That uniqueness ended up being American Sign Language (ASL). I decided on ASL for several reasons – one being that it would allow us to communicate in just about any given setting, no matter how loud it may be, or how far apart from each other we may be. It also gives them a skill that may be quite the advantage when they are job hunting someday. They’ll have the ability to communicate with the deaf community, and by something much better than just exaggerated lip movements to make it easier to lip read.
I had decided on ASL quite some time ago, and then I began watching a show on ABC Family called Switched At Birth. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a great show about two teenage girls who discover they were…switched at birth. One of the girls is deaf, and there is a lot of sign language used each week on the show as they show all the characters interacting with her, and she attends a deaf school.
While I’ve found it pretty neat for a while to try to pick out those signs that we know when we’re watching the show, last night’s show was a unique one.
Billed as “Beyond Silence”, the show was done entirely in ASL, with only the first scene and the very last line of the show spoken. There was no other vocalization throughout the show. I already knew they were going to be doing this, so I made it a point to have my kids sit down to watch it with me.
It gave a very unique insight into what it would be like to be deaf. Obviously, it didn’t help the viewer fully understand what it would be like, but it did provide some tidbits that we might not have ever considered. For example, Daphne (the deaf teen) goes into the house and sets off the alarm. The next thing we see is everyone in her face, lips moving, running around punching buttons, and no idea what is going on. It’s not until another character signs to tell her she set off the alarm that we, and she, realize what’s happened. The confusion that we felt in trying to figure out what was happening probably paled in comparison to what she would have felt (were it real life and not in a show), but it did make my kids stop and think, “Hey, that would really suck if you couldn’t hear something like that and everyone was in your face like that.”
But the best learning experience from the show was the protesting. The students at Carlton (the school for deaf students) were appropriately upset that the school board had decided to close their school down and mainstream them. They decided to lock themselves in the administrative building of the school in protest until the school board changes its mind (tune in next week to find out the outcome!).
Although I’ve talked to my kids about standing up for your beliefs and doing what you think is right, there haven’t been a lot of opportunities in their young lives to actually do so – or at least, to have to choose between doing the right thing and doing nothing. So last night’s show was a chance for them to see a group of people coming together to fight for something important to them, something they might otherwise lose, and doing something that is the right thing but can lead to trouble.
At the end of the episode, the police arrive to…well, we’re not sure what they plan to do, as that was where the show ended, but I think we can all figure out what they intended to do. That was when my youngest asked me, “Mom, can they arrest them for what they’re doing?”
That gave me the opportunity to explain how what they were doing is technically, legally wrong, but that they are doing it for the right reasons and sometimes we have to do something wrong to do something right. It is, of course, a very confusing thing for a child to understand, so it was only the first of many discussions on this particular topic, but it’s a start.
The show also referenced strikes that took place at Gallaudet University in 1988 when the students at the federally chartered school for deaf and hearing impaired students demanded that the school have a deaf president, as it had only had hearing presidents up until that point in its history.
Seeing those references prompted my kids to ask if that was a real event of made up for the show, which made me go looking to see. It was, in fact, a real event, and one that my kids and I discussed today with the rest of our lessons for the day.
No one in our family is deaf or hard of hearing, at least not at the moment. But in learning ASL, and watching Switched At Birth, it’s opening our eyes to learn more about the challenges deaf people face, and what we can do to facilitate better communication when we do interact with someone who can’t hear.
And they say you can’t learn anything from watching TV. 😀