“Hey, can you turn off the subtitles?” my dad asked the bartender one day while we were watching a Philadelphia Eagles game at a sports bar in Jupiter, Fla.
“Sorry, sir,” he said. “I can’t. This is a public establishment.”
I was 13 years old, and I remember being annoyed at the white print that was scrolling across the screen on a black backdrop. It was so distracting. I thought to myself, “It’s a football game. Couldn’t deaf people just watch the game?” Why’d they need the commentary?
The next year I entered high school, where I took three years of American Sign Language to satisfy my foreign language requirement. But through my education, I not only learned how to communicate with deaf people but also how to demonstrate sensitivity towards Deaf culture and life.
I finally understood why the bartender left the subtitles up and believed that he was completely right. I had been close-minded, and I was wrong.
But is that all it comes down to? Does bridging the gap of silence between the hearing and deaf come down to merely dealing with closed captioning at sports bars?
“There should be more Deaf awareness classes offered at the high school level,” said Andy Sherwood, deaf member of the Deaf Awareness Club. “And more deaf people with big roles in the media. Also, hearing people don’t need to know ASL to communicate clearly. If they know only finger-spelling or even just use gestures and signs, that is OK too.”
Katie Soehngen, hearing president of the DAC, has been signing since she was 6 years old.
“My best friend was deaf, so I wanted to communicate with her without going through an interpreter,” Soehngen said. “I’ve always found it fascinating, so I continued with it throughout my life.”
Soehngen recommends that hearing people use a Sidekick, Blackberry or pen and paper to communicate with deaf people. “Use all the signs you know and talk normally—don’t shout. Stand directly in front of them and treat them like normal individuals,” she said.
The DAC, open to hearing and deaf students alike, closes the gap by holding events to increase Deaf awareness. This month, members taught sign language to students at Ketterlinus elementary school. The DAC also held a Silent Dinner, where guests bring food and communicate only through ASL and other non-verbal language. For Halloween, the club will lead its traditional annual Flagler campus event, in which Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (FSDB) students are taken around the dorms for trick-or-treating. Flagler students are encouraged to participate by having candy available that night.
In addition to its planned events, the DAC attends social activities such as FSDB football games and cookouts at Sherwood’s house. The FSDB football team plays its Homecoming game on Oct. 28.
“A lot of people think deaf people are dumb, but we’re just the same,” Sherwood said. “We just don’t hear as well.”