A Basic First-aid Class for Deaf Adults

By Joanne Greenberg

[Editor's note: This piece was originally written by Ms. Greenberg several years ago, so many of the time and date references may no longer be accurate. -- BitcoDavid]

Resusci_Annie photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Resusci_Annie photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The idea for the class came serendipitously. I was taking advanced first-aid and I mentioned to the Chief Instructor, that because there were a fair number of Deaf people in the Denver area, perhaps the class should learn some simple signs and the manual alphabet. I find Sign useful as an alternative means of communication when ordinary speech is impractical. The Instructor, being enterprising and adaptable, allowed me to do this. After the course was over, four of the instructors and one other student asked me if I would teach them basic Sign.

During those sessions we began to talk about the isolation that deafness imposes. The pre-lingual Deaf are often unable to get the simple life information that the Hearing learn informally from people around them. They are often further handicapped by reading problems and poor education. As these ideas were better understood, the instructors agreed that Deaf adults would be prime candidates for the Basic first-aid course.

I happened to know of an Adult Education class for the Deaf, and the co-leaders of this class, were delighted when I mentioned the possibility of a first-aid class to them. The class was taught in the basement of a church in downtown Denver. Its funding was partly private and partly state, and because it was both experimental and independent, we were encouraged to proceed at our own pace.

We began by having a simple social meeting with the class. The instructors’ Sign was still rudimentary, but it was important for the Deaf students to know that although there would be one or more interpreters for all classes, the instructors had taken the time and showed and interest in communicating with them directly. We have come to believe that this is a key point in the success of a first-aid program, that the instructors be well trained in all levels of first-aid instruction and also have at least fundamental command of Sign language. Sign helps break the reserve of the Deaf student and helps the instructor over any feeling of strangeness in working with all levels of Deaf people.

Formal sessions started with about 12 students, which soon dropped to 10. Their reading level ranged from about third grade to the post-graduate level and verbal skills had about the same spread. In addition we had an elderly woman who was so physically reserved the she was unwilling to sit on the floor during the first sessions and a middle-aged Black man who told us privately that he could never bring himself to have any physical contact with White people, especially women, due to the fear ingrained in him in his childhood. We also had two Hearing High School students, a boy and a girl.

The first classes were the hardest. We found we were going too slowly, teaching too much from the book. We were, in short, underestimating the intelligence of our students – confusing low language ability with low interest and competence. We soon began to feature practical demonstrations and to replace complicated explanations with role-playing. Our chief interpreter was intuitively alert to this and often gave up formal Sign for mime when the need arose. We divided the students into groups whenever we could and their competence with each other opened the way for them to demonstrate lifesaving methods on us. We faced the problems of shyness and race directly and frankly. In lifesaving situations, reticence and race have no place.

It soon became evident that more content was needed in the course and one of the instructors brought a Resusci Annie to class and gave everyone training in artificial respiration. The instructors and interpreters discussed this decision, like all others. We met at a local place for supper before each class and besides being pleasant; it was a good way of getting everyone’s views and feelings on decisions to be made and the progress of the class.

Most Deaf people depend on getting by with minimal understanding. Often they will respond to what they think we want, saying yes, yes, I understand, when they don’t understand at all. Some have grown up under the stigma, wrongly applied, of retardation, and will go to any lengths not to appear slow or stupid. Our greatest enemy in this class was phony acquiescence, and our pre-class talks allowed each of us to tell whether we had noticed any signs of misunderstanding of the body language that indicates pulling away, resentment, confusion or disapproval.

A paradox developed. We knew that we had been moving too slowly for these interested people and we began to speed up. (The class had stared on April 24 and we were halfway through May with only a fourth of the course finished.) On the other hand it was apparent that years of personal experience and a wealth of misinformation and old wives’ tales would have to be ventilated and put to rest before new learning could take place successfully. Because of the communication problem, the Deaf are keepers, storers of experience. The unexplained phenomenon, the misunderstood illness may be kept waiting for 25 years before someone comes who has the time and knowledge to listen and perhaps interpret correctly. We were slowed therefore, by the weight of the Deaf students’ pasts. (And, of course, butter on all burns – that’s what Mom did. The Deaf are nothing if not observant. In passing, it should be noted that one of the truest proofs of real learning I saw during the course was that one of the problems on the final was a 2nd and 3rd degree burn. We had butter, grease and margarine all over the place, and no one used any.)

Deviant Art - Alice of Spades (Don't worry, it's make up)

Deviant Art – Alice of Spades (Don’t worry, it’s make up)

Our strengths and weaknesses were becoming clearer to us with the passing of time. We had started speeding up the rate of instruction; we were relying almost entirely on Sign and demonstration. We were communicating without preaching, that first-aid can be done by Deaf people on other Deaf, or by Deaf people on Hearing, and that empathy and competence were the keys to success. One Deaf person described our sign as “groping, slow, clumsy and understood.” Our students understood and liked us.

The two Hearing students did not work well with the class. They seemed to feel themselves above the Deaf students and were self-conscious about role-playing. Whether this was Hearing or Adolescence we did not know, but they often made the class self-conscious and we all agreed that we would never again mix Deaf and Hearing students. Ultimately, they were the only ones to flunk the course.

Another misjudgment was our lack of a firm stand on attendance. Since the class was experimental, we started out by following the Teacher’s manual. The Basic course is supposed to be self-teaching; instead we had to resort to the lecture-discussion format. Usually, the reasons for missing class were good, but the effect on the teachers was demoralizing, since some of the students had shown very little retention of printed material that was not reinforced by discussion and practice.

Would you believe you can buy phony wound appliques on the Web?

Would you believe you can buy phony wound appliques on the Web? (Riseagainthenovel.com)

On June 30th we gave our final. We had tried written tests and found that 2 of our best students were failing, not because they did not know the material, but because their reading and writing skills were being tested and not their knowledge of first-aid. We met in the middle of June to plan a rigorous series of 6 accidents. Each accident had a victim, 2 first-aid practitioners an interpreter and an evaluator – unless the evaluator’s Sign skills were good enough to allow her to combine the functions. The victims were purposely both Deaf and Hearing, and some were complete strangers who had never worked with Deaf people before. We made sure more than one of the victims was a White woman.

The problems were: heart attack, open fracture of the jaw, second and third degree burns of the arm, Annie in asphyxiation, a suicide attempt using drugs, a fall from a ladder, shock and a fractured leg. Props and moulages were used and the blood flowed like wine, but no special allowances were made for physical reticence or the problems of inability to communicate with the Hearing. The students were forced to make Hearing strangers understand their intentions by whatever means were at their command. In this, they were remarkably successful.

We had often spoken of two pars of our goal for the class. First, that we might begin to train Deaf adults in first-aid skills and safety-consciousness, second, that we might be able to find and train a small cops of Deaf instructors who would be able to train other Deaf people, with more punch, wit and relevance the new could ever bring to such a course. We have proven that the first is not only possible, but practical and pleasurable for both students and instructors. We are now looking forward to accomplishing the second goal, using the top students of our first class as potential instructors. Training will begin this fall.

Throughout this account, I have tried to give a feeling of what we learned, good and bad, in our class. There are a few other recommendations we could give to Hearing first-aid people who want to teach the Deaf of varied reading levels. The point about instructors learning Sign has been made before, but is important enough to be repeated. Instructors should be prepared for surprises, good and bad, and they need to understand some of the dynamics of Deafness. Group teaching and continuous feedback assure that automatic answers won’t be taken for real learning.

Instructors will have to train themselves not to hear the extraneous harsh sounds made by some Deaf people. Some will have very poor speech, which may be incomprehensible as well as unpleasant. Sign is a further help there. Finally, fancy-pants interpreters or instructors are not good for work with low verbal Deaf people. Esophagus sounds scientific, but throat is the word that will be understood, and while myocardial infarction may be mentioned, heart attack is the phrase that has meaning. Signing instructors will know when the interpreter is speaking simply. If and instructor needs to know where to get an interpreter, she might go to the state school for the Deaf, and ask for the name of a solid no-frills Signer.

I have talked about work and problems. I have not talked about the pleasure of communicating with people starving to death for communication, o the joy of helping to heal decades-old wounds made by isolation. In the first-aid manual, it speaks of “promotion of confidence by demonstration of competence,” For the Deaf, that confidence is a prize above rubies.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

I Flunk My Hearing Test

By Joanne Greenberg

Hearing exam

Hearing exam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was sure that I would pass because I hear so much better than my husband, and while some people were difficult for me to hear unless I was facing them, most of them speak clearly enough for me to follow. I did the bit in the soundproof box and when the audiologist showed me the results on the graph, I asked if I could cram for the next one and make a better showing. Yes, I was better than my husband, but my hearing was worse than a normal person’s would be.

I am comfortable with the hearing aids I got, but I have to find someone I couldn’t hear before to see if the difference is as great as my audiologist things it will be.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Conversation at the Supermarket

By Joanne Greenberg

I was standing near the onions trying to figure out which kind I wanted, when I spotted a neighbor who greeted me. During our chat, she mentioned that her husband had new hearing aids. “They cost a mint, but he never wears them. I’m exhausted by his saying. ‘What?’ all the time and having to repeat myself 3 or 4 times before he gets what I’m asking him, and I’m almost howling. All our incidental conversation has been lost, the little back-and-forth that’s half the fun of being with someone.”

I nodded. “Same here,” I said. I was aware of movement behind me. I turned and there were 4 women, all nodding, and then they all broke out with similar stories about hearing loss and the fact that the person isolated by it isn’t the only one suffering.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

I Meet McCay Vernon

By Joanne Greenberg

About 40 years ago, a man called me up on the telephone. “I read your book, In This Sign, and I think you would be the one to work on a film I have in mind.”

I was annoyed. “I’ve never written a script,” I said.

He went on. “I have a grant to make a film about the effect of deafness on the families of deaf children.”

That was easy. Who was this clown? “I’m not interested in children,” I said. “My interest is in deaf adults. If I were to write the script for such a film, I’d have to know about the effect they have on families.”

“What if I got 20 or 30 sets of parents of deaf children to meet with you and talk about their experiences so that you would learn about them?”

“Sure,” I said, knowing it would never happen.

The next week he called again. “I have a a group of 30 set up in Denver, but you need to tell me when you will be free.”

I told him, scarcely believing what he said.

“I’ll be there to introduce you, ” he said, “so that we can tell them of the plan.”

I picked up McCay Vernon at his hotel and we started out, getting hugely lost in the wilds of downtown Denver, ending up at a Safeway Truck depot. He was patience personified. We got to the meeting late, but not too late.

The meeting was a revelation to me. We made the film. At first, I realized that the ordinary speech couldn’t be used, even though I had 3 hours of tapes to listen to. I made a script using bis of this and that and summarizing what I had heard. Our EXT problem was that using the parents themselves resulted in an artificial and stilted feeling and McCay finally went to a local (Westminster, Maryland) drama group. The film won a prize and I had a 40 year friendship with one of the most gifted, genuine, human people I would ever meet.

One of his gifts was, that he could sense what you were best at, and that would be the task he’d assign you. Most people – when putting together a project – will pick any warm body for a given task, but McCay had an almost 6th sense for assigning people the work at which they were best suited.

We did many projects together. I miss him deeply.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Book Review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

By Joanne Greenberg

English: Piper Kerman at the 2010 Brooklyn Boo...

Piper Kerman at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a memoir of fifteen months spent in Danbury Federal Prison work camp. In the range of prisons, this was the highest (best); the others were downhill from there. Piper had been a drug dealer, left the drug game, and ten years later was arrested in connection with a sweep arrest of her former gang members. This woman brought to her experience the absolute best possible strengths – she was healthy, young, attractive but not beautiful, cultured but not pretentious, and flexible.

The book reads well. The reader is brought into Piper’s  prison life as she goes through different levels of the experience, and the reader admires her ability to adjust to what are often uncomfortable but never horrific situations. Later, in jail, pending an appearance in court, things are not as manageable. The writing is smooth and interesting. I had some quibbles with her take on her fellow inmates. I don’t know of any group anywhere as comfort giving, stimulating, appreciative, or loving as how she describes her

fellow prisoners. The administration didn’t count at all. They appear and disappear in a mist with one or two exceptions that she managed to work around. The positive relations that she had with her fellow prisoners made me a little suspicious. I think she was using them to show how useless and ridiculous the modern American prison system is. I agree with her, but I can’t help feeling a little bit manipulated.

This book was highly recommended to me by a friend, and I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with her. I can see why the book would be very popular, because it strikes all the right notes. The prison system sucks, but ordinary people are the salt of the earth. As you already know, this is not the case. Most of the people I picked up when I was doing rescue just thought they were going someplace else. Occasionally, though, we got scuzzballs. I thing the police get bitter because of the scuzzball ratio and this influences their outlook.

The book can be purchased through Amazon.com as well as other outlets.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

The Half Message

By Joanne Greenberg

Many people who have been through strongly negative experiences will declare afterwards, that their sufferings gave meaning and richness to their lives. I’ve never heard these emotions expressed by people who have been in prison. Incarceration is an experience its designers made for the purpose of changing lives. Each country’s prison system mirrors its society’s values. We prize liberty – liberty is denied. We prize individuality – prisoners are given numbers for their names, dressed alike and regimented. What stops the prison experience from bringing meaning and thus growth to the experience is the huge inconsistency of the system, which was once planned to be strict but fair, and has ended up being capricious and undependable hour to hour. What is OK on Monday is forbidden on Tuesday. Where there is randomness, meaning shrinks and dies and so does learning. Lab animals are driven mad by random rewards and punishments; people fare hardly better.

I could imagine Deaf people doing well in a structured, consistent and fair situation. They follow a lifetime of watching the body language of the Hearing, which may be inconsistent with what the hearing person is saying. Unfortunately, the randomness of prison life has militated against guards or prisoners expressing outward emotion at all. Deaf people can read displeasure, fear or rage by closely watching the pupillary reaction of a subject, with this beyond conscious control. Staring however, which is what such monitoring takes, is liable to land the starer in the infirmary, or worse. In addition, body language can tell what – anger, fear, etc. but not why. The half-message  is often worse than none.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Two Quick Stories

By Joanne Greenberg

A lifetime of working with the Deaf has given me a wealth of great memories and stories to share. Here are 2 quick ones that come to mind.

I was in the nursing home, watching deafened elders scratching spidery words on paper. Many of the words were unreadable. A group was sitting, silent and isolated, in chairs along the wall. Isolation in old-age is a terrible thing to bear, I thought. I got to a fragile old man, with whom I communicated, by howling into his ear.

“I have a gift for all of you!” I shouted. “I can come up here and teach you sign language. Even if you are slow, or have arthritic fingers, you will be able to communicate with one another.” He waved me away.

“We may be low,” he growled, “being here, but we’re not that low.”

“Does that mean you’d rather be mute and isolated than use a beautiful and fluent language, to speak to one another?”

“Our dignity is all we have here,” he said, with a look of great distaste. “We don’t flap our hands around, gesturing.”

Before that conversation, I never would have believed that there was such a stigma connected with using Sign language. I thought the urge to speak and be understood could overcome any negative feelings about a strange manner of communication.

As America’s population ages, with people living longer than ever before, hearing loss is becoming more and more prevelent – and more problematic. Evidence now exists tying age related hearing loss to dementia. This story takes place back in the mid-Seventies. I know that acceptance of ASL has increased dramatically, and that’s great. But the language is still somewhat stigmatized, in particular among the elderly who struggle to come to grips with all the losses – physical and mental – that aging brings.

 ***

A Deaf girl was driving me to a class. She had asked me to interpret it, and we were on time. Suddenly, she signalled left, and pulled over to the side of the street. We waited. In a moment, I could hear a siren, but barely and far in the distance. Soon, the sound became louder, then stopped suddenly. Just as I was about to ask her, why she had pulled over, a fire truck – lights only – sped past us.

“Why did you pull over? I could barely hear that siren. And it stopped, well before the fire engine came by.”

“I saw all the people on the sidewalk, a few blocks back, and they all turned to see something coming,” she said. “It would have been either the fire or the police department – so naturally, I pulled over.”

We waited for a few moments, and then were on our way.

There are many forms of deafness. Some Deaf hear better than we do, but in a different frequency range. I have often heard stories of Deaf people hearing a crying baby or a siren, when no one else could. This however, represents a different skill set. This young woman had trained herself to pay attention to stimulus that we might ignore, knowing that what her ears couldn’t tell her, her eyes could. What matters here is not what she could see, but rather what additional information she could glean from what she saw. A valuable skill indeed.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Romancing the Wind

By Joanne Greenberg

Next time someone tells you to go fly a kite, show them this.

Ray Bethell is in his 80s, and Deaf. A Canadian, Ray comes to the Washington State Kite Festival every year. He flies 3 kites. Two with his hands and one attached to his waist. The audience signals their applause by waving their arms in the air. Please enjoy this man’s unique artwork.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Promises Made, Promises Broken

By Joanne Greenberg

Part of the problem of Deaf low reading levels is due to insufficient education. Why should this be? The problem of low reading levels among the Deaf was supposed to have been solved 30 years ago, when mainstreaming was instituted to give Deaf kids an equal classroom experience, among their hearing neighbors at the local school. Why weren’t Deaf children, many of whom were supplied with interpreters, not following the trail of the “normal” kids in their classes?

Promises were made that couldn’t be kept.

For Deaf students with Deaf parents, the understructure of ordinary information was present. Most Deaf children have hearing – non-signing – parents. Even those who do sign are not as linguistically proficient as a bilingual family would normally be.

Schools don’t do remedial work during summers. They tend to pass low functioning students on, until they drop out of High school, unequipped, even for High school – and with Grade school reading levels.

Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in special schools for the Deaf, bucking the trend of fake normalization. We are reinventing the wheel.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Concern at a Distance

By Joanne Greenberg

In Lakewood, Colorado as in many other places in the United States, people are protesting the placement of schools and other facilities for the Deaf. They worry about increased traffic, and the lowering of property values. They fear danger from the pupils in those schools, or the recipients of those services.

”We have nothing against the Deaf,” they say, “but the school doesn’t belong here – or here, or here. Such a school would spoil the integrity of the neighborhood.“

I’ve already heard this complaint. About Black people, Jews and Hispanics.

English: Alameda High School in Lakewood, Colo...

Alameda High School in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A society will create what it values. In this case, concern at a distance. The reality is, that dozens of studies of such intrusions, show us that when the “invaders” are welcomed, they serve to bond the community and result in improvement in property values and the stability of neighborhoods, the way schools, parks and other additions do.

A neighborhood near me accepted a group of at-risk boys in a residential center. The boys were under closer supervision from the school faculty, than home-raised children are. Their group leaders urged them to volunteer time and effort to help the neighbors around them. They became welcome presences in the community, shoveling snow and doing odd jobs for older people and shut-ins who needed their help. Friendships resulted. “The best neighbors you could have,” my friend told me. When the group wanted to expand, the new neighborhood picketed against them. Maybe a Wal-mart will come in for those fearful people.

English: Footprint of Walmart stores within th...

Footprint of Walmart stores within the United States. Areas with more than one branch have progressively larger points. Alaska not to scale with the rest of the map. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

Deaf Males and Sex Crime

By Joanne Greenberg

Deaf men are overly represented in prison for the commission of sex crimes. They are therefore more often the targets of prison cruelty from guards and other prisoners. I think this is the result of a closed world of Deafness, itself. We know that sex offenders are more usually made than born, having been assaulted themselves, during childhood. Other, bigger kids, in residential schools for the Deaf, rape girls and boys, and they have to encounter their tormentors throughout the school year – and often through life. Bullies can act with impunity. Who would tell on them, when there is no safe haven or refuge?

One sex abuser I know is, himself Deaf, and has been a teacher at a school for the Deaf. He abused many of his students. When finally charged with a rape, he did everything he could to impede the authorities – demanding different interpreters and declaring that without an interpreter suitable to his needs, and a lawyer fluent in Sign – not only Signed English, but also demotic ASL – he was not receiving equal justice.

Many minority individuals distrust the law so much that they will endure almost anything before calling “outside” for help. It’s only when the Deaf offender leaves that world – and commits offenses in the hearing world – that the offense comes to the attention of the law. By then however, the offender has habits that are entrenched and chronic. It’s not only a lack of knowledge of Deaf language and psychology that keeps Deaf prisoners far longer than hearing ones in prison, it is also the chronic nature of their offenses which makes for far longer sentences.

Joanne Greenberg was born in 1932, in Brooklyn, NY. She was educated at American University and received and honorary Doctorate from Gallaudet University – the world’s only college for the Deaf. She has written 2 books on the subject and has spent decades working with state mental hospitals for appropriate care for the mentally ill Deaf.

 

New Book Examines Drug Use in Treatment of Mentally Ill

The International Society for the Psychological Treatment of Schizophrenia (and other psychoses) U.S., is having their annual convention this year in Chicago. I am going to give a speech called, “The Lone Ranger is Busy and Tonto Has Split.” No matter what health plan is adopted for this country, it is going to feature large amounts of heavy-duty psychotropic drugs, given for relatively mild to moderate conditions.

The administration of these drugs has constituted chemical straight jackets to many people, making life-long invalids out of them. The new book that describes this problem, and promotes a solution is Rethinking Madness, written by Paris Williams.

Others have come forward with the same statistics. There has been marked improvement by patients who have stopped their drug regimens, compared with those who have not. We are going to have to solve, or at least ameliorate the serious problem of mental illness on our own. The medical/psychiatric community is not ready to accept this form of treatment. There are in this country today hundreds of small, active help centers and support groups, bringing relief to their patrons.

The Hearing Voices movement that started in England now has chapters in America. There are also private and alternative clinics and peer groups that have recorded improvements on all levels for the people who attend them.

When I looked at my insurance lists, of accepted drugs, I saw that fully 1/3 of the drugs listed were heavy-duty anti-psychotics. This should set off alarm bells in people who are paying great amounts of money, for treatments whose side effects are horrific.

We know that mental illness is treatable in many different ways. Not enough good research has been done on these ways.

Blacks and Whites Use Different Sign

The September 18th edition of the Washington Post – Health & Science section reports that even in the language of the deaf, race makes a difference. This story by Frances Stead Sellers of the Washington Post:

Carolyn McCaskill remembers exactly when she discovered that she couldn’t understand white people. It was 1968, she was 15 years old, and she and nine other deaf black students had just enrolled in an integrated school for the deaf in Talledega, Ala.

When the teacher got up to address the class, McCaskill was lost.

Image courtesy of Washington Post

What intrigues McCaskill and other experts in deaf culture today is the degree to which distinct signing systems — one for whites and another for blacks — evolved and continue to coexist, even at Gallaudet University, where black and white students study and socialize together and where McCaskill is now a professor of deaf studies.

Full graphic from Washington Post

You can learn more by clicking on the following link:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/sign-language-that-african-americans-use-is-different-from-that-of-whites/2012/09/17/2e897628-bbe2-11e1-8867-ecf6cb7935ef_story.html

 

 

 

Do Deaf people dream in ASL?

Often they do, but it depends on how long they have been deaf and what form of communication is natural to them. You can often see deaf people who are sleeping, talking to themselves in their sleep in full or half formed sign. Many report that the characters in their dreams use the same range of sign – regional professional or technical signs – and with the range of skill as I’ve seen in them while awake.

Deaf friends have told me that they dream they can hear, but since they don’t really know what that entails, or how speech sounds, they imagine some pretty bizarre things.

I have a friend whose parents I had known for quite a few years. I was sad when her mother died. And one day, I was talking to her about her family and I said, “I really miss your mother. We had quite a few telephone visits – and I always knew it was she, as soon as I picked up the phone. She had a very pleasant roughness to her voice. A texture that was unique.”

My friend looked at me in surprise and said, “Are you telling me that people have different voices?”

I told her that not only are our voices different, but most of our emotions were shown in the voice, and not as she had imagined, in face or body language. This surprised her. I also told her that we sometimes play or express other moods with our voices conveying one thing and our body language, another.

Think about what it must be like in prison, where voices are kept dead flat – which translates into dead flat ASL.

Just Visiting

The grounds are beautiful at the facilities I visit at the State Prison, Department Of Correction. I walk past careful beds of flowers, not a weed in sight. There are no trees or shrubs, though, nothing to interfere with the line of sight. We, the visiting group, go through the main door and into a small reception area with armed officers, two women, one man. Others come and go. They check my name and take my driver’s license, which they say they will return when we leave. They pat us down. No homemade treats are allowed. The other members of the party are checked out and we are sent through a door that clangs behind us. There is another steel door ahead of us, not yet open, so we stand between the doors, crowded into the space, maybe ten feet square, holding what we have brought. This is the moment when the unique experience of prison is made plain to me. The officers are unsmiling and show no emotion – their faces are blank and there is none of the anxiety-easing small talk of normal interchange. As visitors, we are potential sources of trouble. The door ahead of us is opened and clangs shut behind us. Ahead is a corridor whose walls have lists of rules and announcements: There will be a class beginning in Bible study on Thursday in room etc. GED classes will begin again next week. The prison newsletter is open for submissions.

We walk to a room led by a guard who opens the doors for us. The prisoners, in green scrubs are already there. The halls have a smell of disinfectant. This room is slightly better.

We are here to conduct Jewish services in the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the two stellar holidays of the Jewish year. We are bringing sealed supermarket items for a holiday meal. There can be nothing special, nothing handmade. We sit with the prisoners, one and one at the table, chatting for a few minutes. The prayer service begins. We take turns reading.

The room is square and large enough for the 12 of us to sit comfortably on the not very comfortable chairs. It is lit with florescent tubes and faint light from barred windows so dirty that the light comes through them filtered and muzzy.

In the middle of the service, two guards come in. Immediately, the prisoners stand and go to one end of the room, facing the center. A list is read. Each man responds to the number with his own number. The prisoners show no expressions of annoyance or impatience that this rare time with us has been interrupted. The speed with which they respond lets us know that no expressions of irritation or words of impatience are tolerated, even though the guards knew we were here and could have put off the count until we left.

The count completed, the guards leave and we go back to our service and then give out the paper plates and plastic spoons, which will later be collected. We unwrap the less than appetizing food and begin to eat. We have been chatting all the while. Have they been able to light candles for Sabbath prayers? No. What have they watched or read that they have liked lately? Sometimes we laugh together. Newspapers and entertainment programs are scanned here, and edited to weed out acts of violence. We answer questions if we can. Partisan political news is expunged. What is or is not allowed the prisoners changes from day to day and no complaints about this are tolerated. Little planning can be counted on, few plans made. This keeps the escape rate low, but it also infantilizes the inmates.

There is, at all times, a low-key but constant tension in the prison. No one is at ease. Our meal over, we embrace the prisoners and knock on the door – we have been locked in – and the guard opens it an escorts us back the way we have come and to the office. We get our driver’s licenses back and anything that was taken from us as being potentially dangerous or forbidden. Three hours have passed. It feels like all day.

As I think of what a deaf prisoner might experience, especially if no other Deaf are in the facility, I realize how easily misinterpretations can occur. Deaf people use lots of physical actions, signs and expressions. Even when they are not using Sign for speaking, they tend to gesture, to give and reflect facial and body movements, their only ways of understanding emotion and motivation. No one lip-reads that well. The deadpan prison expression in guards and inmates gives them no clues as to what is being requested or implied. There is every kind of room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. The physicality – gestures, facial expressiveness and simple inability to hear are all, contrary to prison culture. Deaf people depend on cues not given in the prison subculture. No wonder their behavior write-ups and bad reports are double those of ordinary inmates. No wonder their sentences are ramped up due to bad behavior.

 

 

 

 

 

Not Everything is Captioned

An Old Philco Predicta TV. This was the iPad of its day. Image courtesy of http://antiqueradio.org/philc12.htm

Sometime ago, a Deaf friend asked me to interpret the 10:00 News. Captioning doesn’t always work with live TV feeds from on scene reporters, so I was glad to comply.

“All of it,” she said.

“Sure.”

First, was a statement that the President said the country was on an even keel. Things were improving. This was said by the reporter, whose name was featured.

“Who is saying that, the President or the reporter?”

Then the President said the same thing.

“Huh?” my friend said.

“Shut up,” I said sweetly. Next the head of a citizens group in Chicago stated that the President is completely wrong. Things are not getting better, they’re getting worse. This was said by another reporter. Then we saw the citizen’s group representative saying the same thing.

“He said the same thing. How do we know who is right, and on what basis is their estimate made?”

“Shut up,” I said cheerily. Then we had commercials, which I interpreted.

“Ridiculous” she said.

Then, a report of a fire, a couple of hit and runs and a drive by shooting. More commercials. The weather – self explanatory. Lastly, a reporter told us, that he was speaking from the gold reserve center at Fort Knox, Kentucky. If the drain of gold leaving the United States isn’t stopped in 3 days, the country will be left with huge gold deficits which would result in an immediate crisis.

“Oh my goodness!” cried my friend. “How could this terrible thing have happened? Won’t the government marshall all its powers to stop this – what a crisis!”

“Crisis, nothing” I said, and I turned off the set. “We get crises every evening. I never heard of this one before – and I know I’ll never hear it again. Choose your cataclysm. But, you wanted the news that hearing people get – and you got it.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense.”

“That’s why they call it the boob tube.”

“But…”

“Shut up,” I said, “and drink your brandy.”

No, It’s Not Ideal

A prison guard: 'Corrupt' prison guards fuel drug culture

Image courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/2262984/Corrupt-prison-guards-fuel-drug-culture-in-prison.html

Placing deaf inmates together has a positive effect, both for the individual in prison and for the officials and guards who are responsible for his care and treatment. There will be less, not more, of a management problem when deaf prisoners are grouped together, irrespective of the crimes for which they are being imprisoned. Tomoka has a facility in which deaf people have been grouped. There is another in Huntsville, Texas including a G.E.D. program for deaf inmates.

Image courtesy of http://www.queerty.com/how-dare-you-fire-this-dallas-prison-guard-for-telling-co-workers-about-how-gays-should-be-exterminated-20100316/

I would like to hear from deaf inmates there, how things are within the program. I would also like to hear from guards, administrators and other personnel, what their experiences are with deaf inmates. What do you experience in managing diverse populations in the system?

Image courtesy of http://vipdictionary.com/classroom

The Injustice of Lonliness as Punishment

[The tagline for DeafInPrison.com is Sentenced to Solitude in Silence. Our contributor JoanneGreenberg sent this in. --Ed.]

The hardest part of being deaf and in prison may not be the rapes, the missing of messages or the misunderstanding in general. It might be the absence of other deaf people. Imagine a Russian or Basque speaker in jail who knows very little English, and suffers the unappeased hunger for simple contact, conversation and communication. This absence, we hear from other prisoners, is what is so biting in solitary confinement.

What I remember from my trips to mental hospitals, before their patents were ditched into our local streets, was the complaint of deaf people there who had been placed geographically, instead of by medical definitions. This was a huge advance for the ordinary hearing mentally ill, because it didn’t discriminate between chronic and acute conditions, thereby allowing the chronic to be simply warehoused instead of being treated. For the Deaf, it was ruinous because they had no way of knowing who else might be there with whom they could communicate.

Now, the prisons have the same problem. If deafness could take prcedence over the type of crime or the length of sentence, deaf people could be housed together and services tailored to their needs could be instituted.

Behavioral Control

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Go Directly to Jail

Jail Cell at Alcatraz. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

 

Being an ex-con is hard enough.

Many of the educational opportunities available to people in prison are not available to the deaf inmate. We hear of men graduating high school and even of completing college by taking advantage of the volunteer-run programs that tutor and teach.I know three people who conduct such programs as well as programs for simple pleasure and improvement – poets in prison, being one.  In our federal and state institutions the deaf stand outside the options provided for help and training.  Unless members of the deaf  support world stand up to help, these programs and others will never be available to the deaf prisoner.
Education may be the brightest hope prisoners have and a hand extended to help might be of great advantage in the lives of deaf prisoners in and out of the correctional system. Being an ex-con is hard enough.  The social cost is already great. I’m not trying to appeal to professional interpreters, but to people in the larger deaf community who know Sign–sisters, brothers, friends.  If you want to do something good, go to jail, go to prison.  If my Sign weren’t so lousy, I’d be there, myself.
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