“Why don’t you just take those out?” “Your teacher isn’t around.” “You know no one can understand you right?” These are many questions that ASL (American Sign Language) students face every year during the annual “Deaf for a Day” assignment.
Although the assignment is only mandatory for students in their first year of ASL, many students in the program participate every year to show that they stand with the deaf community and get to experience something similar to being deaf.
Students are given earplugs the day before and instructed to carry a journal to communicate with people who don’t know how to sign, and to log their conversations.
Once you wake up and put the earplugs in, things are immediately different from usual. People seem to lack patience when you can’t immediately understand what they are trying to communicate to you and vice versa. Even when arriving at school, teachers are often rude and dismissive of the students who participate.
We often hear stories of how Deaf Day has left people with ruined friendships, and I didn’t understand until I was trying to interact with friends and they shocked me with how they acted. They were dismissive, calling the assignment stupid and even made comments to each other assuming that I couldn’t hear just because of the earplugs. Even though the sound was muffled, I could still hear what they were saying, and even if I hadn’t, reading their lips would have also shown me what they really thought about the situation.
It made me think, What if I was really deaf? Would they exclude me from conversations or talk about me thinking that I couldn’t understand due to my hypothetical hearing impairment? I wondered the same about teachers. Would they expect me to keep up with no extra help from them? Or would they expect me to just accept that I wouldn’t be able to do as well as other students?
These are many problems faced by deaf people every day, and during this project I’m sure this understanding is exactly what our teacher hopes we reach.
After participating in Deaf Day for the past two years, I have learned that no one will fully understand deaf people until they have walked in their shoes.