Saturday, 22 September 2012

International Week of the Deaf

Every year, on the last week of September, the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) holds its International Week of Deaf People.

This year it is from 24-30 September and its theme is Sign Bilingualism is a Human Right.

I love the fact that this theme has come up.  Here in New Zealand it is important as every year we celebrate New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Week in the first week of May, and its aim is to promote NZSL (obviously!) and to show that it is a great language to learn.

According to the WFD website:
The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) first launched International Day of the Deaf in 1958; the “day” was later extended to “week.” The International Week of the Deaf (IWD) is observed annually during the last full week of September. The week culminates with International Day of the Deaf on the last Sunday of the week. The 1st World Congress of the WFD took place in September 1951, and the choice of September to celebrate the International Week and Day of the Deaf is a commemoration of this historical event.
The purpose of IWD is to draw the attention of politicians, authorities and the general public to the achievements of Deaf people and the concerns of the Deaf community. During this week, organisations of Deaf people worldwide are encouraged to carry out information campaigns about their work, and to publicise their demands and requests. This week also increases solidarity among Deaf people and their supporters, and is used as a time to stimulate greater efforts to promote the rights of Deaf people throughout the world.

Sadly, in New Zealand, NZSL is not promoted at early intervention, and not even encouraged.  There is an organisation in New Zealand that was set up to promote oralism.  I will not name the organisation, but they promote themselves as an organisation that teaches deaf children to ‘hear like their hearing peers’.  This is a false statement.  A cochlear implant does not make you hearing.  At the end of the day, the child is still deaf. 

Dr Peter Hauser from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in the US carried out research on neuroscience and psycholinguistic aspects on deaf and hearing people.  He found that there is no evidence to show that sign language interferes with speech or its development.  In actuality, it enhances the ability to learn language. 

The organisations that I am referring to often view deaf children as broken.  Sadly, this is an attitude that can affect the child.  All too often, I have seen young people who have no idea of their identity and this can affect them.  The child should be provided with a holistic approach – give them everything and they will benefit.  There is no shame in having a d/Deaf child.  Make every effort to communicate with them in Sign Language as well as spoken languages – it is less exhausting for them and also much less frustrating.

I came across this video that I believe should be shown to all professionals that work in the sector – they should forget about their text books and remember that parents and their children are only human.   The child will benefit from this approach and if they are provided with the holistic method, they will grow and benefit greatly, and so will the family of the child.

Please remember, the deaf child will actually benefit from learning sign language – like WFD states – Sign Language is a human right, not a privilege. 

I know of some wee children who are implanted and have great NZSL skills – those kids never cease to amaze me and it is so cute watching them sign, and vocalise.  Those kids are the future – and they will be able to communicate in either method that suits their mood on any given day.  One great video from youtube - of a wee 24 month old girl having a conversation with her mother.  I find it amazing!

Don’t rob deaf children of their opportunity to have sign language.  Sign Language is something to be celebrated.  How often can you have a full conversation under water?  How often can you talk to someone in a busy nightclub?  How often can you stand on one side of a busy street and carry out a conversation as usual with someone on the other side of the street?  How often can you talk to someone through a closed window?  The possibilities are endless.  Go on, try it out!
This week, go out and celebrate New Zealand Sign Language.  Teach others NZSL.  Tell everyone about amazing individuals who know NZSL.

I look forward to hearing stories during International Week of the Deaf!

Monday, 17 September 2012

A tribute to my beloved Poppa

On 16th September, 2012 – I lost a man I love so much.  My grandfather, whom we affectionately call Poppa.  He slipped away peacefully in his sleep.  He was a happy man right up to the very end.

I am doing an ugly cry as I write this up. 

This was a man who used to come over every Saturday, allow me to sit on his lap and play with his hair, put ribbons in his hair.

He instilled the love of reading in me, giving me books – whenever there was a birthday, my grandparents would give everyone a book and I used to gather them all up and read them all on that day.

He wrote poetry.  He wrote poems about me. 

My Legend

She’s just a girl of tender years
But she has lost so much
For she hears nothing with her ears
No music, speech or such
But through all this there’s no complaint
For things she has not
She buckles down and makes the most
Of things that she has got
She goes to school in Christchurch
It is a hearing school
She learns her lessons wonderfully
Lip-reading as her tool
She skis, she also fences
And I am bound to say
She portrayed a schoolgirl
In a TV play
This girl who is of tender years
She’s a legend of the future.

Not even handicapped

You should see my young granddaughter
She’s the sweetest girl around
She’s pretty, bright, intelligent
Though she never hears a sound

From birth she’s never heard the things
That we can all enjoy
Like when birds arise at dawning
Or the tinkling of a toy

She’s never heard the love produced
Within her mother’s voice
She’s never heard her brothers laugh
Or hears her friends rejoice

She never hears a Christmas carol
Or a toy unwrapped
Though in view of social welfare
She’s not even handicapped

And now there comes upon the scene
Another hearing aid
But this one gives some promise
It’s the best so far they’ve made

But it costs a thousand dollars
It’s quite pricey, but she’s rapt
We ask help from social welfare
She’s not even handicapped

Now do not get me wrong in this
She’ll get the aid, you’ll see
It’s just the thing I’m pointing out
It’s the anomaly

That while children suffer deafness
A hard life is theirs to start
And it goes to prove the saying
Officialdom has no heart

Now I think I’ll close this letter
With a thought for you to bear
Of children with no hearing
And departments that don’t care

Kids are at a disadvantage
And in this you need not scoff
They are in a poor position
To rip the system off

So when you listen to a song
Or hear the singer clapped
Give no thought to those deaf people
They’re not even handicapped.

I found a lot of letters that he had written to me.  He tells of the two biggest loves of his life – his grandfather and his dog, Sally.  He recounted when he used to be out all day from sun up to sun down hanging out with Sally, catching rabbits. 


The hand of time taps upon the consciousness
Of love once given and returned
Once killed by thoughtless youthfulness
The bane of youth and by moment, spurned

Those days were travelled far and wide
Where footloose heaven told of swathe well run
And threw ourselves panting, limbs flung wide
To catch our breath gasping in the sun

But later, older in my early youth
I moved, alone, upon another path
Leaving my home with conscience loose
And left my friend for seaboard craft

And so I left my friend, I’d grown away
To lose her life because I was not there
My friend, my love companion of another day
Put down, to die because of lacking care.

So conscience sword is sharp, comforts foe
To think of Sally, canine friend
Though it was sixty years ago
Thoughts still intrude of stupid end.

Poppa – I know Sally was waiting for you with your Grandfather.  I know there was a happy reunion.

His letters made me smile when I needed it.  Here is another poem he wrote just for me as he was writing the letter:

Tensile strength

From us out here
To you out there
I bring you love
Express my care
For there’s no doubt
I know, you see
That you are one small part of me

But you are far
Though have no fear
A tenuous thread
Will hold you near
A fragile thing
That for your sake
Stretches forever
But will not break

So close your eyes
And feel that tug
You’ll feel my arms
About you hug
And one day soon
Soon, you will see
That thread will pull you back to me.

I still feel that tug.  And that tug will bring me back him wherever he is now.

He always ended his letters with a lot of kisses.  I miss those kisses already.

The letters were written to me after he hadn’t written to anyone for about 50 years, and so I feel very privileged to have him write to me and pour his love to me.

Heart’s glow

With lowered lip and heavy heart
Its seems that all the worlds apart
With slanted look and throbbing head
It is as if the world were dead

Then beam of light not quite a glow
Makes optimism start to flow
Brings strengths return and you will see
It emanates from family

The light gets stronger all around
Where once it was that nature frowned
And you find family is there
To give you strength so you can bear
So your decisions fine by us
Though covered with prevailing fuss

For we are here and we believe
In you my girl so just receive
Our love, our hugs though you are far
For in our heaven, you’re our star.

He had the best sense of humour.  Always had a twinkle in his eye.  Always full of love for his family – where we always lined up to give him a kiss and a cuddle. 

I am very privileged and honoured to have such a special man in my life for as long as I have.  Those memories will always be cherished. 

I love you Poppa, and I always will.  I will see you someday soon and I expect the biggest hug from you.

Looking out to evenings twining cool
The softness filled with birds at roost
Takes my thoughts to far flung shores
Where thoughts of you gives love a boost

                                                                Unfinished and likely to stay so.

Poppa on Christmas Day, 2010.  I laughed and laughed and laughed when I saw him come in the room looking like that.  

Poppa and Granny on 25 August, 2012.  He was dressed up as a sailor and Granny was dressed up as a herbalist for my niece's birthday party.  

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Tall Poppy Syndrome seems to be rampant within the Deaf community, but it is not only within the Deaf community that this is seen.  It is also widely known in New Zealand.

What is Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Wikipedia (I know it is not the most reliable site to quote from!) states that it is “a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers”.

Sadly, I have seen examples of Tall Poppy Syndrome within New Zealand and in the Deaf community.  I will not name people or examples as I do not want to identify or cause damage to anyone’s reputation.  I have seen many people in New Zealand who have made successes of themselves, in their work/setting up a business, achieving great things, winning awards/goals and all of those people have done things to be proud of.  Regrettably, there will be individuals who will not recognise the work of the Deaf person and put them down, just to make themselves feel better.

There is a huge difference between offering constructive criticism and attacking people.
Constructive criticism means that a person will not go around spreading malicious gossip or backstabbing the person – it means that one will be talking to the person themselves and telling them how they can improve something or giving them ideas.

Tall Poppy Syndrome means that the person will go around spreading nasty rumours, putting the successful person down, in the hopes that they can drag them down.

How to stop Tall Poppy Syndrome?

First, the simplest thing is not to criticise others or put them down, especially to other people.  Praise the fact that they have done well, achieved something that they have always wanted to achieve.  We need to be mindful of the image we are projecting of ourselves onto others, especially if we want to be a role model to younger people.  A quote by Thomas S. Monson (a Mormon leader) comes to mind: “Youth need less critics and more models.”  I have to say that I agree with him – we need to remember before spreading gossip about other people or organisations that others will see us doing that, and then they will start doing the same thing.  Be a role model for the young Deaf community and show that they can be high achievers like others in the Deaf community.

We are all human and it is part of human nature to gossip and say things that we shouldn’t be saying.  But we can be more human if we stop and reflect before saying something nasty about a person or an organisation. 

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
― Mother Teresa

It is as simple as that.  If we say nice things about other people and organisations, then a ripple effect is created.  If you have negative thoughts, yes that is only human, but try and keep them to yourself, especially if they are untrue.  As Chuck Palahniuk once said “It's easy to attack and destroy an act of creation. It's a lot more difficult to perform one.”

Are you the victim of tall poppy syndrome?  You may likely have been.  It is the way you react to it that can make a whole world of difference.  Mahatma Gandhi once said “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”  It is easy to say don’t let the haters get to you.  But it is harder to stop it from getting to you personally, especially when you have worked so hard to achieve a goal or to do good things for people.  It is important to reflect and think about what you have achieved and how that makes a difference on your own life, as well as others.  Being able to take negative comments in your stride and getting on with your life speaks volumes about you.

I have been criticised for the work I have done in the captioning working group – not only for working with another organisation but for ‘not getting enough captions’ or ‘no captions on certain channels’ but I don’t let them get to me – why?  I have worked hard to get where we are now, and we all are working hard to continue our work and that in itself is something to be proud of.  I give credit to the Deaf community for their involvement and support of this and I continue to do so.  I don’t let the negative comments get to me because we all have made an achievement that has been a long time coming.

I close with a quote that I feel shows how we should live our lives:

“To hold our tongues when everyone is gossiping, to smile without hostility at people and institutions, to compensate for the shortage of love in the world with more love in small, private matters; to be more faithful in our work, to show greater patience, to forgo the cheap revenge obtainable from mockery and criticism: all these are things we can do. ”
― Hermann Hesse

Kia kaha

Saturday, 15 September 2012

United We Stand

In recent days, there has been a flurry of articles in regards to the discovery of stem cells curing deafness in gerbils.

Articles can be found here:

This has resulted in an upset Deaf community with opinions that this is a form of genocide, even Marlee Matlin; a Deaf actress has spoken about her fears for this ‘cure.’

Since the story broke, I have been watching a debate on this very topic, and thinking about it.  This is not a blog post about stem cell research, or even about curing Deafness.  This is a post about the Deaf community.

The uproar against the gerbil deafness cure has proven to me that this is a community that really wants to protect itself, to keep it going.  And I can see why.

This is a community that will get together in times of need, when there is a trauma, they will congregate and work together.  Take for example, the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.  This was a time of great need and the Deaf community really banded together to support each other.  The Deaf Society of Canterbury was closed due to engineer’s reports and so they had to make do with different premises and they carried on doing what they could do, in the best of their ability.  This shows great resolve.  The staff of the Christchurch Deaf Aotearoa office did great work to ensure that everyone was okay, even though they had to think about their own families.  And last but not least, there were two interpreters who are part of the Deaf community who did amazing work for them by interpreting next to Bob Parker during the Earthquake media releases.

When Deaf people travel, they like to meet other Deaf people in different countries.  In New Zealand, we hear of visitors coming to our home town and we are always happy to host them or show them around.  It doesn’t matter that we have never met them before.  We still take them in and look after them.   That kind of thing does not really happen in the hearing world that I know of.

The Deaf community has a rich history, Deaf people are fantastic historians and will remember events of years gone by and are more than happy to tell those stories to anyone who will listen.  They really are fantastic.  They have a great sense of humour and when the stories are told in sign language, you cannot help but feel involved in those stories.

The Deaf community members love to organise events.  And they do organise fantastic events.  They plan well in advance, organise the best entertainment, and most of all, they make events into ones that people talk about for decades.  

The Deaf community has their own quirks – the long goodbye, where they take about 2 hours to say goodbye to someone, the Deaf nod – where they nod when they don’t understand someone, signing to each other from a distance, just because they can!  

The Deaf community has its own version of the Olympics – effectively called the Deaflympics.  The Deaf community is against merging with the Paralympics because they feel their identity will be taken away during the Games and their Deafness is a huge part of their identity.  The Deaflympics is not only a platform where they can compete against their own peers, but also to meet people from other countries, and become firm friends.  I attended the 2009 Summer Deaflympics in Taiwan to represent New Zealand in the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD) congress and met a lot of lovely people.

The Deaf community also has its own governing body – the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) which is wholly governed by Deaf people.  Every four years, there is a congress where different topics relating to Deafness is presented.  I attended the congress in South Africa in 2011 and met so many people and enjoyed their company.  I also learned a lot and brought some of that knowledge back to New Zealand and still hope to use that knowledge to benefit the Deaf community.

Deaf people are hard workers.  They will not stop until they have achieved something.  Take for example, the case against Telecom to establish the NZ Relay – this took seven years and did they give up?  No.  They were successful in their battle to set up the NZ Relay which is very successful today.    Another example is the fight to add captions on television more than 20 years ago.  This battle still continues, with a different group of people who are focusing on a broader range to caption.  I am part of this captioning battle and it has been a very proud and exciting time for me, knowing that we have managed to do this successfully when Sky TV added captions to 17 channels and we will always be grateful for this.  

Last but not least, the Deaf community has its own language.  Sign Language.  In New Zealand, it is New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) and it is celebrated every year with NZSL Week in the first week of May.  Interest is high from the hearing people and taster classes are always popular.  NZSL Week has gained international interest and some countries even want to host their own SL week, using the NZSL model.

Interestingly enough, Deaf people do not see themselves as disabled, but rather a cultural and linguistic minority.  And I can see why after writing this blog post.  This is a community that is rich in history, has this amazing ability to band together in times of need, has its own language, will welcome strangers in their homes and have their own cultural quirks.

I am proud to be part of such a unique community.  When I joined the Deaf community at 18, it was like coming home and finding my long lost family.  It is a great feeling, knowing that I have two families to turn to – my biological family and my Deaf family.  This does not happen to everyone and I feel very privileged to have this, as do many members of the Deaf community.
All in all, I can understand why Deaf people are upset about the Gerbil Cure.  But the way I see it, a community as strong as the Deaf community can never be eradicated.  There is just too much strength there that they will never allow this to happen.   

By the way, I don’t want to put a gerbil in my ears, things might get a bit fuzzy!  

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Why the name?

2 Blog posts in one day.  Oooh!  Why?  I was asked why the name, which comes from a Pink Floyd song.

Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted the ability to fly.  I used to have these recurring dreams in which I was flying.  I loved those dreams.  It has been a while since I have had those dreams, but I certainly wouldn't mind if I had them again.

The Pink Floyd song - 'Learning to Fly' appeals to me - not just in the imagery but also in the emotion that it evokes.  To me, I see it as someone who has been bound for so long and finally has the freedom to fly.  That is how I feel with my Deafness.  For so long, I didn't know my Deaf identity and when I turned 18, I ventured into the Deaf community and met people that I now have good friendships with.  However, I am still learning to fly - my condition is still grounded, but I am determined to keep on trying.  I am tongue tied in that I cannot speak perfectly and I use NZSL and ASL as my main forms of communication, but I will speak if I have to, if the person I am speaking to can understand me.

Another earth bound misfit is the Kiwi - no wings, it is rather an unique bird.  Just like a New Zealander.  Just like me :-)

I also love to fly in planes.  Nothing like the feeling when the plane is taxiing down the runway and then it just lifts.  I look forward to that part every time I get onto a plane!

Wouldn't it just be awesome, being able to fly - imagine all the freedom you could have!

My first attempt at blogging

Bear with me, this is the first time I have set up a blog and so things may seem disjointed.

Who am I?  At times, I am an earth bound misfit, who wants to fly.  And fly, I will.  I head over to Italy in 15 days.  Can you tell that I am excited?  I am sure it is hard to notice!

I am Deaf, married to a Deaf man.  I have a hearing son who is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), even though we live in Christchurch, New Zealand.

I was encouraged to set up this blog, initially so that I can post updates as to what is happening when I am in Italy.  

Who knows, this may lead to other blog posts about random stuff.  I may celebrate people and organisations for the work they do, especially within the Deaf community.  There are so many out there that should be recognised for the work they do.  Maybe I will discuss things that I read in the media.  :-)

So bear with me as I find my way around this thing!