Deaf Communities Across the World

[Vlad conversing with his friends in ISL.]

My fiancé Vlad and I are Deaf. We recently took a trip to Italy and Israel. We visited Milan, Dolomites Mountain, and Venice while in Italy. In Israel, we explored Be’er Sheva, Dead Sea, and other cities in Israel. I will share my experiences when traveling as a Deaf traveler with my Deaf fiancé.

At the airport, we put down that we are Deaf, but we also informed the workers once we were there. We stood in the priority line to be one of the first people to receive our boarding pass and we were able to pass the TSA line. We arrived at our gate quicker without needing to wait in line, or be the first people to board the plane. We had an interesting experience at the airport for one of our flights. We told the worker at the airport that we are Deaf and asked about being able to cut in line for TSA. The worker at the airport called for an assistance to help us with passing through the TSA line and find our gate for us. Also, I told the TSA agent that I am Deaf and have a cochlear implant so they were aware of it. The flight attendants were aware that we were Deaf. Since the plane is very loud, we tend to turn off our hearing aids/cochlear implants. When the flight attendants took our drink or meal order, we would use the app BIG to put down what we want or to communicate with each other. Using our phones was an easier way to communicate for us. On our last flight back home, we were assigned seats near the emergency exits, but when Vlad and I were about to board the plane, we got denied to sit near the emergency exits because we are Deaf. They had to reassign us and ask someone else to swap seats with us. On our flight back to Italy from Israel, we sat behind an ISL interpreter. She mentioned she noticed us signing at the airport. Of course, I introduced myself and Vlad conversed with her. It was an unexpected and fascinating experience.

While we were in Italy, we toured the cities, ate delicious meals, and enjoyed the museums. Museums in Europe are free to enter for people with disabilities. Vlad and I told the people working at the museums that we were Deaf and we were able to cut in line and get in for free. The only major difference between Europe and America is that in Europe people with disabilities will have a disability card. The disability card is a proof that the person(s) have a disability. When Vlad and I went to the museums, we gestured that we are Deaf and used our phones to communicate. They asked us for a disability card, but we told them we are traveling from America and we do not have a disability card. They let us pass the line and get in without paying. People in Italy spoke English and for the most part, we were able to communicate just fine. However, sometimes it became difficult for me to understand especially when they were wearing masks. I was able to use Google Translate to help translate and make communication much easier.

We had a really awesome and cool experience. On our first day in Italy, I spied Deaf people signing. I notified Vlad and he also noticed there were Deaf people signing. We started signing with them but they signed Italian Sign Language. Since Vlad knew Universal Sign Language, he mostly chatted with the 4 Deaf people. We talked about us visiting Italy and it was my first time, where they are from, where we are from, etc. It was really fascinating to watch Vlad converse with them using Universal Sign Language. There were signs that Vlad did not understand and asked the Italian Deaf person what it meant.

Vlad took me on a tour around his home country. I saw where he grew up, met his friends, and ate delicious Israeli food. The most interesting experience was communicating with Vlad’s Deaf friends in Israeli Sign Language. I knew a little bit of ISL and learned a lot more as I communicated with his friends. Some of his friends knew ASL or English. During times when we had trouble communicating, we would use Google Translate. Interestingly, there are some signs that are used in both sign languages, but they mean completely different. I had to be careful not to intermingle ASL with ISL because the interpretation of these signs can easily be misinterpreted. For example, I was telling a friend about how Vlad and I met. That friend knows some ASL because he went to America and picked up some American Sign Language. I was mixing ISL with ASL. The ASL sign for marriage means friends in ISL. As I was explaining the story of how Vlad and I met, I signed the ISL sign for friends, but the friend kept misinterpreting that Vlad was married. He stopped to ask if Vlad was married and Vlad stepped in to clarify in full ISL that I was referring to friend not marriage and then the friend understood. At that moment I realized I had to be careful about not mixing up ASL and ISL signs.

Also, since when people are signing in ISL, people tend to mouth Hebrew they are signing unlike in ASL. Even though I know the sign for the word, people couldn’t understand me because I was not mouthing the Hebrew with my sign or there was not any context around it. During other conversations, there is a friend who tried to interpret for me. She translated ISL using Universal Sign Language so it was easier for me to understand and follow along the conversation. She is an ISL teacher and she gave me a tip to use more gestures/universal signs that help people understand better what I am trying to convey.

Many friends in Israel have cochlear implants or talked about getting one. They also always ask me if I can communicate orally and according to what Vlad have told me that it is more impressive that I am able to talk and hear. That was an interesting experience because in US, having cochlear implants is not seen as significant. People in the US emphasizes more on Deaf and ASL than the ability to hear and talk. I have also heard that there aren’t many interpreters in Israel than there are in the US.

In addition, we stayed at Vlad’s best friend’s house. Both the best friend and his wife are hearing. During dinner time, Vlad and I taught the best friend and his wife sign language. Since Vlad and his best friend grew up together, I questioned why the best friend never learned sign. Before, they did not as they were able to converse orally, but now the best friend is more interested in learning sign. We taught them both ASL and ISL for the different ingredients for the Russian meal they cooked for us including good morning, good night, etc. They have shared that is gets confusing but picked up a lot of signs. We were impressed how quickly they learned.

My takeaway from this entire experience is that it opened up my eyes to international sign languages and Deaf communities. I was able to experience interacting with other Deaf people in different sign languages and had to find a way to communicate with them. Sometimes I felt lost or left out because I did not know enough ISL to fully understand, but at least it was cool to experience being present in the conversations. People still had to wear masks when working at the airport or in restaurants. Especially at the airport, when we are conversing with a worker, TSA, or security person, when we let them know we are Deaf, they immediately knew what to do and took off their masks so it made communication easier for both of us. Some of them we politely asked them to remove their masks because we read lips and it is easier for us to understand. It was surprising to see there are people who knows what to do when it comes to interacting with Deaf people.

The Deaf Community is so diverse. It isn’t just what is in our backyards, but all over the world. It is a mixed pot of Deaf Culture and the culture of where you are. One thing about the Deaf Community, is it is an interconnecting community. Having one thing in common, Deafness, really opens doors while visiting other countries and meeting other Deaf people and their hospitality.

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