by Chelle George
Last week at work (the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center) one of the employees retired. I didn’t get to know her well because she’s Deaf and my signing is weak but she was always super nice to me. She spoke as she signed and she signed a little slower when talking to me so messages and small conversation were exchanged over the year since I’ve been working there.
My favorite memory with her is her coming into the office I work in with a speechreading flyer I made. This is the graphic I copied onto the flyer.
She came in, called my name and I turned around to find the flyer up to her face, the teeth and the black part cut out of the middle of lips and her tongue waggling at me. I about died laughing and spent the rest of the day smiling. I think she had run all over the building showing off her little joke because I heard lots of laughter.
The day of her retirement party I was invited to join everyone in the gym which was decked out with round tables and table clothes and various kinds of cows (she collects cows) on top. Food lined tables on the side and lots of people were showing up, lots of Deaf people. With my plate of food in one hand and my punch in the other, I scanned the room to see where I might in. About 50 people were at various tables signing. The gym seemed quiet for this kind of event but there was conversation everywhere with flying hands. I spotted a lone table across the way and sat down feeling awkward. A few others who are hearing (but fluent in sign) later joined me.
I sat there knowing I wouldn’t get much out of the ceremony. I attended a wedding in the hearing world the week before hearing precious little. English may as well have been a foreign language because even though I heard the voices, I couldn’t understand a thing being said.
I’m used to being the odd one out, showing up to support people, not understanding much and this wasn’t any different except it was a different language. Since I had been gone for 10 days, I forgot about the retirement party and didn’t even think it would be all in ASL (American Sign Language) until I showed up and watched the crowd. Oh well, I liked this lady and I wanted to be a part of it even if it was just my body being there.
Just before director got up to start speaking, another co-worker came by and said she’d send an ASL interpreter over to my table to voice for me. Cool! Just before the speech started an interpreter sat down and started voicing for me…the only one there not fluent in sign. He started out facing forward watching the director so I had to lean into the table some to get better view of his lips and to catch all the voice I could but I didn’t care because I hadn’t expected accommodations at all. I’m enjoying the stories and laughing and feeling a part of it.
Then he turned to face me saying something like, “Oh good” and carries on voicing the speeches. Another interpreter had stepped up behind me to sign what was said being up front so that guy sitting with me could face me fully making it easier to read his lips and I could sit straight up now.
Within two minutes, I was completely overwhelmed with gratification and the generosity of my work place in making sure I understood and was part of the crowd. Why am I so surprised? This is the Sanderson Center and things like this happen all the time. My eyes welled up with tears but I choked them back while biting my lip. I don’t want to cry! If I started crying I wouldn’t hear/see the stories being shared and I didn’t want to freak the poor guy out who may think something was wrong when everything was so right.
I managed to keep the tears in check for the ceremony and by the time it was finished, it was time to go home. I collected my stuff and managed to escape the building without crying but I’m still felt overwhelmed. I drove all the way home thinking I had a handle on it but when I stepped into the kitchen I lost it when Ken asked me about my day. The tears poured down and I could barely speak. Ken thought I had a terrible day but I kept shaking my head no. Eventually the whole story came out and he understood.
I’m good at advocating when I think about it but sometimes I forget or don’t plan ahead so then I feel guilty asking or try to set things up at the last minute. Then I accept I’m not going to hear and maybe that’s not acceptable. It doesn’t mean I have to be demanding, I just have to think about things carefully and plan ahead. Most people are willing to help out. And I know this! But I forget.
At work the next day, the co-worker who I think set up the voicing for me, and I talked about it. She told me, “Come on, this is the Sanderson Center, of course you’ll be accommodated.” I know that but this one really took me by surprise and went straight to my heart. What a great place to work and I’m so honored to be among all the good people there. Thank you Sanderson Center!