My Existence as a
Slash Person, and a Tale of Two Trucks:
By William Vicars, Ed.D.
My Existence as a Slash Person,
and a Tale of Two Trucks:
Physical deafness is defined as "partially or completely
lacking in the sense of hearing" (dictionary.com). This
definition includes two groups or subsets: those who
are "completely" lacking in the sense of hearing, and
those who are partially lacking. Both groups are, by
dictionary definition, deaf.
I am one of those in the "partially" lacking subset.
People in the "partially lacking subset" who are able to
somewhat function in the hearing world are typically
referred to as "hard of hearing."
Cultural Deafness is a set of learned or acquired
attitudes and behaviors. I have a hearing loss, but I
am culturally Deaf by virtue of the fact that I
choose to be. I choose to sign. I choose to work in a
Deaf-related field. I married a Deaf woman. I choose to
attend a Deaf Church. I choose to have Deaf friends.
I set up an ASL website. I choose to immerse myself in
this world. I'm proud to be a member of the Deaf
a Slash person. Specifically, Deaf slash
Hard-of-hearing. (Deaf/HH for short.)
To help you understand my slash existence and how a
person can be part of both the hearing world and the
"Deaf" world, lets consider for a moment the world of
"trucks." While there are many types of trucks, you can
boil it down to two main kinds of consumer trucks:
2-wheel drives (2x4) and four by fours (4x4's). Both
are trucks and for everyday purposes we refer to them as
trucks. When we announce that a neighbor is moving, we
ask people to show up with their trucks to help with the
move. We do not say, "bring your 2-wheel drive trucks
and your 4x4's." We just say "truck."
There are times however when we specifically refer to
2-wheel drives or 4x4's. Two examples are when
1. Ability: When we are discussing actual physical
ability that has an application to our needs. For
example: It is snowing and we need a 4x4 because a
2-wheel drive would be more likely to get stuck.
2. Pride: 4x4 owners are proud of their machines and
occasionally it shows. They put stickers in their
windows proclaiming their status as a 4x4. Two-wheel
drives are of lower status and do not advertise their
Hard of hearing people are the 2-wheel drives of the
Deaf world. We are still trucks. We are still Deaf.
Just of lower status.
A 2-wheel drive truck owner my decide to "rice out his
wheels" (make his truck fancy). A custom paint job,
lots of chrome, expensive accessories, and a lift kit or
hydraulics. The owner of such a 2-wheel drive truck
will manage to garner quite a bit of respect. In the
city anyway. That's like me. I'm of a lower status
because of my subset (I'm hard of hearing) but I have
various degrees and certifications, Im married to a
Deaf woman, and I work in the field, etc..
The problem though, is if the owner of a fancy 2-wheel
drive truck starts acting like he is hot stuff...the
proud 4x4 owners will quickly begin making comments
like, "Yeah, but it'd look better with some mud."
Meaning, that if it were a "real" truck (4x4) it could
go up in the mountains and splash around in the mud, but
since it isn't a "real" truck it can't get any mud and
therefore is not as good as a 4x4.
That is where the slash label comes into play. The
"slash" existence of being Deaf culturally but also
being careful so as to not pretend to be more than you
are, thus the "slash hard of hearing tag. Sometimes
when I introduce myself or in response to someone's
questioning I refer to myself (in sign) as "DEAF/HH."
This is an attempt to establish my cultural affiliation
but to not overstate my status. I'm not alone in this.
I've seen many other "slash" people out there
introducing themselves the same way. If I introduce
myself as being Deaf (without the HH) that immediately
cues the other person to start asking which deaf school
I went to or if I went to Gallaudet. This is natural
because it provides a means of quickly establishing
connections that will help us exchange information about
classmates and mutual friends. While I did attend
Gallaudet briefly, it wasnt as a full time student and
I did not attend a State Residential School for the Deaf. By adding the HH
to my introduction my conversational partner will be
less likely to waste time searching for assumed
connections that don't exist and will instead focus on
finding other connections.
The fact is I am bicultural. I live in both worlds.
In the Deaf world I have full access. In the Hearing
world I only have partial access.
The slash consists of those factors that determine
when I'm functionally deaf (unable to make use of my
residual hearing and when I can function as a hard of
Here are some of those factors:
Deaf in these situations:
light behind speaker
speaker has accent
speaker has speech impediment
Air Conditioner is running
Small childs voice
Hearing Aid battery is dead
Person on TV is off camera or not facing the
camera. Also if the TV is more than a few feet away.
Person is more than a few feet away or speaks at
below 60 decibels
Person covers his mouth or turns to write on the
You are standing on my right (85 decibel loss)
Its time to take out the garbage
Hard of Hearing in these situations:
Clear view of mouth
Amplifier on phone
I have my hearing aid on
Standard American English articulation
Person is within a few feet and speaks at 60 decibels
Person isnt chewing gum, smoking, or eating.
The person on TV is facing the camera, his mouth
movements can be seen, the volume is at 70 decibels or
higher and Im within a few feet of the TV.
Some song lyrics if they are dominant and the graphic
equalizer is set at a reverse cookie bite.
you are standing on my left (55 decibel loss)
Its time to eat.
Now, with all that in mind, you can see that a slash
existence is one of constantly blipping in and out of
either world as the environment changes. Often it
requires trade-offs. If I attend a party and am talking
with a man and woman, it is quite common for me to be
able to understand the man just fine and not understand
the woman due to differences in their voices. Or Ill
be talking with an adult and a child and not be able to
understand the child. Or Ill be at a meeting and be
able to understand the person at the head of the table
just fine (because he or she is subconsciously or
purposely speaking up) but not be able to understand
comments from others seated at the table. So, should I
request an interpreter for every meeting? It is a
sticky thing. Interpreters (like all of us) are
imperfect. They miss or screw up an amazing amount of
information. Plus they are expensive. Often the best
solution is for me to simply catch 80% of what is going
on and make frequent determinations as to whether a bit
of information floating past is worth fighting for by
asking for repeats. Certainly if another Deaf person
is in attendance I appreciate having an interpreter
available. But I use such an interpreter differently
than a fully deaf person. I will tend to watch the
speaker and then if I dont understand something Ill
quickly glance over at the terp to get the instant
replay. If there is no interpreter I prefer to just go
to the meeting without one and sit at the front and ask
questions when I determine that it is important. Plus I
read the minutes later on and I use my laptop to access
relevant information to fill in the gaps during
All in all I have a good life. It is a fun and
interesting existence. Im grateful to be surrounded by
terrific people who genuinely care about one another.
In a message dated 5/17/2006 11:48:11 A.M. Pacific
Daylight Time, an administrator writes:
Thanks for sharing these personal insights with me. I
did find them fascinating.
I would recommend that we utilize an interpreter at all
departmental functions in the future to assure full
communication access for all of us. We do have funds
from ________ for this purpose.
expectation of attention vs zoning rights
Certainly, in many instances, the provision of an
interpreter improves communication access for fully deaf
But this is not necessarily the case for hard of hearing
Lipreading, use of residual hearing, amplification,
provision of visual aids (e.g. PowerPoint Slides and
projected agendas), advance agenda dissemination, and
occasional clarifications provide a high level of
communication access for a Hard-of-Hearing person.
Let's suppose that "level of access to communication
content" is somewhere around 85% to 90%.
Now it is relatively easy for the human mind to figure
out what is being discussed, even when having access to
only 85% of the information. Our minds are good at
filling in the gaps. Which is to say if we know the
topic is "fruit," and we are exposed to the content: "wate_mel_n"
we can generally fill in the gaps very successfully.
Bringing in an interpreter (even a certified,
experienced one) also provides about 85 to 90% access to
communication content. This lack of full communication
is due to many factors. Here is an example of a factor I
call "lost in translation:"
Suppose the communication content was the statement:
"The immediate problem isn't lack of desire, it's lack
Given plenty of time, most interpreters could come up
with a relatively decent way of expressing that concept
in ASL. But interpreters don't have "plenty of time."
They typically have less than a second per word.
The interpreter might plausibly sign:
NOW-NOW-(immediate) PROBLEM NOT LESS/REDUCED-(lack of)
HUNGRY/WISH-(desire), PROBLEM WHAT? MONEY
Which comes across as confusing "mental mush" and ends
up with the overly simplistic idea that "money is a
problem" and the truncated idea that "desire isn't a
problem." When in reality the communicator never said
that desire isn't a problem...but rather he indicated
that it isn't the "immediate" problem. "Desire" could
very well be a huge problem--just not the one that needs
focusing on at the moment.
Hard of Hearing consumers use interpreters differently
than Deaf consumers.
Deaf people watch an interpreter and occasionally glance
at the speaker to gather socio-emotive information
(emotional states, economic status, social status, etc.)
A HoH person generally prefers to watch the speaker and
occasionally glance at the interpreter to fill in any
The fact that an interpreter can be of use to a Hard of
Hearing person may lead an administrator to assume that
provision of an interpreter is always a good thing.
That isnt the case.
Interpreters come with baggage in the form of
A particular expectation is the expectation of constant
If an interpreter is placed in a room and begins
interpreting, and there is not a Deaf person in the
room, the hard of hearing person feels obligated to
watch the interpreter whether or not the interpreter is
any good or is providing more access to the
communication content than the HoH person is able to
obtain on his own. This feeling of obligation only
partially stems from not wanting to waste the companys
money. Much of this feeling stems from the assumption
that many in the room are wondering why he or she
needs an interpreter in the first place and why money is
being spent on an interpreter when the HoH person has
demonstrated the ability to understand without the aid
of an interpreter.
Watching or not watching is very obvious. Compare
watching with listening or not listening. Suppose
each time you were at a meeting and you stopped actively
listening to the speaker that your ears visibly folded
over and closed up. It would be embarrassing would it
not? You would no longer be able to zone out without
attention being immediately drawn to you. You would
eventually become quite weary of having no zoning
rights (opportunities for mini-recuperation) and being
required to maintain a continuous high level of
Hypnotists tend to put people to sleep by having them
stare at the same place or object for a few minutes.
Most Hearing people have never tried to stare at
something for more than a few minutes and would be
amazed at how tiring it is to stare at interpreter for a
half hour or more.
The situation is dramatically different if there is even
one fully Deaf person in the room. The presence of a
Deaf person in the room releases the HoH person from the
expectation of constant attention and frees him or her
to focus on the speaker and glance over at the
interpreter only when necessary.
When there are no other Deaf in attendance, given an
option between utilization of lipreading and provision
of an interpreter, many HoH people will choose
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