Through Deaf Eyes: seeing the world differently
As I said on Monday, my son and I are taking American Sign Language (ASL). We are on our second semester; one of our requirements this semester is to “be deaf for a day”. We are required to wear earplugs all day and only communicate through sign and writing. Wearing earplugs of course doesn’t really simulate being deaf, it is more like being very hard of hearing because a fair bit of sound gets in but never the less it takes you out of your comfort zone and into a place of hyper awareness. I was feeling a bit sheepish that I wasn’t testing myself enough because much of my day needed to be spent alone in my studio. I soon found out that even being alone and “deaf” was a challenge for me. I didn’t realize how much turning on the radio and listening to NPR was a part of my routine, and not having that background sound made the voice in my head very loud indeed. That voice, was my next striking revelation. That’s right, voice. I talk to myself constantly, and when I think thoughts and weigh options there is literally a voice speaking inside my head. When I read, I read in a voice to myself in my head. There is a voice! Then it hit me, if one is born deaf then one has never experienced thoughts through auditory sound and word. How, then, are thoughts revealed, how does the inner “voice” show itself? Do thoughts come as visuals images flashing by or seen in the language of signs? As I said most of my thoughts are in a voice in my head, but there are a few instances where I problem solve in images. One distinct example is this, when I think about the path I’ll take driving or walking, I don’t speak the directions in my head like “turn right on East street, then right on Tucker” when I think those thoughts I actually see those corners and streets. The same when I think about hiking a familiar path I visualize the turns and forks that I will choose along the way. This gives me a small window into what it might be like to think in the deaf mind. If you don’t hear then your other senses would take up the slack. The visual input part of the brain must be buzzing and bright, the tactile senses tightly tuned. When I think about it that way I begin to see why my teacher is so adamant that she does not want to be hearing, she does not need “fixing”. I begin to see the deaf way of experiencing the world is matchless and marvelous, why would someone want to give that up? I bet I know what you are thinking, “what about music, what about bird songs?” These are wonderful things too but if you have never experienced them they have no meaning, they hold no sway. I can never know what it is like to be deaf, to experience the world with different senses honed; what color is like, what the breeze feels like, I can never know, but I am beginning to think there is more to it than we in the hearing majority can ever know, I am beginning to think perhaps it is wondrous indeed!