Listening: getting involved with the deaf community

By William Lewandowski
lewandowwi@mnstate.edu

Deaf, to a person who can hear, seems like a derogatory term. But this is far from the truth. The use of the term deaf indicates someone who cannot hear, with deep roots in deaf culture.
Deaf people have a rich and flourishing culture with strong connections and a close-knit community. Deaf culture is much different from the culture of hearing people. By valuing children, who are the future of deaf people, and the value of communication throughout the culture, community and world, deaf culture has created strong connections not only in the community but throughout the world.
When I became friends with Austin, a deaf person I went to high school with, I wasn’t prepared for what I was getting into. I met Austin in a technology class my sophomore year of high school. I started to learn how to sign from him and Jana, his interpreter for the class. A new branch of my life began to grow. I became great friends with Bambi, Stacy, Bill and Jana, the interpreters throughout school, as well as Kira and Taylor, two other deaf students in my high school.
The signing was just one thing. Soon I was taking American Sign Language classes at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead during my senior year of high school. Taught by another friend and interpreter, Lindsey, I really started to grow with signing.
Then I jumped into the deep end of the pool.           I was invited to Deaf Night Out. For those who don’t know, Deaf Night Out is where many of the deaf community within the Fargo-Moorhead area gather together and have a night out together. It was a blast, except the part where I was lost in translation.
A note to those who would like to experience a Deaf Night Out, don’t be afraid to tell them to slow down. I was confused most of the time, but I was happy Austin had taken me to it because I had a blast. I had finally become part of a larger, well-cultured community. I felt so accepted, especially being a hearing person. I felt so cared for; it was such a warming feeling to be around all these people.
The closeness of deaf culture is something I never thought I would have become a part of. Growing up, I never thought sign language and deaf culture would ever be a part of my life. The loving, close friends I have made with the people in the deaf community and the amazing, caring friends I have made with the interpreters through high school have pushed me to love it all even more.
I encourage others to become a part of the signing and deaf community. Here on the MSUM campus we have an ASL (American Sign Language) club. Even if a student doesn’t know how to sign ‘hello’, we encourage others to come and learn and be a part of the fun events. Coming up is Signing Santa, where deaf kids in our community go to meet a Santa who signs and communicates with the kids. It is such a wonderful experience to see a deaf Santa sign with the deaf kids. It’s really a sign of true Christmas spirit.
I am so glad I have been a part of  the warm community. The friends, the memories and the continuing involvement all contribute to a part of me I will never forget or abandon. I am so glad I met Austin and started learning sign language. I encourage others to take a chance and discover the signing and deaf communities. It may become a great part a college student’s life.

One response to “Listening: getting involved with the deaf community

  1. I am a mid-forties hearing woman just beginning to learn ASL, and I am nervous about acceptance by the Deaf community. Being invited to Deaf Night Out by a known Deaf person must have been a wonderful introduction to the group for you. I really liked reading about it. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

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