The Deaf: Included or Forgotten?
Can you imagine living deaf, hearing nothing but silence? No funny sounds of laughter, not even the a slight movement of vibration? What about the sound of birds chirping or water bubbling down a brook? Imagine sitting in silence 24 hours of the day, 365 days of the year, forever. Would you be able to handle it? There are people in Newfoundland who live their lives in silence. So what does our province do to help these people get past their ability? The deaf: are they included in society or forgotten?
Shawn, a 15-year-old student at the Newfoundland School for the Deaf, slouches in a chair across from me as Penny, the interpreter, carries on what seems to be an amusing conversation. I have known Shawn for about five years now and have gotten used to his keen sense of humour as well as his profound knowledge of the world around him. I have always admired Shawn for his optimism about life. He has always told me that communication is the center of his world but he wishes more people understood sign language. "It would make life a lot easier", he signs, "This way everyone would understand each other. Sign language is not hard to learn! I would feel so much more a part of society if everyone knew the language I use to communicate."
Believe it or not, sign language is not that difficult to learn. It's just a bunch of signals that symbolize certain words. Their array of vocabulary is not as large as our English language, therefore, their signs are not numerous! As soon as Shawn finished making his point, five year old Stephanie comes bouncing into the room. Black curls fly everywhere as she quickly moved her hands in different hand signals. Shawn swiftly scoots his baby sister out of the room in embarrassment. He tells me that Stephanie has been able to communicate with him ever since he was three years old. "Krista", Shawn signs in aggressive motions, "if my five year old sister can learn it then anyone could. We all have the ability, so why don't we use it"? I found that question to be quite a challenge. Unfortunately, I could not give him an answer!
We are a very fortunate province to be equipped with the proper training for the deaf children in our community! The Newfoundland School for the Deaf has been a strong foundation for many young deaf Newfoundlanders. The school teaches proper learning skills needed for the deaf to survive in our world as well as providing the children with support, time, and fun. Unfortunately, this is the only deaf school in all of Newfoundland. Young children come to the school on Monday and do not leave until Friday. They stay in special dorms for the whole week and then go home on the weekends. Can you imagine how hard that must be?? Especially for little children?? Shawn is lucky. He lives in St. John's, so he does not have to be separated from his family like many others at the school. "I can tell that it is hard stuff for my friends. I guess you become accustomed to it after a while. Maybe you never do. All that really truly matters is that we are there to support each other. I think this aspect is the only thing that my friends can depend on. It's what gets them through the week."
Karen Samson, the Salvation Army chaplain and religious teacher at the school, tries to provide as many activities as possible. "I'm only one of the many chaplains at the school", she says, "We often get together to plan youth groups, bible studies, and dramas. The deaf are the same as you and I. They deserve the same opportunities that are available to you. They're also very gifted people who have a lot to express. My job is to ensure that we give them all the opportunities possible". Mrs. Samson is responsible for her own curriculum when it comes to religious education. "I love working with the deaf. The most beautiful people in the world are found right here".
"People often try to ignore me when they discover that I am deaf. Some people even feel sorry for me". Shawn vigorously signs, "It ticks me off sometimes when people make me feel different. Look, I already know!! I discovered that a long time ago. I just want to be treated like a normal person." That's probably the same way many other disabled people feel. So, maybe next time when you encouter someone who is deaf you might try to make them feel like a normal person which is what they are. "I am definitely normal, Krista!" Shawn laughs. "I am just made special for a very special reason. God has something special planned for my life and I'm going to fulfill all my dreams. I can be anything and I can do anything because I have the willpower to do it!! I am determined to let nothing, absolutely nothing, get in my way!"
** All names used in this article are fake to protect the identity of those involved.