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My Existence as a Slash Person, and a Tale of Two Trucks:

Updated 7/13/07
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" (  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 community.

I am 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 discussing:
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 status.

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 hearing person.
Here are some of those factors:

I am Deaf in these situations:       
  background noise
  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 blackboard.
  You are standing on my right (85 decibel loss)
  Its time to take out the garbage
I am Hard of Hearing in these situations:
  Quiet environment
  Appropriate lighting
  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 or above.
  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 meetings.
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.
Bill Vicars


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.
Take care,


expectation of attention vs zoning rights

 Dear _____,

Certainly, in many instances, the provision of an interpreter improves communication access for fully deaf people.
But this is not necessarily the case for hard of hearing people.

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 of funding."
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 comprehension gaps.

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 expectations.
A particular expectation is the expectation of constant attention.
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 attention.

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 lipreading.


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