Learning about Deaf culture

10 Mar

I owe Liza a post!

To start at the beginning, I took “sign language” as an undergrad. It was pretty much a VERY BASIC sign course where we talked a little about grammar and Deaf culture and learned a lot of nouns. I never used it functionally and lost most of it pretty quickly. As of July I had retained toddler signs, and that was about it.  I’m currently enrolled in a legit ASL course taught by a Deaf woman and it’s bad ass. But still, I’m learning a lot and by no means think that I can “sign.”

Anyway, things got interesting as my caseload expanded and I started seeing adults for AAC. A majority of my adults have developmental disabilities and three of them are Deaf. They had sign language interpreters attend evaluations as well as therapy

sessions and…it has been a LEARNING EXPERIENCE.

Let’s start with the evaluation. Typically, when I assess an adult for AAC I look at their receptive language skills with emphasis. I don’t focus a ton on expression because it’s usually pretty obvious if expressively they would benefit from AAC. I check out identification of objects and images. I look at following one and two step directions. Reading and writing. Answering questions (yes/no basic and complex, Wh, biographical).

Now. I’ll point out that IF one is trying to give say, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test to a Deaf adult with cognitive impairment, and that adult has a sign interpreter with them…WELL THAT’S JUST SILLY. You can’t do it. I promise. Don’t try. Because words in sign are quite often rather transparent. So if I say “Where’s the toothbrush?” the interpreter…SIGNS TOOTHBRUSH. So it’s cheating a little bit. Sometimes you can get the interpreter to sign AROUND the word (tooth clean etc) but I’ve pretty much given up.

Quite frequently, the interpreter working with the individual works with the individual all the time, almost as if that interpreter is that person’s personal interpreter. So the interpreter, along with caregivers can provide a lot of information about the person’s language skills. Several of my clients have what is known in the Deaf community as “minimal language skills.” This basically means they have receptive and expressive language deficits. The best way I can describe it is almost empty speech. They often sign AROUND words or use the same sign to mean a lot of different things. I have a client who literally signs “bored” for every emotion he’s feeling. So you can see how that’s not particularly functional.

When an interpreter is working with a person with minimal language skills, they have to take what I’m saying, translate it into ASL, and then translate it into terms that the person can understand. This means they’re cutting out any weird jargon or idioms you’re using, so you should really make your language as simple and straightforward as you can. I’ve learned in the ASL course I’m currently enrolled in that this is a really big issue when it comes to the legal system and court proceedings.

I’ve also learned through both therapy and my course that typically there are different kinds of interpreters. In one of my first sessions, the interpreter for my client recommended that we get a “deaf interpreter.”

And I was like, “Uh. That’s you?”

But I’m wrong. When you utilize a Deaf interpreter there is actually two interpreters in the room. So what would happen is I would be speaking to the adult, and the sign language interpreter would sign my exact English. The Deaf interpreter would then take my signed exact English and translate it into ASL. PS – A Deaf interpreter is Deaf.

Also you should know that it is expected that if a meeting requiring an interpreter is to last awhile that more than one interpreter should be available. In Deaf culture it is anticipated that interpreters will switch out every 20 minutes to reduce fatigue. I recently went to a meeting where a Deaf person indicated that she would rather we cancel the meeting than use the same interpreter for an hour. It wasn’t until the interpreter indicated that she was okay with the setup that the meeting could continue.

PS – interpreters WILL take over your session. STAY STRONG PEOPLE. YOUR SESSION IS YOURS! Battle Royale!

Okay so back to evaluation – the reason most of these adults are coming to see me is that unlike a Deaf individual with typical language development, these individuals often have difficulty not only communicating with hearing people but Deaf people as well. They often live in group homes with high turn over rates, so it isn’t as though staff are growing accustomed to a specific communication style and then sticking around. I get these individuals when everyone in the house has hit a really frustrating point and they’re looking for some kind of in-between communication style.

I, personally, go back and forth here ethically. Because to me, if the ADULT can sign, and they’re happy signing, then they should be allowed to sign. However, if the adult isn’t safe or can’t communicate basic needs and wants through sign alone, then there’s an issue. Often the adult has consented to coming to therapy for AAC, but that doesn’t really mean they’re very motivated to be there. They HAVE a way to communicate even if it isn’t extremely efficient nor effective. If they aren’t going to be full participants in the process, I can’t do a lot for them. Plus then I have to get Deaf staff members on board and THAT is not easy at all. They often feel that I’m trying to take sign away from the person (which is never the case…I want the person to sign as much and as often as they can…but I want them to have a backup form of communication to reduce frustration and behaviors.) It’s been suggested to me that maybe I should teach my clients sign, but frankly I’m not comfortable with that. They know the same basics that I know, so I think their Deaf staff should really be helping on that front.

So what am I doing with these individuals? Mostly I’m making very personalized communication books. The tough part about this is that even in a Deaf person who does not have cognitive impairment, there’s a chance that their reading comprehension may not be within normal limits because English grammar and ASL grammar are SO DIFFERENT. I’ve been creating communication books that have words, pic syms, and also an image of a related sign. And then using the interpreter to help train and review in the message contents.

Two of my Deaf clients have some kind of I-device, but as of current, there aren’t a whole ton of apps out there that really target communication between Deaf and hearing individuals when the Deaf person is a minimal language user. One of the adults I’ve been trying to train in use of Proloquo but there has been very little carryover in the home. Because of the reading level and the age, I’ve been programming and then reviewing what each message within each folder means – and I’m really hoping they’re doing the same thing at home.

The other adult’s staff wanted to download Sign 4 Me – which is fine but unfortunately that program is more for a hearing person to communicate TO a Deaf person, not the other way around. Plus with consideration of new signs and regional signs – Deaf staff kind of frown upon it because it’s rather bland.

It’s just tricky. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, and I want to hold my client’s welfare paramount but there are so many barriers. I’m just not sure sometimes if I’m doing the right thing at all.

Now as far as what I’m learning in class, we’ve just finished learning about Deaf culture and appropriate communication with a Deaf person. You can find a bit of a summary here: Interaction with Deaf People, A to Z.

If you’ve had similar experiences please share ideas with me because I could use guidance on this front. And if you have questions please ask! I have a lot more thoughts than this but I didn’t want to bombard anyone with a 40 page essay.

NP: Katie Herzig – Fool’s


7 Responses to “Learning about Deaf culture”

  1. Liza March 11, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    Thank you! This is so interesting. I am mostly working on academic language skills with my Deaf and hard of hearing students at my internship, so I don’t have any advice, unfortunately. You made me really want to take an ASL class!

    • weathersby March 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

      You’ll have to tell me about what you’ve been working on with your kids!

    • weathersby March 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

      I mean like…reading? Phonemic awareness? Grammar?

  2. Patty Rivera September 8, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Hi, I am in a very similar situation as the AAC person at a school for the Deaf. I have found that winning over staff SLOWLY and getting them on board is the largest part of the battle. At least apple devices still currently have the “cool” factor going for them in that kids are more willing to use them then clunky, heavy devices. It is an ongoing process, I would love to hear more ideas of what others are doing to promote carryover in homes, group homes, dorms, community…

    • weathersby September 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

      The iPad is definitely cooler than a dedicated device – and you’ll find many AAC companies are turning their devices into tablet-like systems in reaction to this. What I’ve seen with the new devices is a short battery life, volume issues, and if it is unlocked the client may turn it onto airplane mode, or try to turn on wifi, or end up in some random app that they can’t get out of. So it’s a blessing and a curse all at once. I think one of the more frustrating things is that both with my adults with ID and my adults who solely have communicative deficits – they come in for a eval saying they want to explore the options but when I give them options to explore I get shot down for a zillion different reasons and half the time we work together for 9 months and then discharge with almost zero change. Because there’s no carryover. It makes me crazy! I can’t be with Timmy all hours of the day to make sure he has access and is being prompted to use his device, all I can do is facilitate the exploration of the device and make suggestions. And I don’t want to make a recommendation knowing that the device is going to end up in a drawer. So I understand your battles and I would love to hear what you’re doing to promote carryover!

  3. Helen Robinson November 7, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    Have you heard of the aacorn app? I believe SLPs can get a free evaluation app.

    • weathersby February 19, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

      Yes! Thank you 🙂 I haven’t used it but I’ve been using Tobii for AAC evals

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