Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How would being deaf affect your genealogical research?

Although none of my immediate family members have been completely deaf, many of us have moderate to severe hearing loss. I recently wrote about the challenges of disability to participating in genealogical research. Since we just finished the Family History Expo here in Mesa, Arizona, it reminded me of the difficulty of functioning in that environment if you were totally deaf. I had a hard enough time with my hearing aids and being only partially deaf. Very, very few of the presentations would have had any meaning at all to a deaf person without an ASL signer, assuming of course, that the person was proficient in ASL. I wonder how many of the genealogical terms are in ASL?

ASL or American Sign Language, has its' counterparts in other language areas also. Quoting from
American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, complex language that employs signs made with the hands and other movements, including facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the first language of many deaf North Americans, and one of several communication options available to deaf people. ASL is said to be the fourth most commonly used language in the United States.
In response to my post, I received an E-mail from a deaf genealogist named Susan. Here are some of the things she wrote to me:
I wonder if you know why I always write Deaf with a cap. D when talking about myself. This trend started that I know of back in the 60s or 70s. When we write a D it indicates to us that the person or people spoken of are ASL deaf. It brings us into the "culture".
I can't understand why all the commercials etc about eye glasses are so positive.
New trends making them more and more visible to stand right out, but h/a's [hearing aids] are advertised as "invisible" . I also have a "pet peeve" with those huge ugly things many hearing people are wearing in an ear and are so proud of it. When I was a teenager, our hearing aids were like a button and attached to a box that you wore wherever. I can remember people walking away, people leaving a table when I signed with my Deaf niece, etc and now they think those ugly things are "the cats pajamas" as my Mom use to say!

I knew of a family in Idaho who had 10 or 11 kids and the whole family was Deaf. the last 2 kids were twins and when they were old enough to be sent to Gooding to school they went together. At some point, one of the teachers said she thought one of the girls was hearing. No one believed that. The family was well known. But when they "tested" her and watched her carefully, they found that she could hear! She grew up with deafness totally and didn't really know how this "hearing" worked. She had to be removed from the Deaf School. Well, so many interesting things in this world.
Some years ago, when I was on the About, I opened a discussion about whether or not Deaf people were, or felt that they could, getting involved in genealogy. The responses were pretty much the same. The few who had not yet given up trying simply said there was no place for them in the meetings, etc, so they just went about it on their own.
When I was here about 10 yrs ago, there was a 2 day genealogy workshop being offered in a little logging town not far from where I lived then. I got hold of the people and asked whether there might be any interpreters available. The woman said she would look into it and got back to me within a few days. They had 2 interpreters lined up for the entire 2days of workshop and could I come. It was grand! Little bitty poor town. These ladies were there all day each day. when I later asked the people that put this on how they managed such a thing they said they simply went to the local Boy Scout troops and those troops sponsored it all!!! I was the only Deaf person there.
Do you have a disability? How does it affect your ability to find your family history? Let me know and I will post the comments.


  1. Nice comment about ASL. It use to be that when a working person tried to learn any of it,and one of us happened in a grocery line or whatever, there was NO mention that the person even know how to spell. Now days, so MANY people are or have learned at least a bit and they ALWAYS sign or spell--proudly--and say "I just know a little..." This is such a joy! I tell them that they are doing fine and I am so proud of them for doing whatever they can! Now, I have a very good hearing friend in Ohio who interprets when I am in church. She is a very good signer. When people ask to sign something, I show them. Then I tell them "We are a simple people" and I grin. My friend--and my family--always say "NO they are NOT!" and they grin. But we are. We are simply very visual as a people. So when you think language, think it through your eyes!

  2. Hi
    Thanks for this blog post! I'm hearing impaired and it does affect my research. In libraries or societies even though it is usually quiet I often am embarrassed about asking people to repeat what they are saying or to face me when they speak. I don't go to society meetings but have been to a couple of conferences. Where a microphone is used and I sit at the front of the room it's okay. I'm thinking of making some instructional genealogy videos with subtitles. How do you think these would be received?
    Kind regards, Kylie