My 2 Wonderful Years in the Deaf Culture

Austin has an incredible deaf community. We have the Austin School for the Deaf and a great Interpreter program at Austin Community College. While attending college, I was required to take a foreign language and I decided on American Sign Language. It’s something that was on my bucket list of things to learn and I was so excited at the opportunity to do so.

I took the class for 4 semesters and it came very naturally to me. I’m an animated speaker so I use my hands when I talk anyway; why not be saying something with them too? I’ve made friends with so many deaf students and tutors from school, and it honestly is something that still excites me today to be able to talk to a deaf guest when they come into my restaurant.

Many people don’t know that being deaf is not a “handicap.”

To put it simply, deaf culture is just like any other culture where there might be a language barrier. Just as the Germans speak German and we speak English, deaf people speak ASL. Well not speak, but you get my point. Some people actually do speak.

I had a guest back when I was bartending who spoke to me and ordered her meal and drinks and I didn’t notice anything about it. She turned to look at the menu and I asked her a question. When she didn’t respond, I realized she didn’t hear me at all.

It’s actually more common for older deaf people to have some speaking abilities because for many years, their parents sent them to schools that taught them to be like us instead of teaching them how to communicate in their own language; to communicate in a way that they could instead of forcing them to pretend they could hear.

At the time, it was definitely seen as a handicap and parents didn’t want their children to be different. The culture was something that was still new and being learned about. Also, let’s just clear this up right now: if someone is deaf, it does not mean they can read your lips. That’s actually quite an offensive assumption to a deaf person.

Deaf people feel music much more than hearing people.

The most interesting thing I learned about deaf culture (and I really learned so many interesting things) was how they “hear” things. As an ASL student, we were required to attend different deaf events to acclimate ourselves to the culture. One of the first events I went to was an after party for the deaf school’s homecoming game. They had a hardcore band that took the stage by storm! These kids were so good. I was so amazed, and still learning, and didn’t even think of the fact that they could feel the sound vibrations on the stage. That’s how they kept tempo. They were awesome.

Deaf Hands

“Hearing” Gadgets Galore! Deaf Technology has advanced so much.

There are many different devices that deaf people use to communicate. First, let me mention cochlear implants, which have given many members of the deaf community another option. Basically, these little guys are implanted behind or above the ear and give the ear a sense of sound. I think, as a hearing person, one of the most convenient forms of technology to come out for distance communication is the FaceTime function on the iPhone. For many years, technology has been trying to encompass this concept and there have been devices created with this function, but none that I’ve seen (again, as a hearing person) that is as able and at-your-fingertips.

Earlier this year, the FDA approved a gadget that allows deaf people to “hear” with their tongue. It may not immediately sound like the most appealing way to communicate, but the science behind it is pretty cool. I’m sure your first though was someone licking all over a cell phone-like device. Maybe that was just me?

The FDA has also recently approved a device that will similarly help a blind person to “see.” This new form of “hearing” or “seeing” doesn’t require a surgical implant, unlike the cochlear implant, and is expected to be more affordable. In the same way that the implant sends signals to stimulate the auditory nerve, this new device will take sounds and convert them into patterns and impulses which will then be sent to a smart retainer held the in the mouth. The retainer, when pressed by the tongue, will send out tiny impulses in patterns to stimulate the tongue’s nerves. From there, the signals are relayed to the brain. The similar device made for the blind does the same thing, but will send different patterns for different colors in an image. It records with a camera, attached to a pair of glasses, the person’s surroundings and sends the signals to the mouthpiece.

Crossing The Bridge of Language

I know I’m excited to see how this device adds to my local deaf community. Technology has become such an incredible resource to many different cultures and now even more so to the deaf culture. While most of the technologies mentioned take time to adjust to, and require some training, it’s awesome to see more and more options become available to help bridge the language barrier between so many different cultures.


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