An Interview with the Famous
About.com Deafness Guide
If you have ever researched deafness, deaf people, or sign language online, you have most likely landed on one of the many Deafness articles by Jamie Berke at About.com. Jamie was the Deafness Guide for About.com from 1997-2012. When I was learning sign language, her articles were invaluable for my education.
Jamie Berke was kind enough to let me interview her in 2008 for this website. Even though, as of 2012, she is no longer the About.com Deafness Guide (more info here), her answers to the interview questions still give you a deeper look into the life of a deaf person who, despite always being in the world of the hearing, never stopped being Deaf and sharing her insights with the world.
1. What was it like learning sign language for the first time after growing up with an oral education?
It was more of a gradual process of discovery. My mother was working as an oral interpreter in a public high school, and from the deaf kids there, she was exposed to sign language. She brought home sign language alphabet guides for me, then a sign language book (the ABC Book of Sign Language, I think). I vaguely recall trying to teach myself through that book. Then when I was 14, I took a sign language class at the local community college. After completing the course (at the time, the college didn’t have any more advanced sign language classes) I had little if any sign language exposure until college.
2. After holding so many positions in Deaf organizations, what is it like working in the “hearing world” these days?
I have not held positions in deaf organizations, though I have been an activist before – with captioning and adoption. Most of my career has been spent in the hearing world.
3. If a hearing person wanted you to explain to them what it is like being a deaf person, what would you tell them first?
Good question. I like to say that, in the spirit of the line “you have to be deaf to understand” from that classic poem by Willard Madsen, that deafness is something that you live – you live with it, experience it on a daily basis.
4. If you could pick any article that you have written that is your most favorite, which would you pick and why?
Sorry – impossible question! If you had asked me ten years ago, I might have been able to answer. Today, with over so many articles on the About.com Deafness site, I’m unable to answer.
5. How would you compare your mainstreamed education at hearing schools to your college education at predominantly deaf schools?
In a nutshell my mainstream experience – which must be taken with a grain of salt and understanding that it was long ago during a time when there was less understanding and acceptance of deafness – was a lonely experience, all too typical of deaf children growing up in the 1970s and coming of age in the 1980s. It was in college that I found myself as a deaf person, and truly came to accept my deafness. To truly appreciate the difference, I recommend reading my autobiographical series on About.com, “Growing Up Deaf.“
6. While reading your bio, I noticed that recently you got a cochlear implant. Do you wish you would have gotten a cochlear implant earlier in life? Why or why not?
No, because getting a cochlear implant is not something you want to do before you are truly ready to do it. I could have gotten one years ago but I put it off because I was not truly ready. It took twelve years of living a life of total silence before I was truly ready. Even today, I find that I still prefer my silent world to the world of sound as I continue to adjust to having a cochlear implant. I also find myself referring to my implant as “my hearing aid” because to me, it is just a hearing aid.
7. You discuss current news in the Deaf community on your About.com blog. What do you think was the most interesting or exciting piece of news you’ve discussed and why?
I have covered so many news stories over the years that this is another “impossible” question. The blog has been around since 2003! If you are interested in news stories on a particular topic, you can use Google to find them on my blog. Just plug the following into Google:
sign language interpreting news stories
(the /b/ ensures that only the blog is searched by Google)
hearing aids site:deafness.about.com/b/
I just again want to thank Jamie for agreeing to an interview with me. Her answers give more insight into her biography and I have always wanted to know more about the woman who wrote these informative articles.
If you have not yet seen her section on About.com, then you are missing out. Even though (as of 2012) she is no longer the Deafness Guide for About.com, you can still find her hundreds if not thousands of articles in the Deafness section of About.com.
Her articles were invaluable for my education. So, if you plan on entering into the Deaf community, I recommend you get familiar with Jamie Berke’s section on About.com.