Experiencing different deaf cultures
I’ve been on the road for just over 7 months now, and like any other culture in the world, the deaf and hard of hearing culture in each country varies from one country to another. Through a general “deaf and hard of hearing in ______ city/country” Google search, I’m usually able to find a starting point for interacting with someone who has ties to the deaf/hoh community in that city/country. Sometimes it takes reaching out to multiple people/organizations/companies to get an answer, and a general consensus is that most people are so willing to connect and share more!
I noticed more enthusiasm and willingness to meet with me in the southeastern Asian countries than in Australia where resources for the deaf and hard of hearing are in abundance by comparison. It was just an interesting observation how despite my attempts to share my story and desire to learn more about the culture, I was essentially turned away from a company in Melbourne whose sole mission is to advocate for and provide resources for the deaf and hard of hearing. I landed on visiting a cafe that is operated by deaf people. While they were warm and welcoming, I found the workers at a deaf-operated cafe in Taipei to be much more engaging and excited about connecting with me.
Furthermore, I interacted with an organization in Taipei that is working to establish Taiwanese Sign Language as a national language. I, myself, don’t know much ASL, and most of the people from this organization in Taiwan do know ASL. Despite the limitations, they set up other ways of communicating by bringing someone in who speaks English and can communication through TSL and ASL as well as setting up a computer in which I could ask my questions through that medium. Their willingness to provide accommodations goes to show how far they will go to advocate for their people!
Similarly, in Argentina, I attended a hearing aid museum. The owner does not speak English, but his wife does, and they were both so inviting! Despite not being able to communicate with me directly, the owner was asking me loads of questions about my story and I about his. The fact that we had to communicate through a middle man was not deemed an inconvenience. It’s one thing I’ve learned in reflecting on my time back in the states. I think sometimes in the US, we’re in a ‘gotta-go, gotta-go’ mentality all the time, that any sort of ‘indirect’ interaction is deemed inconvenient and a hassle. Not to mention, the owner was quite excited about giving me some hearing aid batteries in which the package advertises that the company donates a portion of their proceeds to helping students with hearing loss.
Bali, all together was a really unique experience because I visited a special place coined as ‘the deaf village’. I can’t really describe what an incredible experience I had with the people of this village and the school in the village. All classes are taught in their version of sign language and spoken language to accommodate the large number of villagers that are deaf/hoh. In this way, there is inclusion for all! One of the men in the village who works with the students and has studied around the world was able to speak to me in English while also signing in ASL and in their unique sign language. The students I interacted with had so much personality and were so engaging! As a side note, I had a bit of a humorous incident where I was signing in ASL the sign for ‘team’. Turns out the letter “t” in ASL means “sex” in their sign language. Needless to say, I turned bright red, but we all laughed it off!
And then there’s Cambodia, talk about hitting the ground hard when I went here for my first international deaf/hard of hearing experience. Did you know that 98% of the deaf/hoh individuals in Cambodia will never know what makes them special? And the small percentage that do have access to resources are some of the most gracious individuals I’ve ever met. They’re so grateful for the opportunity to connect with similar people. They were all smiles in my attempts to learn their language and ask questions. The people running the organization I visited have the biggest hearts and are working so hard to give these people a life they could never dream of.
All in all, everyone I’ve met with has one goal in mind, to advocate for and provide assistance to those that are deaf and hard of hearing. The passion is affectionate and inspiring!