Sunday, 5 June 2016

Deaf and ASL Coffee Chat.

On Friday night, the four of us set out onto the mainland to try and find the Starbucks where the local Deaf Community were gathering. After not finding a single bus that took us anywhere near the main land, we finally arrived by taxi. We knew instantly that we were at the right place, behind the large glass windows, groups of people were signing animatedly. 

We wandering in, I won't lie at this point, I was quite nervous at this point of not being accepted, of being labelled as an outsider because I was hearing, of making a fool of myself. However, I forced my legs forward and were met by a group of people sat round one of the tables with leaflets spread out in front of them. The group were chatting in sign but looked up at us quizzically, I could see the question hanging over their heads of 'Do they sign? Are they the visitors?' We had a contact, named Veronica, and she came up to greet us both speaking and signing, asking if we wanted her to speak, we declined and we were introduced to John Paul, who is Waving Hand's founder and co- coordinator. Alison was off, knowing the language well, but me, Mel and Arron needed a bit of guidance. John Paul knew we didn't have much experience of ASL so signed slowly to us asking us questions about our flight. We signed our names and sign names in turn and he asked polite questions of whether we liked Miami and if we were here long etc. He was lovely, and I was grateful for him to make an effort to slow down for us and use lip pattern, which doesn't seem to exist in ASL, as I would find out later. At one point, he asked why we were here in Miami, I tried to express myself and then turned to Alison so she could explain in a more comprehensive way. This was my first stab at trying to use ASL. He introduced us to a lot of new people, the next few minutes were a blur of fingerspelt names and sign names and 'Nice to meet you's, luckily I learnt this before I arrived. More and more people joined the group, there must have been around forty people crammed into one coffee shop. Honestly, it was fantastic to see. 

Hector was quite easy to understand using lip patterns that we could read but then turning to the other members of the group, I realized this was not a common thing. I struck up another conversation and was doing okay until I was asked a question and got stuck on the sign  for same, a hearing interpreter helped me out a bit because I was stumped, explaining the question first in sign and then speaking the question, to clarify I had got it. After a bit,  I decided to try and mix with the other people there, well, I could sit here and watch or I could join in and learn, I sort of half crept my way over to another group and then heard laughing as Alison told me to grow some balls using a very visual sign. We joined a group of men and was surprised to find a man speaking and signing at the same time, he was hard of hearing. George his name was and the reasoning he gave was 'I speak, I sign, whatever' and that was it, he was obviously a well accepted member of the group but his sign name was hearing with the ASL alphabet G of his name. It was a real melting pot, some people like us were visiting, some people also like us were trying to learn more of the language, some striving to become interpreters, hearing, deaf, sign language users who signed as easily as if they breathed, some deaf just dipping their toes in,  young, old, CODAs, children, whatever, they were all sat chatting in the coffee shop as a big, mixed group. No CI's though but a few people with hearing aids. One man was Venezuelan and spoke Spanish and when he signed to the group, everyone was a little stumped, I felt pleased I wasn't the only one for once. The finger spelling was beyond me and time was ticking on, I was getting tired and I can't understand BSL finger spelling at the best of times. Even when everyone slowed down for me, it was still too fast. 
Us, Veronica and John Paul at Starbucks.

Americans sign differently to BSL, not just in the actual language itself, but the pure brash, unadulterated show of doing it. Generally ASL has very little lip pattern, which I learnt later, some Deaf Communities use more lip pattern than others, such as New York but watching people mid flow was like watching a blank canvas for the face and then a blur of movement as the hands moved. I had seen BSL signed fast, in the corners of The Guild but ASL was something different, I found myself clinging to what little lip pattern there was- was that a P or a K? More people came up to introduce themselves and floated off to speak to friends, John Paul was to my right, hands flying, At first, I could clock what was going on, then I realized someone was interpreting for him to a hearing non- signer, I didn't understand much of it, picking up a few signs along the way  but it was mesmerizing to watch him deep in conversation, his face a blank mask and his hands a blur of movement.

Blurry photo of us and a few Deaf community members.
A man came up to us and started a conversation with me, Mel and Arron whilst we were sat a bit lost. He saw we were on our own so came over to introduce himself, I was quite grateful until he realized we knew BSL and got us finger spelling C-O-W over and over... I am still not sure why, I think it was to see how fast we could do it, but Alison looked over at us with a face of 'What the hell?' and then thought better of it to come over and rescue us. His name was Hector and he was quite interested in BSL, in fact everyone was but we must have looked mad finger spelling C-O-W repeatedly, all three of us sat in a line. Everyone wanted to know about BSL, and I realized they were just as confused with the two handed fingerspelling as I was with the one handed. Eventually, Hector drifted off to talk to some more people and we were left alone but before we did, he signed that we should go and mix, I pointed out I was nervous and he made a very valid point. He said that if he flew over to England and starting learning a completely new language then he would be terrified too. This made me feel a little better.

I learnt a lot from Friday night about the language and the Deaf  Community, we are gathering again Monday night: John Paul is giving a living a lecture at Miami Dade College which we are sitting in on. By the end of it, my finger spelling was getting quicker and I had a basic sort of pidgeon ASL. Everyone was so helpful and patient, giving up their time to come talk to us and John Paul was so lovely that he even got friends from another state to travel down to come meet us. My eyeballs felt like hot melting balls of pain when we finally got the taxi back to the hotel, but I felt like I achieved something, made connections, and may have, maybe, got somewhere. Who knows? If you try you may well have a good time.

Things learnt:
- Do not sign the ASL for I love you at a person you just met. Oops.
- The American Deaf are very interesting in learning BSL.
- The Deaf community are very accommodating in America.
- ASL is very different to BSL- little facial expression and no lip pattern.
- Americans only know where London is. Thats it.

No comments:

Post a Comment