Through my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was able to have the amazing opportunity to grow up surrounded by the Deaf community. The ward I attended for eleven years of my life was and still is the designated Signing ward for my stake. I was able to see our meetings in Sign every week, befriend those in the Deaf community in our ward, and learn many of the basics of Sign along with my family. Because of this experience, I have been able to grow up with a yearning to understand others around me who are different, and a specific connection with the Deaf community. I view American Sign Language as beautiful and interesting, and I want to learn more about what being deaf looks like through a deaf persons eyes. I am so grateful for my early exposure to the Deaf community. In contrast, I have less exposure to the blind.
Through my church, I have been able to get to know a woman. She is generous, kind, and amazing. She and her husband have been family friends for a long time. I have been able to get to know her and learn more from her over the years. She is blind. In public, she is still able to move around, interact with others, and live a normal life. However, every time I see her she does not act like she is blind. I am so grateful that I was able to have this interaction with someone who is blind. Even if the interaction was limited.
With regards to the quote by Helen Keller, “Blindness separates us from things, but deafness separates us from people,” I say that her mindset is ignorant. I do not mean for that to be harsh, but she is looking through a different lens, and therefore sees the situation differently than I do. I would reword Helen’s quote in this way: “Blindness makes us more aware of things, and deafness makes us more aware of people.” To really understand the Deaf community, you need to live it, and the same goes for the blind. She is coming first from the perspective of someone who is blind; however, if you read it with the perspective of someone who is part of the Deaf community, that quote reads very differently. The core of the problem seems to be how she views the act of communication. If you view communication as only communication through a common language, you leave so much out. One of the amazing things about ASL is that a significant part of the language/communication is through facial or body language. So, even if you cannot communicate through ASL, that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with a deaf person.
If I was given the opportunity to choose between being blind and being deaf, I would choose deaf because I am more familiar with the Deaf culture and community. In my old church ward there is this woman. She is so kind, sweet, and outspoken. Even from when I was a small child, I could tell that she loves people and especially loves getting to know others. She is deaf and only speaks through American Sign Language. She is someone I admire, and is someone who I think embodies the Deaf community in everything that she does. Her mentality about being deaf and living her life is the first reason as to why I would choose being deaf over being blind. For many years, I didn’t know she was deaf, and just assumed she was a little funny. I noticed that she made silly faces while she spoke, and that when she spoke, no sound came out. I remember when I was a kid, loving to talk to her because she loved each person, and was so genuinely happy to talk with them. She is a great example to me and for me.
I would also choose being deaf over being blind because of the accepting nature of the Deaf culture. Speaking with a deaf person is an incredibly humbling and frustrating thing for me. I want so badly to communicate back and forth, to share with them, but because I have gaps in my knowledge that is very hard. The humbling part is that it puts me in the situation where I have to sit back, watch, and listen to the person in front of me. And one of the best things about these situations is the deaf person in front of me. Every time I have held conversations with a deaf person, no matter my frustration, they are so incredibly kind, humble, and accepting of my efforts.
Finally, I would prefer to be deaf over being blind, because of the strength and resilience of the members of the Deaf community. I know that each person has their weak moments, but I have found that members of the Deaf community have an amazing resilience found in their spirits and shared experiences. The woman from my ward was and is always happy, fun, and full of hope through any challenge that she faces. She is only one example of many found in the Deaf community.
I am so grateful for the experiences I have been given, and allowed to have. The members of the Deaf community are accepting, strong, open, and everything I hope to be in my life. ASL is a stunning language, and through it and their personal choices, they are brought closer to other people around them; hearing or not. I think that, respectfully, Helen Keller is foolish. She is looking through a one-sided lens. She does not and cannot see the magic that is the Deaf culture. She does not understand the power of people and the power of language.