Faces Behind the Screen: Tamara

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We met Tamara at the George W. Veditz ASL Festival at Northeastern University, where she candidly spoke with us about what it was like growing up as a child of a Deaf adult (CODA) as a hearing individual. Tamara graciously answered our questions about growing up with two languages, facing discrimination, and the changing trends surrounding accessibility:

What was it like growing up with two languages and a parent that, I’m assuming, spoke English, and one that only signed?

With ASL being my first language, I didn’t even speak English until I was at least 2 and 1/2. And that was because my extended hearing family members were like, she’s hearing and she’s not talking. That’s not normal. So my parents put me in daycare just to be around other kids and hearing people so that I could start picking up English. Then I went to speech therapy until I was in kindergarten or first grade. After that, I was fine using both languages. We just signed at home, even though my mom can speak pretty well. Occasionally I would speak with her, but it might be a combination of speak and sign. Basically, the language in the house was ASL.

“I didn’t even speak English until I was at least 2 and 1/2. And that was because my extended hearing family members were like, she’s hearing and she’s not talking. That’s not normal.”

Do you remember any experience of your parents being discriminated against?

Not so much anymore, especially being an adult who is out of the home. And with there being so much more advocacy for the Deaf community, especially here in Massachusetts, and my parents being more aware of the services available to them and them advocating for themselves, it’s been a lot better. The biggest thing for them lately has been in the medical field. Getting interpreters for doctors’ appointments and things like that, where the offices don’t see the need to hire an interpreter because they think it’s sufficient to write notes back and forth and read lips. But this is somebody’s health. They need to have full access to full communication to understand what’s going on.

As a kid growing up, I think it was partly because of a lack of understanding of the availability of services, and also the lack of understanding on the part of institutions to their responsibility to provide interpreting services. So a lot of that fell on my shoulders. As a kid, I was doing for free what people who are professionals – who were trained – get paid to do.

“As a kid, I was doing for free what people who are professionals – who were trained – get paid to do.”

You mentioned certain things were difficult for your parents when you were younger. As you got older, did you see that trend progressively get better? Do you think it’s going to get better?

I think it can and it should. I think there’s definitely room to grow. The hospital network that my parents are a part of right now is absolutely phenomenal. And the interpreting services that they provide are just amazing. But they actually just recently switched to different primary care doctors because the primary care doctor office refused to provide an interpreter. And I guess the overarching organization wouldn’t agree on a contract with an interpreting agency. And so they just kept putting off my parents’ appointment.

I didn’t necessarily see a growing trend when I was growing up. I’m pretty sure closed captioning, anyway, was a thing as long as I can remember. Maybe open captioning becoming available in limited theaters of limited showings. There’s definitely room for that to grow. My parents– my dad especially– has definitely complained about how he can’t stand those individual– [the cup holder devices.] He’d much rather just go to an open caption show.

What do you think is the best part about having parents who are Deaf and hard of hearing?

“I think the best part is that I’m a part of the Deaf community.”

I think the best part is that I’m a part of the Deaf community. And it’s such a rich community. It’s got such a rich language that I feel so privileged to know and be able to communicate with people in, and such a rich culture. And I was born into it – literally. I would definitely say that’s the best part. It’s a great community and I know a lot of awesome people because of it.

What do you want to see in a more accessible future?

Definitely making open captioning available in more theaters and more showings. I think it should be a regular thing. I grew up in a household where closed captioning was on all the time, and I just don’t even pay attention to it anymore. So if we lived in a world where there was open captioning in every film, and people just got used to that, then it wouldn’t even be an issue. And it shouldn’t, because it’s like, oh, hey, everybody can enjoy this movie? That’s awesome.

I can’t tell you how many times my dad’s gone to the movie theater, because he really wants to see a movie– and he really enjoys action films and that kind of thing– and he has no clue what’s being said, but he just goes because he enjoys the experience. But how much more enjoyable would it be for him if he could actually read the dialogue? I mean, DVDs and that kind of thing have gotten a lot better, but a lot of times, or half the time, we’d buy one and it’s like, oh, there’s no captioning.

If you could give one piece of advice, what is it?

I would say to be open-minded and to not be afraid. Deaf people aren’t scary. They don’t have a disease. They’re not disabled. They don’t need you to patronize them or to look down on them. And so many of them I’ve met, they’re self-advocates.

Don’t be afraid of the language barrier, and don’t let that hold you back and be like, oh, I can’t sign, so I’m just not even going to interact with that person. Write them a note. If you’re just trying to get to know them, or if it’s somebody that you see on your commute every day on the train, or I don’t know. Just don’t be afraid to interact with them, get over that barrier.

And be an ally for the Deaf community, and be aware of accessibility and what you can do to play a part and use your voice to speak up and say hey, I think we should have this available, or it’s not cool that these services aren’t provided. And just be aware. Have your eyes open.

And learn sign language. Be a part of our awesome community. We’re very loving and open and accepting.

We want to extend a huge thank you to the American Sign Language Program at Northeastern University for hosting the George W. Veditz ASL Festival.

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Pictures of four people who were interviewed for the Faces Behind the Screen project

Faces Behind the Screen is a storytelling project focusing on members of the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

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