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Stuttering and sign language

Episode #217: We’re not the only ones who get “the look”! On this episode, learn all about Deaf culture, their similar experiences as ours, and what it’s like to be a sign language interpreter.

[Please note that in the spirit of awareness, some of the stuttering was kept in the transcript. Repeated syllables were not included for the interest in time (oh the irony!), only repeated words. Also, some of the dialogue was changed for legibility since the spoken word and written word differ.]

Daniele Rossi: Hello and welcome to episode 217 of a stuttering school podcast I’m your host Daniele Rossi also known as Danny recording on Saturday February the 3rd 2018 on a very, very cold evening in Toronto, Canada. We’re talking minus 13 degrees celsius with the windchill. I know it has been a while since my last episode so happy new year! I hope you had a great start to 2018.

Anywho on this episode, I’ll be moving a little bit away from the topic of stuttering and talking to two people who stutter who work with deaf people. In the second half hour, we will find out the differences and similarities in the crazy stuff that we get from hearing and fluent people. And right now in the first half hour, we will learn all about becoming an American sign language interpreter.

Chris Chiarelli: My name is Chris Chiarelli. Right now I’m currently in Vancouver. Well, I’m in the Vancouver area I’m glad to be here.

DR: “Right now”? so it sounds like you travel a lot.

CC: No I just mean like right now within – because I’ve always been in Ontario in the past so this is my first time not being home so in the grand scheme of things it’s new to be out here. But we moved to a new area of Vancouver about six months ago.

DR: This is going to be a treat for the listeners because I don’t know who you are so the listeners and me at the same time get to know Chris who had to send me an email and said “Hey, I would love to come onto your show and talk about”, I believe, it was what you said, stuttering and you’re a sign language interpreter.

CC: Yeah well I’m in school for it so I just started last fall and the fall of 2017. I started at a college out here and it’s a program where we are being trained to work in from English to sign language. To and from. So depending on who I will be set up to interpret for it’ll be either English or American sign language.

DR: Do you get to choose which?

CC: No that’s one of the challenges I think I’ll face when I actually start to go out there and start interpreting is that’s there’s a lot of unknowns and that can be a bit of a challenge in terms of being as fluent as you want to be. Maybe it’s a little bit if you’re unsure of what you need to say or unsure of what you’ll be what or who you’ll be in interpreting for. It definitely adds a new challenge to it so it’s one of the things that I’m interested in and excited to see what the challenge is.

DR: So when you say fluency do you mean fluency when signing or fluency with stuttering?

CC: No speaking more so I don’t actually. I sign perfectly fluently. I don’t have any problems signing. It’s one of the things that kind of drew me into it.

I took American sign language when I was in my second year of university as a course that was typically one of the more easier, fun courses to take and when I took it and sort of went through the semester I noticed that I could sign fluently and say everything that I could or everything that I wanted to without having to add on the extra thought of trying to speak as as fluently as I can. So it was one of the things that kind of drew me into it in a sort of accidental way I didn’t plan on it. And so I took that first course and then I took it for another three years after that. I was supposed minor in it but I completed my four-year degree in three and a half so I didn’t quite get my full minor in it. And then when I moved out to Vancouver, I wanted to continue my skills and try and learn more because it’s one of the things where if you don’t sign for quite some time you tend to forget it so I wanted to make sure that I found either a course or a club out here that I could take to kind of keep up my skills– there are clubs in quite a few schools that don’t have formal classes but I actually I found a 10-month course out here that is pretty intensive so I took that and then once I was done that it kind of moved me into the interpreting program that I’m in right now.

It’s kind of a it’s kind of a pre-course for it it’s not one that you have to take but it’s one that they like kind of heavily hang on for having people come into the interpreting program that that I’m in right now.

DR: Oh wow so it sounds like it’s a passion!

CC: Yeah for sure it is.

DR: Great things happen when people just follow their passions.

CC: Yeah well it’s it’s interesting to think cause as of probably a year and a half ago when I was sort of halfway through the program I was in before the one I’m in right now, I had no thought of working as in working in the field of interpreting. It wasn’t something that I was thinking about and as I went through the program I got lots of encouragement, you can say, to go into the interpreting program. As a male there’s not a lot of men working in the field so they need as many men as they can because it’s a highly – I don’t know what the actual amount is but like right now my class of, I think, we’re 13 or 14, I’m the only one in there… there’s not a ton of men in the interpreting field.

DR: Come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever seen a male ASL interpreter. I’ve been to just a few, maybe three or four places or meetings, whether it’s a town hall at work or a conference where they had interpreters, and they’re always female.

CC: Yeah there’s a lot more females in the interpreting field for sure so that was why there was a big push for me to go into it. Plus, I feel like I have the skill to do it so I just hadn’t ever really thought about it. It was one of the things where I thought that if I was ever called upon to speak for somebody and I possibly couldn’t say what they were wanting to say and what they can’t actually say so I’m speaking for them. I felt like if I ever got to a point where I was stuck and possibly couldn’t say it the way that it it probably should be said I feel like that was unfair for the person that I’m going to be interpreting for so that was kind of an internal conflict that I had with myself.

Actually, I had the chance to talk to the program coordinator and kind of asked her if I would be okay working in that field or not and she said “To be honest with you, I have no clue. I have never worked with someone like you before” so it was it’s been a sort of a new process for everyone so far. So far it’s been going pretty well and I think there’s gonna be some pretty unique challenges coming up.

DR: Such as?

CC: Such as? So next weekend we have our first chance to do some actual interpreting. What that means is it’s actually like on the spot sort of thing. All the training we’ve had before now has we’ve had to translate stuff, which isn’t the same as interpreting, where you have time to sort of formulate what you want to say, you have time to change it, rerecord it if you want to, and it’s just not high stress kind of thing as it is when it’s actually on the spot. So we’ll see how it goes. This is sort of my big test coming up for me. So we’ll see how it goes. I’m pretty confident that I’ll get through it. It might not be where I want it to be but then it gives me something to kind of try and improve on.

DR: So you said it’s more like translating so is interpreting, so you’re graduated, you’re in the professional field now, does that mean that when you’re doing your interpretation, if someone says “I went to the store” you’re not actually translating into a new language, which is sign language, “I went to the store” you’re probably giving the overall–

CC: Yeah yeah so it’s always fun to kind of talk with someone about the interpreting process because it’s fairly unknown to most people. So it’s kind of interesting to sort of tell someone who’s not sure about what it’s supposed to be. What it is. So basically, when you’re interpreting, you’re taking one source and you’re putting it into something else. And when you look at sign language interpreting, it’s one of the few out there that is simultaneous almost. So it’s it’s hearing or seeing what someone is saying or signing and taking it in and then changing it to fit the output. So you’re you’re doing that meanwhile you’re still trying to hear or see what’s still coming in. Whereas if you were to like compare it to someone who was going English to Chinese or something like that, if you’re doing that kind of stuff it’s typically you hear what’s being said in Cantonese or whatever and then you’re hearing it and then you have time to just sort of change it and then speak it in the output which is let’s just say in English.

So typically you’re not speaking over the person who’s talking because it’s because then you couldn’t hear what they’re saying but it’s pretty unique when you can you can hear and then you can also do the output at the same time or see and then speak the the output at the same time because you’re not going to interrupt the speaker or the signer.

So it’s it’s a it’s one of the heavier cognitive challenges that you’ll have to do in any sort of any sort of any sort of if any sort of any sort of field I think it’s one of them it’s a it’s a unique cognitive cognitive challenge I think.

DR: Is that why I always see two ASL interpreters at a conference? You seem to take breaks like it’s probably so much so much brain power…

CC: Here typically the process looks like you work probably about in about 20-25 minutes shifts. So you’re switching off quite a bit but at the same time, you have someone there to interpret with to kind of support you if you miss anything. So there’s also someone that you can kind of lean to to ask for help if you need it.

DR: Man, it sounds a lot like stuttering when you’re really trying to control everything, you know, as you’re speaking, and you know, pay attention to eye contact, and your secondaries.

CC: Yeah and and that’s that’s one of the things that is challenging for me. And one of the things that I’m interested to see how it how it actually plays out because we do that every time we speak but I’m basically trying to do that twice. So it’s it’s it’s a heavy, heavy task to ask my brain to do so the problem for me right now as I haven’t had much of a chance to really try it out. So I I think it’ll I think it’ll be okay but we’ll see.

DR: Would you like to share what it was like for you growing up stuttering?

CC: Me growing up stuttering looked… it was it’s it’s interesting because when I look at my childhood and and my, like, teenage times, it wasn’t something that I don’t think I was very aware of it. I knew that I had it. I had a few challenges in terms of just socially and that kind of normal typical stories that you hear. I had a really, really great supportive friends and family so I didn’t ever feel like I was held to, like, hanging out on my own or I couldn’t go out and be with my friends or anything like that. I always felt that I could be who I wanted to be.

The big the biggest change for me sort of came around my university days and that was sort of my becoming. I had a feeling that I was starting to be my own my own my own obstacle and I felt that I was in my own kind of thing. So that that came about in my first year in my second year so and then it was interesting because it’s one of the few times that I can kind of point to an actual time frame where I changed the way I was thinking and focused more on making sure I was saying what I wanted to say and not so much on how I’m saying it and I saw a change in the way that I approached, like, school, people, teachers, everybody and understood that most of the time people are hearing what you are saying and not so much how you’re saying it.

And that was a big big change for me. That was a big it was a big change for me and sort of from that point on my thinking about how I speak changed because I started to not care. I still cared but it wasn’t my main thought of how I’m saying it but it was more about what I was saying.

And then towards the end of my degree in my fourth year, I got the chance to kind of speak to a few classes. And it was for a communication communication class that I took in my third year and it was taught by a speech-language pathologist. And so I had gotten pretty close with her and then she basically asked me if I could speak to the class. She taught one or two classes on speech language speech language speech language pathology and all the things that kind of come into play if you want to go into that field.

So I did that and then once I moved out to Vancouver here, I have spoken twice now to the UBC‘s speech language pathology class for the past two years. It’s one of the things… that I’m a lot more comfortable speaking to it now than I have it in the past so that’s a big, big change for me for sure that happened in the grand scheme of things over like a year and a half but it was a pretty big change so it’s it’s something that I can pick out in the time timeframe of my 26th year.

DR: Do you know what caused that shift in thinking?

CC: I don’t know if I can speak to one specific thing. There was a time when I felt that I had a ton to say and I and I started to see and, like, it sounds kind of braggy but I started to think that I had smart things to say and by me not saying it, I felt like people didn’t know that I had these things to say. So I felt like it’s not fair to me but it’s also not fair to everyone else – if I have something to say for them to not hear what I have to say.

DR: Because you could be comforting a friend, those words of wisdom you want to say, for example.

CC: In my second year, third year, I started to feel like I could I could have a ton of positive input to what was being taught or what was being taught in class and I felt that I wanted to be a part of this for me and for the class as well. I don’t think it was, like, a one time, there was just like, boom and then I felt okay. But it was a pretty quick change in the grand scheme of things. It was me starting to know more about who I am and at the same time having a good having a good understanding of school and feeling that I wanted to do more in school and have more of more of an input in school in school.

DR: Are you involved in the stuttering community that’s out west in British Columbia?

CC: I am not. It’s one of the things that I actually haven’t ever been in. Even when I was in Ontario I wasn’t in any real communities. I didn’t really have any friends who were in the community. I didn’t really know anyone that had a stutter. I think why that is is because I’ve never felt alone in being, like, without friends or without family. I’ve always had the support that I felt that I needed. I’m not, like, we shouldn’t be in them or anything like that, I think it’s important for sure.

I’ve done a few of the few of the Stutter Socials that have come up on, I think it’s, like, Sundays are the ones that I have time for. But yeah, I’ve never really been a part of any of the groups or anything like that. I also didn’t do much therapy as a kid either. I know I did when I was younger but once I started into my preteens and I stopped. There was there was there was two things that kind of made me choose to stop. One, I didn’t feel like it was helping much. When I look at it now, I think it did and I think I used some of the things that that I was taught but at the time being 13, 14, you don’t want to do anything that you don’t think is gonna be helpful at that time. But at the same time I didn’t want to spend time without my friends or without my family. Because typically when I was in any sort of therapy I was pulled out of class or I had to go on breaks. So I just didn’t want to do it.

And the positive thing for me is, like I said, my friends, I hung out with them all the time, they were incredibly supportive so I didn’t ever feel like I wanted to spend time without them. It was the kind of thing where I was okay, I was comfortable, I was to a point where I could talk with them and I didn’t feel like I couldn’t talk to them. So I just stopped that and and haven’t gone back since. I haven’t done any more therapy, haven’t been a part of any of the groups or communities anywhere. And it’s not that I don’t want to be it’s more of the fact that I just I’m okay right now I’m whether or not anything whether or not I’m gonna wait till it’s too late kind of thing is on me but for the most part right now, I feel like I have anything that I need in terms of support from friends family my my my my partner as well so it’s all been it’s all been good for me in terms of social feeling ok.

DR: So what brings you, and this isn’t a challenge, what brings you to Stutter Social?

CC: Stutter Social for me – I’ve only been in three or four of them so far – it was a way for me to… it was kind of a two-tiered thing. Again, it was one, it was a way to just meet people who can have a shared thought thought thought thought process on how I kind of handle everything and it was also a chance for me to practice speaking with people, and speaking with people who are comfortable hearing me get stuck. It’s one of the things where it’s a supportive area where you can go and speak freely and not have to be too concerned about about thinking what the other person is is seeing and hearing from you.

DR: Do you ever get that when you’re doing the ASL interpreting – if the other person is thinking or I guess what I’m trying to say if they’re judging your interpretation of what they’re saying or anything like that. Does that even exist?

CC: It does probably every time you try and interpret anything. It’s an interesting thing because you have both the sources. So you have English and you have sign and you can kind of… in your head, everything you’re saying is the perfect way to say it but maybe to someone else who can’t hear it or can’t see it or can’t can’t comprehend what’s being signed… what you’re saying might not make sense. So in that… so you’re definitely having someone see what you’re saying or hear what you’re saying critically. So that happens every time you interpret and I think that’s again I’ve chosen to go into something where that’s something that I know and something that I have to handle every time I speak. So I’m kind of just trying to do something that I know about and that’s a good challenge to kind of handle and then trying to add something else on to that which is basically the same thing so it’s two times the the challenge I guess.

DR: Do you have any pieces of advice for any members of the listening audience if they want to get into ASL interpreting?

CC: If they want to go into ASL interpreting, I would suggest that you first look into your passion for language. I think that’s one of the things that got me into it. American Sign Language is not an easy thing to learn. It’s a very challenging language. It is an entirely new language. It would be the same as if you are trying to learn French or or Chinese or anything like that. It is a very challenging thing to do. If you’re passionate and you want to put in the time, definitely do it.

The deaf community is one of the most supportive groups of people out there. They face so many challenges, they are incredibly o o o o o oppressed and they have to handle that everyday. I am excited to be working with them because I feel like I’m not, I don’t feel like I am in any way oppressed but I I know that I’m an extremely privileged person, I have had everything that I needed I can have, but at the same time we understand what it is to not always fit in the way that everyone else fits in because of because of because of a thing that’s not in our control. So in that, like, I feel I feel a sense of connection with them in that, I’m in no way trying to say that I face anything that they have, that’s a whole thing that I will never fully know, but on this on the very very light light surface I sort of understand what it’s like to have something that you can’t always control. That’s one of the things that if you have the right mindset for that, and you sort of understand that, and you want to be a supportive person for them and for for everybody, it would be a good fit.

The biggest problem is there’s not much training here in Canada. There’s only, I think, five schools that have an interpreting program. So it’s a very unique program here. So in that way, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t be in this program when I think how small the programs are. It’s it’s a way to kind of help me feel like I actually should be here and I can do it.

That’s all that I can say. It’s one of the things where if you put in the time and put in the work I think anyone can succeed in it if you have the right kind of mine mindset for it.

DR: Yeah I’ve always thought to myself how come they don’t teach ASL in schools, in elementary schools. Things like that because you never know – you could be walking on a street one day and someone collapses and you know you go to help them…

CC: Yeah it’s one of the things that definitely can… we’re a bit behind the times on. In other places, I would say the U.S. is farther ahead but that’s just based on pure pop pop pure population. They have more people than us. But there are places around the world where they teach it to children and it’s a part of the culture. Children pick it up sooner than they pick up spoken so it’s yeah I would encourage people if they want to they should and anytime you can talk or you can talk to someone who uses American Sign Language or LSQ, which is the Quebec one, it’s just so helpful. Because it’s hard for them to communicate with anyone throughout their day. So any any chance you you can, I would take a course. Even if it’s just an intro course, it’s it’s definitely helpful.

[Music plays]

DR: That was Chris Chiarelli, student ASL interpreter from Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. And with me now on the United States west coast in California is my friend Heather Najman. Did I say that correctly?

Heather Najman: You did Danny hello it’s psychotherapy to deaf and hearing children, parents, couples, etc.

DR: Heather is also a Stutter Social host. Just a side note if you’re not familiar with Stutter Social, it’s a four-time weekly online group video chat for people who stutter all around the world. Details at Full disclosure – I’m one of the co-founders. Stutter Social is also free to use so you have every reason to give it it a try. Anywho, back to the show. Welcome to Stuttering is Cool, Heather!

HN: Thank you, Danny. It is fun to be on. We’ve been we’ve been talking about this for a while so I really glad to be here, thanks.

DR: First question… a reason that I brought you on was, well, I mean it’s pretty obvious because you have a lot of experience with signing and, well, tell us about your job.

HN: Well, I’ve worked in the field of deafness, I don’t know for, gosh, over over twenty years. Originally, I had started working in mental health in Chicago and worked both in a day program and in a community based program which means we would go out and see people in their homes, or we’d meet people at McDonald’s, or in their workplace, and then I also did some freelance interpreting for a few years. And then worked with people who were late deafened and hard of hearing which is not only a different group of people but different needs, different challenges, and different experiences. As people who lose their hearing later in life don’t usually grow up knowing sign language and so for those who choose to learn it’s a different process. So I’ve worked with people who were what we call “Big D” deaf, culturally deaf, “Little D” deaf, those who become deaf later, late deafened and hard of hearing.

Then I moved from Chicago out to California and worked with people with various disabilities – with physical, emotional, mental – when I was working for vocational rehabilitation. But then I left that a few years ago and went back to school again and now I’m working on my licensure as a MFT – Marriage and Family Therapist – and as a what they call LPC, licensed professional counselor, so providing therapy to both hearing individuals, couples, and families at one center but this this job which I just took last summer is on a deaf team and half of us are hearing, half of us is deaf, and we go out into people’s homes here in Los Angeles and provide psychotherapy to families and individuals where there is a deaf person. Sometimes it’s a child, sometimes it’s a deaf parent who has hearing kids, sometimes it’s a deaf brother or sister, a sibling, and sometimes it’s just just one-on-one. So it’s couples, individuals, families and it’s been a great experience kind of bringing my old life into my new therapy career.

DR: Wow! During my chat with Chris – and this is kind of part of the reason why I wanted to bring you on to the show – you’ve listened to our interview. He mentioned experiencing cognitive overload when he signs – I don’t know why I chuckle at that, I guess because I’m laughing with him going “yeah, I can imagine how you’re thinking and signing and all that stuff like five different languages going on in your brain” – do you experience this, the same thing, because you’re working with hearing people and sometimes it’s in groups, hearing and deaf…

HN: Yeah I do, although it’s changed through the years. When I first started to learn sign, I was very, very fluent. It’s like I was trying to find a sign and I found that my stuttering was much much less and that, you know, it’s funny people think that I went into deafness because of my of my my stuttering and that was not not the case at all. But as I started to learn sign better and as I started to sign more, I’m just like in any foreign language, you start to think in that in that second language. For me then, some of my stuttering , I wouldn’t say came back, but I could be signing and if I was voicing then I could stutter at the same same time. Now if I’m signing in ASL, American Sign Language, I’m usually turning off my voice because ASL has a different word order and so it’s if I’m voicing then it becomes more more in English.

Chris had mentioned in his his talk that’s sort of like being conscious of being the deaf person’s voice and I found that was something that I thought a lot about when I was freelancing. I would be very careful about the types of jobs that I would take where the voicing is still important because I I was that that that person’s voice. But I was careful in terms of I tended to work better in small smaller settings. I was freelancing at an agency or doctor’s office or things like that as opposed to a stage or a big board meeting. I felt that how my my stuttering was at that point in time in years back that I was concerned that I wouldn’t give the good voicing that I wanted to. So I so I I chose carefully what I felt that I could do and do well.

The other piece is that I will tend to just like I I advertise with hearing people, I also advertise with deaf people because what I say is is “look I have a voice that is is different” and I and I spell stutter – I’m I’m waiting to see from Greg Greg Snyder what his sign is for “stutter”.

DR: I was about to ask. Is there a sign for stutter?

HN: Well, Greg says yes they have. I haven’t seen it. I have I have asked various various deaf friends. How I sign it now is I sort of like make my mouth kind of go crooked and speaking kind of off and then and then I then I spell it and if the person’s got got a good grasp of English they’ll go “oh okay”. If they don’t know, they’ll go “what what’s that?” then I’ll say “well my my voice stops and starts and sometimes you might see my lips move sideways or my my eyes will close so I don’t talk like other other hearing people”. And they go “okay” and then we move on.

I always kind of joked that lip-reading me can be really hard so I I wanted to let them know because otherwise they would be looking at me with kind of that what I call the “Scooby Doo Look” which is like “ROWROO? What’s going on?”

DR: [Laughing] We’re all familiar with that kind of look.

HN: Yes, exactly! We know that look of “huh, what’s going on?”. Deaf people get the look, too. When I when I talked with with with with deaf friends about the experience of stuttering and I mentioned the look which there there is a sign for, they’re like, “oh you get that get that and get that too!” so that is something but both of our worlds share because they get that look from people, from from hearing people all the time.

DR: Well, speaking of the similarities between the stuttering and the deaf communities, I’m assuming are there other ones, too?

HN: I think there are. I was I was reminded of a t-shirt I have. I have a drawer of various stuttering shirts, as as I think many of us do, and I think it was the International Stuttering Association, ISA, shirt said – what is last year or two years ago that had the stuttering ribbon on it and it said “stuttering pride” and I was reminded of deaf deaf pride which is something that has been talked about a lot in the the deaf world.

And I realize, Danny, as I’m as I’m talking about this that that I forgot to save say something and and that is I am not speaking for deaf people because I’m hearing and I have grown up hearing and I’m speaking as somebody who’s had experience and worked in the community not just working but also deaf friends and studies and learning over the last twenty some years so I consider myself an ally to the deaf community by which I mean that I I support them. And so it’s it’s because I think that we do share some of the same same experiences such as dealing with hearing people’s “the look” when something’s not moving smoothly. So so as I talk about this, I’m not speaking for people, I’m speaking based on my knowledge and experiences and things like that.

So some of the things that I think are similar… is one of them is that how do we identify? And in the stuttering worlds, and I’ll say worlds, that you know some people called themselves stutterers, some people call themselves people who stutter. And I I’ve done both. When I started, it was a real important part of my acceptance journey to take that stutter role on. And they did that for years because for years there was so much shame and I didn’t want to admit it but but then one day in a meeting, and I think it was at the National Council on Stuttering years ago, someone said “I’m any ers. I’m a daughter, I’m a worker, I’m a lover, or I’m a, you know, and and I went “That’s it! I’m many ers! Stuttering as a part of me, it’s not the whole of me”.

I think in in the deaf world, it’s the same thing. There’s a there’s a very well-known quote by by one of the past presidents from Gallaudet, which is the world’s first deaf deaf university out in Washington, DC, and was was by a late and deafened and faculty member who became the head of it named I King Jordan. And back in, I think it was 1988, they had the deaf president now protest wanting a deaf person to head up the school and he had a quote that I really like. He said “deaf people can do anything hearing people do except hear”. And I think that within the stuttering worlds, we are seeing that same type of energy. That same realization that we have just as much to give whether it’s in our workplace, our families, Toastmasters, anything that sometimes we may need a little bit more time, we need some patience, we need to be able to find our voice and we need time to be able to speak it. And I think deaf people have gone through that same type of type of experience.

Plus plus also just as we have struggled to, I think, with what to call our ourselves, there are, you know, language that has that has changed. Way back when, there was things like “deaf and mute”. We don’t use that term anymore. “Hearing impaired”. We don’t use that that term. So people ask what do I say. Deaf person? And some people do call them themselves “late deafened”. Some people call themselves “hard of hearing”. But just as stuttering isn’t based on the number of stuttered syllables, I mean we have people who are more on the overt side and stutter outwardly, we have people who are more covert where you wouldn’t necessarily know. Hearing loss is you don’t judge if someone’s deaf based on what they’re audiogram looks like. They may they may have some hearing enough that they can use the some hearing that they have coupled with lip-reading, which is a very inexact science only about thirty percent can be lip read – it’s like Wheel of Fortune, you you get a letter here and a letter there and you fill in the fill in the rest. But it’s it’s based on how does that person identify? Did they learn sign? Did they go to a deaf school? So just as ours isn’t based on what our speech sounds like, you can’t say “oh that person’s deaf or hard-of-hearing” because they may feel deaf and identify with the deaf culture but have some hearing or more hearing. So it’s really based on self self and choice I guess I would say.

There are other things that that I was thinking about that, you know, what do you do when you meet a person and, of course, I think we always get that in terms of what do? We need to listen, we need to be patient. Something I find hearing people do sometimes is they will start mouthing really big and talking really loud and thinking that they can get that and that doesn’t help because if you’re talking really big and exaggerating your mouth, that doesn’t give lip-reading cues and, like I said, only 30% can be lip read.

So things that actually help that is not to talk with your hands in front of your mouth, not to eat while you’re talking, not to have a pencil in your mouth or a pen that you’re chewing on, make sure you have the person’s eyes – eye contact. Which is which is really tough for us! I’ve had to really really really work on it because part of my stuttering secondaries I drop my chin and I shut my eyes so I have to really work to keep eye contact and not to turn way. Teachers a lot do this – they will turn and write on the board. Well, if they do that, then they’ve lost lost the face or if you’re in a work meeting and if somebody turns to point then you’ve lost the face.

DR: Or your cell phone rings and you look down to get it!

HN: Speaking of that, when I when I I started in the field, there were not cell phones. And and a lot of the signs that I learned in Chicago are different here. So just as there are regional differences and dialects, signs are different. So I had seen a person sign the word for phone but I didn’t know it and I’m like “what’s that word?” and they’re like “oh phone!” or “tablet” which I kind of got from the miming of the screen swiping. But there was all kinds of cell phone tech tech words that didn’t exist back when I was signing eighteen years ago.

DR: The reason I’m laughing is because I’ve always had my personal sign for, like, you know, I’ve never had a Blackberry, when Blackberrys were all the rage, I would see the two thumbs gestures –

HN: And thumbs thumbs point. Well, that that’s the that’s the sign for texting. Some sign some signs are very very gesture based and hearing people can kind it figure it out. But it’s not all sign isn’t isn’t gestural like that. Also there is not one English word for one sign. Sometimes it might take three or four signs to explain one one one one English word. Or vice versa, you can have one sign but it might take you three or four or five words English words to convey the meaning because so much is conveyed through, just like we have a tone of voice or a volume or expression, there’ll be facial expressions or the size of your gesture. So a lot of times people will start to like wave their hands or get big.

Oh speaking of which, if you’re talking with a person that signs, don’t go up and just start waving your hands randomly in their face.

DR: People do that?!

HN: Yes, ignorant people. But people do that which would be kind of like going up to and going [speaking gibberish]. It doesn’t make sense but people are trying to be funny or they think that they’ve seen something and so they just start waving their hands and it’s rude it’s kind of rude.

DR: So when you’re walking up to a deaf person, do you tap on their shoulder or do you try to walk in front and make that eye contact?

HN: So get the eyes first. If you’re walking up behind or the side, yes, and touch is very calm and to touch the shoulder or the arm. But to get their eyes first and and when in doubt, ask them because they may they they may want to write back and forth or they may want to text on their on their phone back and forth.

I was that at a work retreat recently and we had our our our team mingling with a a different team in our our branch and they were all hearing. Well, about half of our team whipped out their phones and pulled up an app and Cardzilla, I think it was, which makes the text big, so they would they would type in their answers and stuff and because it was large print, it was simple to see. It worked great.

Siri can’t help in terms of you know speaking things in and going going back and forth.

DR: [Laughing] Even when you stutter?

HN: Well you know, for some of us Siri works pretty well. Sometimes Siri gets a little funky.

DR: We have issues with the whole autocorrect thing when we’re texting.

HN: And one of the other things, too, is that it was Nina G that had had a video a few years back that I will just translate as “Stuff” Fluent People Say and I had shared that with a deaf deaf deaf deaf friend of mine. She just cracked up. She thought that was so funny and she had she had texted back saying “my friends have a similar saying. They call SHP or CHP”. And I’m like, “SHP? CHP?” and she said “Stupid Hearing People or Clueless Hearing People”.

DR: [Laughing]

HN: …and I’m like “oh yeah” so people usually mean well but they, you know, open mouth insert foot. So they get it when we we we roll our eyes when, of course, well what do we get probably the most – “oh did you forget your name?”. You know all those kinds of things. They get that get that that that, too. So there’s there’s a lot more understanding than I think we realize.

I think, and I see this on some of the some of the Facebook groups because so many of us grew up not meeting other people that that stuttered, we felt so isolated and lonely and and thinking that it’s just us and I’m here to say it’s not it’s not just us. Other people that have a communication – I’m going to say “difference” – experience the same feelings, the same frustrations, the same quandary, the same being being misunderstood by the hearing world as we do. So we’re not the only ones. As the NSA tagline says, you are not not alone.

So I had to had to throw that in because the NSA has been a really big part of my life for many years and I’m one of the one of the chapter leaders now but when I when I began when I was a youngin. It really made a difference for me because I knew there were other people out there, but I never met anyone else until I was like 18. And then I went “oh there’s other people that get this” and that that that for me was the start of my my journey.

DR: NSA – the National Stuttering Association. [Laughing] Not the other NSA that listens to–

HN: [Laughing] Right, right we don’t we don’t speak about those things.

DR: What’s their tagline? I forgot. Something about they gather, no they listen but they don’t speak. Or is that the CIA? It’s neither here nor there. You were saying? I didn’t mean to cut you off.

HN: Oh it’s okay. I think I was just saying that there’s just as many of us who have found that connection and community. Whether it’s through Stutter Social, whether it’s through self-help support groups, whether it’s through coming to the national conference which I have to plug is in Chicago in my hometown. There is so much to do and see in Chicago whether it’s blues, music, the lake, the museums, the restaurants, there’s so much you can do.

DR: I was just planning if I should go for the full week or just an extra day time. I’m, like, “hmmmmmm”.

HN: Lots to do. Lots to do. Yeah. So whether it’s whether it’s local group, whether it’s national conferences, whether it’s International Stuttering Association in Japan.

DR: The week after.

HN: Yes, the week after. Iceland next year. Canada, the CSA.

DR: Montreal –

HN: I was going to say ABC because I don’t speak French. I only know un petit. There there are so many ways to reach out and in the deaf world there are lots of lots of groups whether it’s Association of Late Deafened Adults, whether it’s Hearing Loss Association of America, National Association of the Deaf, so there are there are lots of lots of resources, lots of support so that people don’t have to struggle by them them them them them selves. [Laughing] That was a long word! They don’t have to struggle by themselves.

DR: I was also told by Greg – you mentioned Greg Snyder who was on the show before – he was a professor at, what’s it called Galladet [pronouncing it as Gala Day]?

HN: [Laughing] Gallaudet

DR: Sorry, yeah, living in Canada, everything is French. Or in my nationality Italian. What was I going to say? Oh yeah, he said that the deaf community, long before, long, long before Google Hangouts, YouTube, whatever, they were doing group video chats even on their cell phones. I believe he was saying that that they really, I believe he meant just something like they really helped develop the technology because they were the ones using it back in the 1990s, too.

HN: I think it was Vince Cerf who was one of the early guys with the the internet guys and one of the the early scientists that helped to work with that was deaf himself. So yes and and the first pagers, I mean I am dating myself here, paige back and forth and then text and, you know, gone are the days of the old TTY. Teletypwriters. Now there is FaceTime and it’s so fabulous because I can I can pick up the phone, phone a friend, and we can sign back and forth and it’s… you don’t have to pull out a bulky thing. It’s quick, there are lots of apps, there is Glide, there’s Marco Polo, there are lots of lots of visual based apps you can you can leave a voicemail with kind of thing… There’s just tons out there. It’s really a great time.

DR: Well, we could go on for hours talking about this! Thank you for coming on my show and talking about this fascinating – are what we call them our brothers and sisters?

HN: Yeah! Companions perhaps. So thank you, thank you very much. It has been good fun.

DR: That’s it for today’s show. I want to hear from you. Coolstutter at gmail dot com. We all have smartphones now with voice memo apps. You just record, say, what, three minutes? Heather, do you think it’s wrong for me to put in a time limit for people that stutter?

HN: Oh that’s a toughy time pressure!

DR: Three, five minutes.

HN: Five minutes.

DR: But content is ing. So if you have really good stuff to say, seven minutes is fine.

[Whispering] Just don’t ramble.

[Laughing and joking] Or if you want to ramble, I can always have a guest host.

So this episode has been brought to you by the Stuttering is Cool book, yes, I actually wrote a book.

HN: Great book.

DR: Thank you. Tips and tricks and of how to go from covert to overt confident stutterer living your life the way that you want to and it has comics because… you know, life’s too short not to have a sense of humor. It’s okay to laugh at your own stuttering. So that’s all I’m saying.

HN: Hear! Hear!

DR: So details on that and some awareness pins that I recently started to create – Thank you!

And Heather is now giving what I recognize as the deaf sign for clapping.

HN: Yes applause. Hands up in the air and shaking and waving them back and forth. Wooooo!

DR: [Laughing] Well, until next time, may your staring always be with confidence and yeah don’t walk up to a deaf person and start waving your hands because, you know, you wouldn’t want someone finishing your sentences for you.

HN: Exactly.

DR: Bye!

Published in Podcast archive stuttering


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