Deaf, not mute

Jessica Harden

A large group sits together in Starbucks. The Deaf people are loud. The hearing people are quiet. They’re all signing.

Outsiders look in on this unusual scene. This is the scene of the silent coffee chat hosted by UNF’s American Sign Language Club.

At UNF, Deaf students go to classes with their hearing peers and Deaf teachers instruct hearing students. Many people at UNF are unaware of the Deaf community on campus and in the greater Jacksonville area.

During my first day of class in American Sign Language, I was terrified. I didn’t know how I could take a class with a professor I couldn’t talk to.

I was relieved to find out there would be an interpreter in the room, until I found out the interpreter would only be there for the first class. That was when the terror set back in.
I had nothing to be afraid of.

Professor Jon Antal is Deaf with a capital ‘D’. “Often, hearing people will ask me ‘Can you drive?’ ‘Oh my goodness, you’re deaf. Can you read lips?’ ‘Can you read and write?’… People have these wrong stereotypes.”

Antal said there was a difference between ‘Deaf’ and ‘deaf’.

Antal said the capital ‘D’ in ‘Deaf’ is used when someone grew up both audiologically deaf and completely immersed in deaf culture. He said a small ‘d’ ‘deaf’ may refer to someone who can’t hear but was immersed in mainstream culture.

He said he wants hearing people to try and learn to sign.

“When you run into someone who is Deaf, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to turn your voice off.”

Deaf Donts_ZachEvans

Ryan Harter is a senior Construction Management student here at UNF.

Q: Do you identify with capital ‘D’ Deaf Culture?

A: To be honest I grew up both in the deaf and hearing world because of my deaf family members. I didn’t get fully into the Deaf world until I went to RIT, the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. That was my first Deaf school. I don’t exclusively identify with deaf culture. I recognize and understand it, but it’s a very small world. It’s good if you want to be social within that world and there are people within the Deaf world who have a stronger sense of Deaf pride. I am deaf and proud, but I seek more of a balance with hearing culture. I didn’t grow up strongly identifying with Deaf culture.

Q: What is it like interacting with the hearing world?

A: It used to bother me when people asked me if I was deaf. But, the more people asked, the less it bothered me. Until I would say ‘yeah, I’m deaf’, I’d say ‘Yeah, you have a problem with that?’ And, some people associate it with retardation, but that’s not at all true. But, those are people ignorant [of] or from outside the Deaf world. Once you get a peek inside, then they can see deaf people as people and that proves them wrong. Now some people in the deaf community may act stupid, but so do hearing people. It depends on the person. Just because the only deaf person you’ve met is acting a fool doesn’t mean all deaf people are fools and just because one hearing person is smart doesn’t mean all hearing people are smart. But when they ask me if I’m deaf it doesn’t bother me. Let them think what they want to think. I am who I am.

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There are plenty of ways for hearing people to learn ASL at UNF.

Brianna Sobik, a senior Deaf Education student, is the Vice President of the UNF ASL Club. “We basically are here to promote the awareness and understanding of Deaf culture in the Jacksonville area.”

Sobik said the Deaf community here was very accepting of hearing students trying to learn their language.

“Learning American Sign Language is one of the best things I have done here at UNF. The language is beautiful and I love going to Deaf events in the Jacksonville area to be with all the new friends I have made.”

 

Email Jessica Harden at [email protected].