By Stephanie Morales, Contributing Writer
Have you ever wondered what life is like for a deaf person?
On Tuesday night, about 100 American Sign Language students found out that their lives are not as different as one would assume from a panel of five people in the deaf community, which was held in Hamilton Smith.
The purpose of the Deaf Panel was for students to learn about the experiences of a deaf person from these five panelists with personal experience. All of the panelists spoke ASL, and the majority of them were either deaf or hard of hearing.
The panel was only possible because the Deaf Studies department was awarded a small grant to put on this event; they were able to hire interpreters, bring the panelists to the University of New Hampshire and provide refreshments. Kelly Fleese, Kevin Fleese, Cathy Minch, Donna Schefer and Michael Wallace were the professors from the department who helped organize this event.
“This was valuable for students because perspectives change when you hear of their experiences,” Schefer said. “Everyone that was in this room left different from when they came in.”
During the panel, many experiences, frustrations and misconceptions were shared. The mood remained light-hearted as the panelists shared their funny anecdotes and the room erupted in laughter several times throughout the hour and a half, with the two interpreters and the panelists going back and forth.
“If I’m ordering at a restaurant, waiters get nervous and don’t know what to do,” panelist Tommy Minch said. “They would run and bring me back the braille menu if I point to what I want on the menu.
“I’m deaf, not blind!”
UNH junior Paige Trusock grew up with deaf parents and a deaf brother, so she was taught ASL as her first language in order to communicate with them, despite being able to hear. As one of the panelists, she was hoping to teach some people more about the deaf community.
“The most important thing for me was for hearing people to understand that deaf people can function in the hearing world,” Trusock said.
Trusock’s unique situation growing up in a deaf household has given her a lot of perspective and appreciation for the deaf.
“You will never meet funnier or more grateful people; the deaf parties I’ve been to have been the most fun,” Trusock said. “When you lose a sense, you truly appreciate what you have.”
While Wallace had prepared questions to ask the panelists, students were also able to ask questions regarding their life experiences. Many students appreciated the opportunity to ask questions that would have otherwise been embarrassing.
“What are your pet peeves about hearing people?” a student asked.
The general consensus among the panelists was that misconceptions such as not being able to drive or receive an education are annoyances for the many who are deaf or hard of hearing in this world.
The panelists reiterated to students how normal the lives they lead are throughout the evening.
“The one thing that I wish I could hear was my daughter’s voice,” Linda Taylor, an ASL instructor said. “Other than that, I’m fine; there’s nothing else I would want to hear.”
When Wallace asked how many students wanted to be more involved with the deaf community, hands immediately shot up into the air.
“My ASL classes are for sure my happiest classes,” sophomore Maggie Vineis said. “We’re always laughing. From this experience, I know that I want to get involved in the deaf community and I’m not as nervous to do that anymore.”
Many of the students in attendance agreed with Vineis, who hopes to become an interpreter eventually. Rachel Geel, a sophomore who is beginning ASL this year, remarked that it was “interesting” to see how similar deaf people are to hearing people.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons of the panel also came from Taylor, as she answered the question regarding what advice she had for ASL students.
“Don’t put labels on people and don’t make assumptions,” Taylor said. “If you want to know, ask.”