There is a large group (30,000-plus people, according to DeafLink) of friendly folks in northeast Indiana whose motto could well be, “Listen with your eyes and speak with your hands.”
The Northeast Indiana Deaf Awareness Council would like the area hearing community to hear the world through their silent ears and to get to know them better — a lot better — said longtime member Melissa Hunckler of Huntington.
“We'd like to share our diverse culture with people who are hearing and clear up any misconceptions they may have about us,” said Hunckler, a retired U.S. Postal Service worker whose husband, Frank, is also deaf.
“Hearing people are always welcome to come to our NIDAC meetings or special events, and even if they are not familiar with our visual American Sign Language (ASL), there is often an interpreter there to help out,” Hunckler said.
“We encourage sign-language beginners to come up and introduce themselves if they see deaf people signing in public,” she said. “We are patient and pleased if hearing people initiate the introduction and practice their signing on us.”
Some things to know
To foster better understanding of people who are deaf, the deaf community would like hearing people to know:
• Many deaf people are thought to be snobbish if they do not respond to a pleasant “hello” from a hearing person.
Explained Hunckler, “You would need to be in our line of vision so we can speech-read you and thus respond to your greeting. Also, if we cannot understand you for whatever reason (mustache, chewing gum, don't move lips when speaking), we will offer you a pencil and pad to write it down.
“People are afraid of what they do not know, and deaf people are often an unknown entity that hearing people shy away from,” Hunckler said. “This is a mindset we have to try to change, so that we can all get along together.”
• Some people who are deaf do not normally read newspapers or books, which makes it harder for them to be aware of any upcoming events, such as live programs or other events.
“We would much rather watch closed-captioned TV or depend on others for communication instead of reading the newspapers,” Hunckler said. “We get more out of exchanging information with each other so we know what is going on in the deaf community. Using the videophone is another preferred method of communication with our families and friends, so we don't have time to read the newspaper.”
• The best way to reach the area deaf community is to contact Sara Dunten, editor of the deaf monthly newspaper online and hard copy) “What's Up” at http://whatsupnewsletter.tripod.com, and she will immediately enter the information online.
According to Butch Newcomer, a Fort Wayne resident who is deaf, if a performer with a disability is scheduled for a performance locally, it would ideally be announced to the deaf community first before the public. This would give the deaf community time to spread the word among themselves, make arrangements to attend the event, and get there early and get seats where they can best enjoy the performance, Newcomer said.
• People who are deaf or hearing-impaired depend upon closed- captioning when watching TV. A source of frustration is that some programs (especially live local news shows) either do not have closed captioning or they have it inconsistently and inaccurately.
For hearing people to get an idea of what it is like for a deaf person to watch a show without closed-captioning, imagine your favorite show spoken in Japanese.
• Deaf people love live entertainment, especially when it involves a deaf celebrity, such as Marlee Matlin, who appeared in September as part of the Omnibus Lecture Series at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. However, many in the deaf community were unhappy because they were not aware of the occasion and because they were not allowed to sit together in the front and center rows, where they could have an unrestricted view of the celebrity and her interpreter.
“Even though there was a big overhead screen showing the stage dialogue, it was too far away to see from our balcony seats, which were the only seats left, and it would have helped for the lights to have been out for better screen contrast,” said Shelbi Stratton, community outreach director of Interpreter Associates and a Kendallville resident.
Jaye Johnston, DeafLink case coordinator, clarified by saying, “Hearing people can always hear what is going on onstage, but deaf people cannot. Therefore, we need to be up close to the action since we totally rely on our eyes to let us know what is going on. Marlee and her interpreter should have been onscreen at all times; however, because they sometimes inadvertently moved off-screen, we lost the entire thread of the dialogue.”
• Because deaf people cannot use a voice telephone, they use a TT (text telephone) or VRS (Video Relay Service) to communicate. If one VRS user calls another user, both parties are projected upon a TV screen at either end where they can see each other and communicate by using sign language.
If one person is hearing and does not have a VRS, she or he can still call a deaf person via the relay service, and the relay agent will appear on the VRS monitor and sign to the deaf person, relaying the hearing person's messages. Other deaf people make their calls to hearing people via their computers using Internet Relay, which uses a computer and an Internet connection through a modem, cable or DSL, giving relay services at no cost, including long distance.
However, when calling businesses, doctors' offices, groceries or strangers, relay users often get hung up on as the unaware call recipient believes relay calls to be scams, telemarketing calls or harassment calls.
The deaf community would like to express gratitude to businesses and individuals who do not hang up on them without first giving them a chance to identify themselves and explain why they are calling.
According to Hunckler, in the past if she called a restaurant to place a carryout order, she would get hung up on because the worker would not accept a relay call.
“Both Frank and I immediately drove to one restaurant, where I told the manager I was deaf and asked why he kept hanging up on me,” said Hunckler. “He was very apologetic, and, from then on, I had no trouble with future carryout phone calls.”
• Technology in recent years has been a real boon for people who are deaf, for they can now communicate via e-mail, texting, relay services and more.
Before the TT was invented, said Hunckler, “If we had something to say, we just drove to friends' homes, got the info we needed and left. If we had more to add later, we would go back out and repeat the process. If our friends were not home, it was a wasted trip.”
• Sign language, which is used globally, is often used with infants, hearing or not, to teach them to communicate before they can speak. Scuba divers use sign language, and deaf people can communicate by sign language at great distances. Also, several area colleges and universities offer ASL courses for credit or continuing education.
Finally, when hearing people accept a deaf community's cordial invitation to learn more about the latter, they realize, “The greatest accomplishment of insight is seeing through the eyes of another.”