For all of my 41 years, I have been challenged by oral communication. For most of my life, I could only achieve verbal fluency in short bursts that were intermittent and unpredictable. I now know that my struggle with spoken language was in part because I live with severe auditory processing disorder. I suspect I also have autism, but getting a diagnosis as an adult takes either thousands of dollars or what seems to be an Act of Congress, and I don’t have the means to obtain either at the moment.
My auditory processing disorder went unnoticed and undiagnosed for my first four decades of life. After a brain injury, its effects on my speech became so pronounced that it was finally recognized. When I learned in middle age of the reasons for my intensified difficulty with spoken language, I was urged to seek therapy with audiologists and speech language pathologists to correct my perceived shortcomings. But I like who I am, so I sought another avenue. I went instead to you, the people of Deaf community, and I asked you to teach me your language.
When sensory overload takes away my ability to use my oral communication, the neural pathways to my hands still function. I can still use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate when my brain refuses to allow me to speak English. But I do not want this process to be abstract when it is in fact very human.
ASL is different from many languages because the story behind it is a story of perseverance in the face of oppression. It is the story of Deaf people’s precarious triumphs over the oralists who would have taken their natural language and forced them to assimilate and use speech for which Deaf people are not as naturally suited.
I thank you for sharing ASL. I thank you for sharing stories of your historical and contemporary successes of building and maintaining a fine and functional culture that has no need for a typical relationship with sound. I thank you for helping me to understand how you have always embraced those who are different from the mainstream, how you have room for Deaf and deaf people, hard of hearing people, and deaf-blind people.
I am in a grey area between deaf and hearing, so I know my experience is not identical to yours. I do not wish to take more than you freely offer. I do not wish to speak for you. But I do wish to offer my gratitude for what you have shared, and acknowledge that I understand the challenges your community has gone through to simply establish that you are OK just as you are. That Deafness is not bad, but simply another condition with which some human beings live.
Your gift of signed language has given me my voice back. Your amazing visual vernacular is poetry to my optically-oriented brain. With this gift of ASL, I know I will be able to make myself understood in ways I could not before. Please accept my offer of deep gratitude.