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Q & A: Deaf, Deaf World

by Archives November 22, 2006

Patty Viens teaches American Sign Language at N.D.G.’s MacKay Center. Along with her partner, Patricia C. Mancini, she organizes an event called ‘Deaf Deaf World’, which allows the deaf community to introduce the larger community to deaf culture. Viens spoke to The Concordian-through an interpreter-last week.

What is Deaf Deaf World?

Deaf Deaf World is my idea, but really it’s an American idea [as well]. [My idea] is more in depth. It’s an opportunity for students in my classes to practice [communicating] with deaf people and to introduce them to deaf people. There are different deaf artists, businesses, and associations-lots of different things. It’s a good opportunity to meet people. I want to mesh the hearing world with deaf people and get them to meet each other. Usually it’s the deaf people who have to write and gesture, but now it’s the hearing people who have to figure out how to communicate. So they’ll realize the impact of not being able to communicate [easily] and realize the frustrations of living in a deaf world. Not only frustration; they can also learn to communicate better and in different ways, with gestures. Also, not everybody’s signs are exactly the same, so it’s good practice for the students. You’re not allowed to use your voice at ‘Deaf Deaf World.’ You don’t use your voice because that’s how you’re going to understand our world; its silence, gesturing, signing.

What kind of difficulties do deaf individuals encounter in society that you would like hearing people to understand?

Sometimes to do things, like shopping, is hard. Sometimes, if what I’m trying to say is not clear, I can just write it. But for things like tours, if there is a hearing person that I have to follow, it’s really hard. Even if there’s an interpreter, it’s not enough. Sometimes tour guides don’t think that it’s their responsibility to help you to understand. It’s getting better, though, for sure. It’s getting better and better, and now I can read and write more, and usually I just decide not to go on tours like that, where I have to follow a person who can hear. I just go off by myself. Deaf people need to accept that they’re deaf, that they have access to certain things and not to others. If they’re going to get mad every time there isn’t an interpreter [around], they’ll always be mad.

Who participates in ‘Deaf Deaf World’?

Deaf artists, deaf business people, deaf associations. Just like in the hearing world, there are hearing businesses and hearing associations. Deaf people have those same things but many people don’t think about it. They think, “Oh, deaf people don’t have work. They don’t have businesses.” But, yeah, they do have them and we’re going to show them [that]. They have skills. It’s about teaching those who can hear about deaf culture. Deaf people have jobs and skills. But deaf people do have a frustrating life sometimes. I want hearing people to understand that, [to understand] how we feel.

Are there any cultural differences between the hearing impaired community and the hearing community?

The deaf community has a completely different culture. For example, clapping. You tap your hands in hearing culture, so how would a deaf person do it? They shake their hands above their head, so you can see it. Also, hearing people can talk in their homes, in their living rooms, with dim lights, it doesn’t matter, but that doesn’t work with deaf people. They keep their lights on bright. Also, deaf people always have flashing lights in their house for the doorbell, and for the TTY, which is like the telephone [for the hearing impaired].

What is it like for hearing people to be immersed in deaf culture?

If there is a hearing person in the deaf community, as long as they respect deaf people, then we’ll support them. If they don’t have respect, though, they will be blocked out. I grew up deaf and I was constantly being pressured by the hearing community, so now I feel that I want respect for my culture. So if we’re sitting around a table chatting and one hearing person [joins us], it doesn’t matter. If they don’t say anything, then we’ll just ignore them. If they include themselves and they’re chatting, then yes, we’re going to include them. It’s very similar to two different spoken languages.

Where can one learn sign language in Montreal?

There are many, many places. In English, two, really. Here, at the MacKay Center, you can take classes. And there is the Montreal Association for the Deaf. The Association tends to, on Thursday nights, have volleyball [games] or workshops. Weekends too, once in a while. There are also many places in Quebec to learn French sign language. There’s a small English community here, so it’s normal for there to be more places to learn French.

Just as there are two spoken languages in Quebec, there are two different types of sign language. How does that work?

Sixty per cent of the two languages are different. But you can use body language and expressions once you know how to use your body. I’ve noticed that the older community, [from] la Langue des signes Qu

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