Deaf, not dumb!

“What is it like to have a hearing impairment?”

If you are a hearing person like me, chances are you haven’t thought through such a question yet. Believe me or not but this question did start to cross my mind. You probably wonder how it all started. I was in the US back in September 2014 when I got the chance to interact with a deaf person for the very first time in my life. I had no idea of what it was like to sign or what kind of attitude I should adopt while communicating with deaf people. Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to say. I was literally stuck. I remember though I enjoyed watching the expression of this woman’s face while signing. I fell in love with every single movement of her hands, fingers, and eyebrows.

From that very moment, I decided I would connect with this deaf young woman from Nigeria no matter what. Later then, we became friends 🙂 I will always recall googling up “Happy Birthday ASL” because I so wanted to surprise her and wish her a happy birthday in sign language. Anyway, that very moment changed the way I saw what it’s like to have hearing impairment/loss.

There’s too much misconception about deaf people. If you are a hearing person who never got the chance to interact with deaf people, don’t worry because I hear you. I used to be in your shoes. I guess I wrote these 2 facts for people like you to meditate on. You don’t have to agree with me. That is not the point. My heart for these folks just prompted me to write this and share what I have in my heart.

  1. Deaf people are exactly like you and I

I had so many unanswered questions in my mind when I first got to interact with my very first deaf friend. Of course, she wouldn’t hear me if I talked to her in her back. She wouldn’t hear me if yelled out “Watch out!! There’s a car behind you!” The deaf cannot hear. I get that. But that is it. For one second, imagine you’re an educated deaf entrepreneur (1/ like you and I, some deaf folks get good education and some don’t 2/like you and I, there are also creative deaf people out there who can literally blow you away with their super far-fetched creative ideas to solve world issues) How would you feel if a hearing guy decided to go ahead and sign a contract in your name just because he thought that since you’re a deaf entrepreneur, you’re not able to read, think and sign the contract on your own? I am pretty sure this would not make you happy, right? (…) Like hearing people, they can have low or high IQ. It’s that simple. This reminds me of last August 12, 2015 (International Youth Day) when I organized this event named “Marenina aho fa mitovy aminao ihany” as part of YALI Madagascar activity. In English, it literally means “I am deaf but I am just like you”. The goal was for 20ish deaf and hearing youth to get together in one place and have mutual understanding. The outcome was super impressive. By the end of the day, the hearing folks ended up empathizing with the deaf guys; they learned all about who they are: their passion, their love stories, their vision…some even shared crazy things that cracked up a couple of people. But what I cherished most about this day was when came the time for the deaf to teach the hearing guys how to sign at the very end. I remember they were all over the place and all the hearing people were all so eager to learn.

–To respect the participants’ confidentiality, I cannot post the video here-———

What more? Like you and I, they have feelings. They get sad, excited, happy, angry… and yeah FYI, they fall in love too. ❤ FYI, they love selfies as much as you and I do haha.

miantsa akamaWe made this selfie at AKAMA (Ankanin’ny Marenina) in Antananarivo. It’s the highest level school for deaf in all Madagascar. I love the happiness in this photo 🙂

Want more proofs that hearing people and deaf people are alike? There are a ton of deaf guys who have incredible humor just like funny hearing guys do. I am blessed I attended a 2-week training with the President of the Madagascar Federation for deaf. It was such a joy for all the trainees when he raised his hands to ask questions or to add comments. He’d come up with accurate thoughts that none of us would have ever thought of. Not only was he very thoughtful and smart but he made us all laugh out loud. His presence’s very enjoyable to all of us! 🙂

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     2. Deaf people are very likely to be great bilingual communicators

Don’t get me wrong! Here, I am not talking about the deaf who did not get access to decent education. Instead, I am referring to those who went to school and learned how to sign. Think about this! Sign language is a language like any other languages: Spanish, Japanese, Malagasy, French or whatever language comes to your mind. But aside from that, there’s what they call ASL, ISL, Malagasy sign language, Nigerian sign language, etc. Do you realize that if a deaf person knows how to sign, at least he/she is bilingual because besides sign language, he/she knows the local language too? I don’t know if I am making any sense but for me, this is one of the reasons why I personally think that sign language is TRULY a gift. Sign language is a very impressive process because it’s not just signs that you make with your hands. Signing is way more than just that. I’d call it “art” because like paintings, drawings, and sculptures, signing is beautiful and expresses ideas. I wish I could express myself the way deaf people do when they sign. Their eyebrows, their face, their arms, their fingers…seriously their whole body has got a role to play in this artistic move. Just to show you how much I am passionate about this art, let me share with you a very short video that I made. I am a beginner but I am hoping I will move to the upper level soon 🙂

In countries like Madagascar, people with disabilities do not fully enjoy their rights. They are not allowed to drive anymore; they cannot get access to higher education; they have very few options they can choose from anyway; they tend to have very low self-esteem….the list is by no means exhaustive.

I guess now is the time for you and I to hold these pearls’ hands, get up our seats, stand up, get the word out about their rights, and take actions to help.

If your dad, your cousin, your mom or your boyfriend were deaf, what would you do? What if after an accident YOU lost your hearing all of a sudden today? Would you act differently?

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