by Rick Whited
(Grand Terrace, California)
I’m with others in noting that all of these individuals played a significant role in the history of sign language – some from a positive perspective, others from a negative. What more can be said of L’Epee and the Gallaudet’s? Even Bell thought he was progressing the education and quality of life of the deaf with what he was doing and it really did contribute to a better understanding of what was necessary for the deaf to maximize their potential.
That said, I’ll approach this from a more personal level. When I was 11, a family moved in across the street and one of the kids was a quiet, timid boy who eventually became my best friend growing up. Dave was deaf and he and his family were under the impression that if he could simply vocalize and read lips, then he would function in hearing society without hitch. I knew that was nonsense, but I also knew that Dave was smart and a tremendously talented artist. Unfortunately, everyone he came into contact with thought he was retarded and because he was trying to read lips and vocalize his confidence took a beating while people pushed him away and rejected him.
It wasn’t until his mother enrolled him at California School for the Deaf at Riverside and he learned sign language that he came out of his shell. Our ability to communicate with each other and his ability to express himself through his signing and my translating grew tremendously. It was an eye-opening experience for a 12 year old kid and even though Dave moved away when I was 16, the importance of his ability to communicate with his signing never left me. I stopped using my signing (and I had a young teenager vocabulary when I stopped!), but recently was reminded that there is a need to keep those lines of communication open with the deaf community, so I’m learning it all over again! So, first, thank you CSDR for changing lives.
The second significant person was the person responsible for the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and other movies like it. Despite its leftist message at times, the movie did a good job of showing the fear, the confusion, the anger, the frustration, the difficulty that exists on both sides of the fence when it comes to deaf people existing in a hearing world – or vice versa! It also did a good job of showing the amazing talent that exists in the deaf. Sadly, I think there is still a natural tendency in the hearing to think that there is something “broken” in the deaf and movies like this help dispel that notion and maybe, just maybe, it might encourage those from both sides to step up and say hello.
When that happens, we all benefit!