During undergrad I took several American Sign Language (ASL) classes. One thing that was always repeated was that while practice was important and beneficial, it could be made so much more so if we were to actually interact with the d/Deaf. It was about more than knowing a list of vocabulary or being able to sign your English sentences. It was about being able to communicate with someone of a whole different culture in a language with it’s own grammar and syntax – a foreign language. I had the privilege at the time of working with a few d/Deaf individuals in various contexts. In the time since then, I regret to say that I have become rusty and perhaps less than confident in my signing. While I would love to get back to it, I am no longer currently associated with anyone of the Deaf community and have lost that ease that comes with constant use. Unfortunately that fact did not serve me well in the undertaking of this assignment.
I attempted to contact two different members of the Deaf community prominent in the use of online forums. I reached out through messenger and email. While the initial response from one of the contacts was positive, the follow up has proven less than timely. I find myself considering what perhaps the greatest issues could have been. Had I been more confident in the fluency of my signing, I could have attempted video chat or video phone. However, as I was not, I chose to reach out in a textual form. Though I specifically chose to reach out to members prominent in online forums, I have no way of knowing their reading levels. As many ASL users have a difficult time reading and writing in English because of the differences in grammar and syntax,it is possible that, despite my awareness of this and attempt to avoid complexities, there may have been problems with the clarity of the communication. Perhaps I will still hear back from them at some later date.
I have had the fortune to work with two very interesting d/Deaf individuals and to be taught by another. Though I never actually interviewed them, I would like for a moment to draw from my interactions with them.
E was a deaf child that I tutored for a few years. He could become very frustrated, sometimes acting out as a result, with the limitations of trying to communicate with a hearing world. E loved all things technology – video games, computer games, you name it. He loved them because they were visual.
J was a client I worked with during an internship. He was thrilled the first time I showed up to join in on his appointment even with my limited signing. Until then he had been trying to get by communicating through gestures and limited note writing. He was finally able to express his needs and ask for clarification of some things he didn’t understand. J loved to spend time online. He was able to access information that he had no way of asking for and reach out to others of the Deaf community despite living in an area where there was no real Deaf presence.
L was a sign instructor I once knew. L was proactive in getting other d/Deaf individuals in the area together, often encouraging students to join in. L was an avid user of online forums, using Facebook and email as regular means of communication with students. L encouraged students to use online forums to reach out to members of the Deaf community to help practice ASL skills.
Despite my recent difficulties in interaction via online forums, I would still agree with the assessment that “the internet has the potential to become an educational and social leveler for Deaf people” (Karras, 2012, p.203). Karras (2013), though speaking directly to the information-seeking behavior of the Deaf in regards to medical information, makes many salient points. There is a limited amount of research to be found specifically concerning how the Deaf access the internet or the barriers that they face, such as knowledge gaps. Members of Deaf culture often rely on one another for social support and guidance, as well as in identifying viable resources. Karras (2012)explains that “online support provides information through sharing of experiences and behaviors and through exposure to an increased number of opinions and expertise” (p. 194). Despite this point, there are problems and limitations presented to the d/Deaf in the use of online forums. The increasing use of audio media files, while beneficial to the hearing, can present a problem in limiting access to that information to the d/Deaf. Karras (2012) also points out that reading level can be an issue considering that Deaf students graduate with only a fourth grade reading level.
The information behavior and needs of the d/Deaf community are complex and not without obstacles and barriers. However, overcoming cultural differences and keeping an open mind, as well as fostering an awareness of the need can play a critical part in insuring that the d/Deaf community is able to access the information they seek.
Karras, E., Rintamaki, L.S. (2012). Examination of online health information-seeking by Deaf people. Health Communication, 27(2), 194-204.