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There are now four generations deaf in my family. My parents started it all! My father, a child of Russian immigrant parents, was the only deaf child of nine siblings. My mother, the oldest child of Scottish immigrant parents, was born deaf and her youngest brother also was born deaf. A sister in between suffered several convulsions as a young child and eventually lost her hearing. One other sister was hearing and died from pneumonia at the age of two.

My brother and I were born deaf and grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. My family was the only “deaf” family within the two families and did many things together as a core deaf family. On visits to our grandparents and aunts and uncles, it was not easy because there was no true communication except for some small talk like “how are you?”, how is school?”, etc., and no inside gossip! Lipreading and speaking were the only means of communication.

My brother and I attended Clarke School for the Deaf, an oral school for 13 and 12 years respectively. During our years at this oral school, we were not exposed to sign language and were told that sign language was inferior and not right. “Oralism” was the best thing and we were “brainwashed” that becoming oral adults was the right thing to do. Even though my parents were deaf, they did not use sign language at home and used them sparsely when visiting with other deaf friends. So, my brother and I were not able to pick up the sign language until we reached our 20’s. Teachers often reprimanded us about using hand movements thinking they were signs. Actually, it was natural for us as deaf children to move our hands making our communication more visible. We also had the habit of pointing our fingers on our chins to emphasize the word we were saying.

During those years of growing up, we did not realize we were missing out a lot on visual communication. We just went on being “normal” in our hometown and just lived our lives the way our parents wanted. There were many times when my father made comments on how he was told by the principal at Clarke School not to marry a deaf woman because it would bring on deaf children. My father ignored the warning and yes, he bore two deaf children proving the school right! But he was a happy man with a lovely wife and two bright children and it did not matter one way or other!

After I got married to a deaf man, himself a 2nd generation deaf child of deaf parents, I realized on how much I had missed growing up an oral deaf person. We have two deaf children and this led me to look into “total communication” which was happening during the 1970’s. I decided that the children should be able to communicate in whatever they were comfortable with and ASL was the way to go. Along with the children’s growing up and before they entered school full time, I began to pick up sign language and am now very comfortable with it.

In conclusion, I feel that communication is very important for all deaf children and they should be exposed to everything that is available out there and choose the method that they are most comfortable with. We now have two deaf grandchildren (and one hearing grandchild). They are 4th generation deaf in this family. The oldest granddaughter, 6 years old, is a very remarkable girl with a vast grasp of communication. She signs beautifully in ASL and she also “mouths” words on the lips beautifully and is an excellent lipreader. So, she has a gift for that while our 4 year old grandson is starting to sign appropriately and less sloppy and tries to mouth words but he just cannot and I am not sure how well he lipreads. But he has good receptive skills and understands everything we sign to him. So this brother and sister are different when it comes to communication, and yet they both function just fine in different ways!

Back to myself, as I look back on my growing up as a deaf person, I can appreciate my gift of using speech to the best of my ability and be understood by those who know me. I also use my lipreading skills as much as I could but will not be ashamed if I resort to writing notes on paper if I could not lipread some people. And at the same time, I appreciate my knowledge of ASL and can use it fluently causing many of my deaf friends to think I had grown up using ASL all my life which is not true. Really, I am more comfortable using ASL and use it all the time even with voice. During my growing up years, I was deprived of my right to use visual communication (ASL) … thus we were communicatively abused by the school and oral society/environment in Massachusetts. So I made sure that my children and grandchildren have their choices and be able to use whatever works best for them and not be forced to use a different communication method that is not natural for them.


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