Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Plea on Deaf Ears

This week, I gave a small speech at a conference on increasing access for Handicapped people.  This was composed of a large gathering not just of Deaf people, but also the blind, people in Wheelchairs, and other disadvantaged people.  However, before I could attend, I had to register for an Interpreter first.  And getting one was trickier than first thought, even though this was a meeting for Handicapped access.
My name is Daniel Basch Tétreault. I am deaf, have Asperger's Syndrome, and I don't know sign language. I am grateful for having had an oral interpreter present for me during my High School and CEGEP years.  Their presence helped me understand the lessons in classes that otherwise would've passed over my head, along with minor background conversations I surely would've missed.
But the prohibitive costs of hiring an Interpreter means that I can only have one under very restrictive very specific conditions.  And often their availability is only possible with having them scheduled in advance.  I have been simply unable to enjoy a large portion of social gatherings where I could've benefited their company, but couldn't because I had no chance of understanding what the group was talking about.
Even though there were helpful bilingual screens showing what was being said, I felt I would've been more comfortable having a human source I could reliably relay the information being conveyed.  I was lucky to have one available, since she came at the last minute after a pool of available services   Even so, I had difficulty following what my Interpreter was saying, because there were certain little tics she had to work on, such as keeping her head elevated, not using universal hand symbols, and a reluctance to summarize the context of the message.  At times, I got clearer information from the screens than my intended communication source.  But it wasn't entirely her fault - a lot of the speakers kept talking very fast, even after they were told to slow down the message so the Captioners could catch up.  Not to mention some required French-to-English translations, so there was a further delay, and several speakers were using terminology that went over my head.
Real-time captioning makes me nauseous and nervous, which is why I requested an Oral Interpreter for this meeting. Ironically enough, at first, they thought I asked for a Language Interpreter.  I had to explain that what I wanted wasn't a Signing Interpreter, but someone who could transcribe what was being said verbally, so I could Lip-Read.  Apparently, Oral Interpreters are so uncommon compared to other forms of helpful tools for Handicapped people, such as Walking Sticks, Wheelchairs, and Sign Language, that my request was considered unusual. 
There's also the high degree of misunderstanding in getting said Interpreters in the first place.  When I ask for one, they're usually confused with Other Language Interpreters or Sign Language Interpreters.  I have to work at making sure I get the right one, which isn't exactly a great booster for self-confidence, and grates on my nerves mightily. 
Even so, I felt guilty about not sticking around long enough to make use of the Interpreter, having worked so hard to get one in the first place.  (Even though the Interpreter would've gotten paid for showing up, no matter if I was available or not)  I only left after the first break when my ability to stay threatened to overwhelm my already diminishing stamina.

I asked for permission to be among the first people to have my say, so I wouldn't be too uncomfortable, and could afford to leave early if no Interpreter was present, or if I was feeling overwhelmed.  By luck (or politeness or awe after seeing my draft of my speech), I was given the first slot.  After the meeting was over, I received word that a portion of the audience was visibly impressed with how eloquent and well-spoken my speech was, for a Deaf person.  Under that banner of compliment, it was suggested that I share it with others for posterity.

While my Deafness is a major part of my ability to function, I only see it as part of my handicap, identifying much more greatly with my Autism side.  Particularly since my Asperger's compounds my ability to communicate more effectively than I'd like to.
Also, my Asperger's has made me reluctant to seek out and engage in conversations that could've benefited me in the long run.  There are multiple instances in the past I can think of that I passed an opportunity over, from being too nervous to strike up a dialogue because:
1. I might not understand what the person was saying (or them me) and
2. I had no guarantee that they could speak English.
Just before the meeting, I wanted to be experimentative and daring, and try ordering a 3 tacos for $5 deal at a new place I'd never been before.  But when I got inside, the price for individual tacos was higher than expected.  When I asked about the special, I was pointed at said items on a menu.  I was too nervous and embarrassed to elaborate further on this... so I left.

When I get nervous, my first instinct is to get the hell out of there, and I become reactive when I can't find a safe place.
I'm unable to attend a class on Creative Writing simply because such a course is considered "not mandatory" for educational purposes, even though such a class would be conductive to my creativity and being surrounded by like-minded people.
I've been attending a cooking seminar that takes place at various churches around the area, filled with elderly people with the intent of making me feel included in the community.  But if I'm left on my own without somebody I'm familiar or comfortable with, I shrivel up in the face of strangers.  And some efforts can be counter-productive to future endeavors.  When I got the courage to try to strike up a random conversation with someone, I repeated back what I thought that person said, who then smiled politely at me, and then left.  I didn't have the courage to ask permission for guidance for talking to someone who knew me, because I didn't know their names, and didn't want to ask.  (They had nametags for my benefit at the last class of the year, but my memory forgets anyone I haven't seen over a two-week period)
I'm extremely limited in my choices of jobs, because I can only work part time, due to my anxiety.  Also, my supervisors aren’t always patient, and I have lost jobs due to misunderstandings through miscommunication.
Hearing aids and assistive listening devices don’t really help me. They only serve to increase the level of noise around me, not make it easier for me to understand what people are saying.  And oftentimes, people don't take the extra effort to face me, speak clearly, emphasize their words and not forget these rules when a hearing person enters the equation.  I can't meet new people firsthand without getting used to their manner of speech, which rules out job interviews, meetings, and conferences.
It was only when I had a friend show some samples of my blog posts around that they had any idea that I had some writing ability.  Apparently, I'd neglected to mention that I had a blog, simply because I figured they already knew, so there was no point bringing it up.  (I didn't want to sound like a braggart on a subject they wouldn't be interested in)  Even so, I was reluctant to bring it up without a sample present, because most of the subject material I cover (i.e., comics) might not be potentially interesting to them.  Though various articles in my Personal tag would fit the bill.

If at all possible, I would carry around an app that would convert dialogue to text.  But the efficiency of such devices is still in its infancy, and their results are less than impressive in noisy situations.  Until a computer is capable of filtering out the main subject of multiple conversations, I'll stick with human Oral Interpreters, thank you very much.

In a sense, I suppose I should work harder to be understood, and not assume that everybody already knows how to talk to me.  I need to be more proactive in making my voice heard, and spell out how I should be talked to for better communication.  But constantly telling new people how to talk to me all the time is emotionally exhausting.  Especially when I have to double-check every second word anybody says.  When you've spent so much of your collective time actively avoiding people, and enjoying more time alone, it's an uphill struggle to seek out the presence of what you naturally rejected.

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