My early childhood awareness of any sign language began with the first impressions of the beautiful Hawaiian story telling with graceful dance and use of their hands. I also wondered why there was not a universal set of hand signs like Indian tribes used to cross language barriers. Then I learned about Helen Keller and marveled at her story along with Anne Sullivan’s devotion, dedication and perseverance to teach Helen beginning with a manual alphabet.
From the story of Helen I went on to read many stories of individuals who persevered through many kinds of obstacles. They were individuals who did not see themselves as disabled or unable but rather as facing obstacles, and they seemed to understand the difference between what they could not change and what they could. They brought to reality the meaning of the serenity prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
I grew up during the 50s and 60s when being Deaf, like being Black, or both, had great obstacles placed by persons who lacked understanding and were governed by their ignorance and/or prejudices. As I read of great people doing what they could in spite of those and other hardships, I also became more aware of the great people who were the advocates, teachers and mentors.
Now I have learned about so many more of these heroes. It is difficult to choose any one person as I can applaud them all. However, because I am to choose one, I will choose Andrew Foster who overcame the prejudices and attitudes toward being both Deaf and Black through those turbulent years. He then went on to teach and mentor others while starting schools in many areas of Africa. Learning about Deaf history while learning ASL has greatly added to my appreciation of the beauty of communication.