“Your whole life, they’ve been trying to take you away from me,” my father says to me, referring to the deaf community. But the deaf community could just as easily say the same about my father.
More than 90 percent of deaf and hard-of-hearing children are born to hearing parents like mine, who have little to no experience interacting with deaf people. When it was discovered that I was profoundly deaf at six weeks old, my parents faced a common decision: Should they adapt themselves to their deaf child, learn sign language, and embrace deaf culture, or have their deaf child adapt to hearing culture, give her cochlear implants or hearing aids, and train her in the precarious art of lip-reading?
My parents chose the former, believing that sign language would provide me with equal access to the opportunities afforded my hearing twin brother. So, when I was 6 months old, my parents welcomed educators from a local deaf school into their home to give signing lessons. Over several months, my mother learned to sign with me.
I soon began to sign back, newly capable of asking for “milk” (one hand in a squeezing gesture, as if milking a cow, but without the vertical motion) or “juice” (brushing the pinkie finger shaped into the letter “j” by the corner of the mouth, with an otherwise closed fist). Using sign language, I communicated a lot — even more than my brother. But then something strange happened. I began speaking. Aloud. In English.