Many of us have friends or family
who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, and know how frustrating
it can be to communicate under those conditions…
but what about the people with the handicap?
Kelli Deister is the new Deafness Editor for BellaOnline
She is deaf on her left side, and hard-of-hearing
on her right side, due to an autoimmune disorder.
She began to lose her hearing in late 1998, at the
age of 35, as a result of domestic violence.
Inttranews decided to learn more about the Deaf
long did it take you to overcome your deafness?
Kelli Diester: I am not sure, quite
honestly, that I agree with that question, merely
because it implies that deafness is a problem that
must be overcome. I prefer to think of it as accepting
a jewel in my life and acclimating to a new environment.
I hope to never overcome my deafness. I hope, instead
I hope to maintain my joy and pride at being Deaf.
did your family and friends react to your deafness?
KD: They were saddened to hear
that I was losing my hearing. Initially, there were
questions of whether or not I would be able to drive
or work. However, perhaps the highest frustration
for me in this area was the fact that I struggled
to hear them as they spoke to me. Oftentimes, I
would ask them to repeat themselves, and they became
somewhat frustrated at having to constantly repeat
what they said. They frequently said things such
as, "Never mind!" or "Forget it!"
This was very challenging for me to overcome, because
I initially felt as though it was my fault that
I had acquired this new hearing loss. Although it
has happened less frequently, it does still occur
on occasion, and still hurts when it does happen.
I feel belittled and ashamed, during those times,
that I cannot hear them. It underscores the fact
that we live in two separate worlds.
or what helped you most to accept becoming deaf?
KD: My first American Sign Language
teacher at Kapiolani Community College. Her name
is Ami and the first day that I attended her class
in American Sign Language 101, she told me how excited
she was to meet me. That made me feel so welcome!
Ami is completely Deaf. She is also now one of my
best friends. She taught me so much about deafness,
and about having pride in my deafness. She taught
me that it wasn't a shameful thing, but something
to be proud of. She helped to introduce me into
the Deaf Community. Oftentimes, Ami would listen
to my frustrations at trying to adjust to deafness
in a predominantly hearing world. She is also my
mentor. I can go to Ami with anything. It is because
of her that I can now accept it fully, and now hold
a sense of pride.
long did it take you to master ASL?
KD: I'm not sure that anyone ever
completely masters ASL. I have spoken to interpreters
and teachers who work with the Deaf, and have been
told that they must constantly take courses and
work with mentors to stay on top of this very unique
language. I took the first level of American Sign
Language, and have learned the rest of my ASL vocabulary
through personal study. Perhaps it is the fact that
ASL is rapidly becoming my main language, that has
also helped me to become more fluent in the language
I use interpreters in situations such as court and
church. Therefore, I am exposed to it frequently.
I am also driven to learn this language, being that
it is now my language of choice.
you briefly describe the ASL teaching / learning
KD: When I was a student, and first
dealing with my hearing loss, I needed some form
of help in the classroom. Because I was raised hearing,
I spoke very good English. However, at this time,
I couldn't hear very well at all. I used a combination
of the Computer Assisted Notetakers and interpreters.
I relied, as a student, on those forms of help,
as well as on lip-reading. I remember one professor
that I had, spoke into the microphone of the FM
Receiver that I was using, and spoke very slowly
and loudly, simply because I had asked him to repeat
what he said. I was thoroughly humiliated and never
asked him to repeat anything again. Perhaps the
greatest challenge in a learning environment that
I had was in regards to group activities in college.
All the other students were hearing and I could
sense that they were extremely awkward. I felt as
though I had something that was contagious. They
all sat 'away' from me, and kept staring. I wanted
to tell them, "It's okay, you won't catch it!
I promise!" (smiles) I was left out of frequent
group discussions, simply because I couldn't hear
the students. After some time, I gave up asking
them to repeat themselves as well. Other than those
experiences, the professors I had were wonderful.
Two of my first professor, math and English, were
amazingly supportive and went out of their way to
deafness affected you financially?
KD: Yes, it has. I remember when
I first lost my hearing, and applied for a clerical
position. The interviewer, upon hearing that I was
losing my hearing, replied that they really couldn't
hire me because I needed to be able to answer the
phone. It seemed, from then on, to be a major stumbling
block in my job search, since I could answer phones.
However, the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation
began to help me. They paid for new job training
through my college education, paid for interpreters,
and assisted me in my goal planning and achievements.
Because of their help, I am now an assistant instructor
at a local community college. If it hadn't been
for their help, I believe I would not have equal
opportunities with employment; thus, struggling
impact has deafness had in your work and on your
KD: I work with those that are
Deaf, as well as those that assist the Deaf. Therefore,
it has a highly positive impact on me. I am constantly
learning, from both my colleagues, and my students.
Working with the Deaf has been a tremendous blessing
for me. The only challenges I sometimes face at
work, is with a few hearing people, who forget that
I have a hard time hearing. I have learned to adjust
daily to my deafness, even at work. I use a combination
now of lip-reading, and grasping at whatever words
I can hear. Throughout this process, I then use
my mental capabilities much like piecing together
a jigsaw puzzle. I use the words I 'heard' through
lip-reading, blend them with the words I am able
to hear, even remotely, and then mentally race to
put the sentence together so that I can appropriately
respond to the hearing person.
experience have you had with sign language interpreters?
KD: I have had to have the assistance
of interpreters often, and quite honestly, I have
had only one struggle that I can think of. I believe
strongly in American Sign Language. I do not agree
with Signing Exact English, because to me, I feel
that I am making the transition from the hearing
community to the Deaf community. I have accepted
my deafness. Therefore, to sign SEE to me is actually
an insult, simply because I am not hearing. I believe
that to sign SEE to me is to expect me to 'hear'
as a hearing, English-speaking individual would.
I attend a church that signs frequent SEE, which
is difficult for me. I am expected to sign along
to songs in SEE, rather than in ASL -- my language
of choice. Other than the experiences with those
that sign SEE, my experiences have all been wonderfully
supportive. The interpreters that I have met have
all been very patient in my learning process, and
repeated signs when necessary. Had it not been for
them, I would have faced greater struggles.
experience have you had with the Deaf Culture?
KD: Because my deafness is still
rather recent, I am now beginning to be acclimated
to the Deaf Culture. I have learned so much about
the Deaf Culture and feel that I most belong there,
rather than the hearing culture. I now help to teach
Deaf students during the week, which is an honor
for me, as well as a privilege. I have attended
functions in the Deaf Community, and President for
one semester of the American Sign Language Club
at the community college, where we did a Sign Day
on campus. I look forward hope to attending many
more Deaf activities in the future.
is your opinion about cochlear implants? (Editor’s
note: there are arguments for and against them,
some prefer to maintain a genuine Deaf Culture etc.)
KD: That is a tough question because
there are such strong debates for both sides. However,
I can tell you honestly, that I would not choose
an implant for myself. There are some that have
chosen this route, and that is their personal right.
If they are happy, then I am happy for them. However,
my personal stance on this is that it is up to each
individual to determine what is best for them. I
believe that the Deaf culture has a rich heritage.
Many Deaf people are successful in life. The Deaf
have much to be proud of. They are a unique culture
and a close-knit community. I have full respect
for them. I would rather be completely deaf, than
have an implant. There are so many pressures on
the Deaf to 'act' hearing in this world. I wish
that our society was a balance of both hearing and
Deaf accomodations, but it does seem slanted. This
is where I believe the cochlear implants come into
play. Hearing is not required to succeed in this
world. Implants seem to put great emphasis on fitting
in to the hearing world around us. I must say, though,
that I do respect the choices of those who have
opted to use the implant. If it works well for them,
than they are to be supported in their decision.
I don't believe there is any wrong or right here
-- it is what it is, for each individual.
are the things that annoy you most about hearing
KD: When I go to the grocery store,
if a person is behind me and waiting for me to move,
I cannot hear them. I am often slammed with shopping
carts, because hearing people think I'm being rude.
When, in fact, I cannot hear them. I have had countless
bruises due to this. Another difficulty is when
hearing people try to yell at me to get me to hear.
They don't understand that with my level of tone
loss, that makes it so much harder to understand
them. If you see Deaf people conversing, please
don't stare. This is equivalent to staring at hearing
people having a conversation. Lastly, I truly wish
that more hearing people would take an interest
in ASL. It is a language, belonging to a very special
culture. I believe there should be more respect
for the Deaf, from the hearing culture. Accept us,
for who we are. We are not disabled because of our
deafness. We are just as capable of succeeding as
any hearing person.
would you like hearing people to behave with you?
KD: Be respectful. Do not treat
me like I am 'contagious' simply because I cannot
hear. Do not slam me with shopping carts, or yell
at me because I am Deaf and cannot hear you. Treat
me as your equal. For that is what I am. We are
equals in this world. You hear with your ears. I
hear with my eyes. We both still adequately hear.
You speak with your mouth. I speak with my hands.
However, we both adequately communicate. I know
your language, please take the time to know mine,
for we are equals in this world.
you think government services should do more on
behalf of the hearing impaired, and if so, what?
KD: yes, I do. I believe that more
services should be provided in regards to employment
interpreters. I also believe that when workplaces
have Deaf working in the environment, they should
offer ASL classes to all interested parties. The
government needs to realize, in my opinion, that
the Deaf are here to stay. They should not be expected
to 'adjust' to a hearing world, but rather be recognized
for their culture and accommodated accordingly.
people partially find their handicap a "blessing
in disguise", because it has forced them to
see the world differently. To what extent would
you agree with that?
KD: Yes, I strongly agree! I see
my world through my eyes now. I see details around
me that I otherwise would not have seen. One example
I frequently give is the raindrop. Hearing people
hear the rain as it pours outside their windows.
I hear the rain as well. However, I hear the rain
as I watch it slowly slide down my window. I hear
the rain as I watch a raindrop gently rest on a
rose petal. I hear the rainbow through its vibrant
colors. Our world is a beautiful place to behold
with hearing eyes.
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