum of disabilities or other differences.** I’ve learned so much and have been humbled and encouraged at every turn. I highly recommend it. It interviews the parents of the kids, too, and what they wish other people would do when they see or interact with their children.

Please include people. Don’t dismiss others–especially children–because of their differences. It’s okay to be Deaf, HOH or a CODA. It’s alright not to be able to hear or to have a parent who can’t hear. Going further, it’s also okay to have a missing limb, to have a mental illness, or to have a disfigurement. It’s okay to speak with an accent, to have a different skin color, or to have a respirator. Whatever difference we have–however we got it, and however we deal with it,–we are still PEOPLE. And people need people.

Thanks for reading. Pass the yellow crayon, would you?

*The kids kicked the Frisbees across the cement floor instead, inventing a hybrid game of curling, soccer and frisbee in one. You can only smile at their cleverness. And cringe.

**In general, the Deaf Community does not consider deafness a disability. Other groups may not like the label, either. It’s something to keep in mind.

Song: “The Humming“, Enya

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