VRI is Approved

Steve has several communication tools under his control, including email, Facebook, video phones, VRS (Video Relay Service), and me. He has now added VRI (Video Remote Interpreting) for church related communication. From what I understand, the service has a cost if we use the company’s interpreters. It is free if we use a volunteer interpreter and the equipment is set up in the interpreter’s home. (Anyone want to volunteer?)

When the Deaf ward did not work out, Steve set to work with the intention of getting VRI set up in our home ward. He encountered several obstacles; including technical difficulties, miscommunication, no communication, and misunderstandings such as the belief that one unskilled interpreter in a different ward was sufficient for him. I assisted along the way by explaining a few things, such as the fact that Steve knows more about VRI than anyone in the ward, including me. The fact that the Church Handbook 2 says nothing about VRI was an obstacle.

After several weeks of effort, I felt that people had given up. Through “cosmic forces”…ok, the Spirit pushed me, I had the opportunity to talk to our new ward bishop and his wife about the situation and about how I was feeling. His wife, by the way, is my former Visiting Teacher and is one of the first people in the ward to learn how to communicate with Steve by fingerspelling and a few signs. She also got many people, including Stake High Council members, to write their Sacrament Meeting messages so that Steve could have a copy of them.

Bishop felt a desire to make VRI work for us. Perhaps the knowledge that the efforts of a willing but unskilled signer gave Steve about 20% of our leaders’ messages during Ward Conference, and most of the time Steve was teaching her signs, helped him to see the light. I think, however, the one thing that did the trick, was when our Relief Society president and Bishop called Steve on his video phone using VRS. The RS Pres. was so happy with it, she told all of the women in RS meeting how much fun it was to talk to Steve on the phone and she encouraged them to call him. Maybe she didn’t tell them that they would actually be talking to an interpreter, but he can use voice carry-over if he remembers to do that.

Bishop said to me as best as I can recall, “It appeared that the interpreter was able to tell him exactly what I said.” That is very good feedback. It lets people know that Sign Language is not just a baby language and using a professional interpreter is better than writing, or typing, or using an unskilled signer. I explained to Bishop that a professional interpreter is not just for Steve; it is for anyone who wants to communicate with him in an effortless (well, maybe not for the interpreter) and confidential manner.

With the efforts of Steve, our VRS/VRI company and interpreters, Bishop, ward clerk, me, and most of all God, we were able to have VRI approved. Getting the approval was a large hurdle. We still have to find interpreters and figure out how to use it. Steve also has to decide when and where to use it. I am confident that he will figure it out, and I am happy that he has an additional tool that will give him access to professional interpreters while we (hopefully) grow an interpreter or two.

Bishop’s Storehouse

Steve and I make our way into the Bishop’s Storehouse and are greeted by smiling and friendly faces. I converse with the receptionist while Steve watches. I know he wants to know what we are saying, but it is nearly impossible for me to talk to someone and interpret for him at the same time. Some people are able to do that. I am not. That is why I prefer to pretend that I am deaf, so that people will communicate with both of us by writing. He does not always prefer that, however.

I look at him. The smiles and friendly conversation are overshadowed by the look on his face. Already, my brain cannot remember most of what this lady has said to me. I manage to sign “chicken turkey which?”

We make our way through the store and I am gathering fruit and vegetables while Steve is gathering other items in another part of the store. As I weigh the produce, certain recent events and other challenges weigh heavily on my mind. I hear Steve tell someone that he is deaf. I cannot hear what else is being said, but I hear quiet laughter. My mind returns to my deep thoughts.

Suddenly I feel an arm around my shoulders, and a soft gentle voice says, “I can see those gears turning.” I tell this elderly gentleman, “They are always turning.” He replies, “As long as they don’t freeze up and smoke comes out.”

A gentle touch, soft voice, warm smile, and bit of humor was all I needed to lift my spirits, and coming from the same man who lifted Steve’s spirits. The right people work in that store.

If it Weren’t for Cosmic Forces, We Wouldn’t Know Anything

I use the term “Cosmic Forces” for those of you who may not believe in the Spirit. I for one believe that everything happens for a Divine reason, even when I follow along kicking and screaming.

In the previous post entitled Universal Ignorance I mentioned that “Steve is fortunate to have one wonderful lady, same age as I, who volunteered to interpret for him in a hearing ward within our Stake boundaries.” Karen has lived in this community for as long as we have (12 years). We found out about her 3 ½ years ago. (See blog post Stake Conference) She could have been interpreting for him several years prior to that conference if we had known about her.  For some reason, we had to wait until that conference to know she existed.

Last summer we found out that the wife of one of my many nephews knows Sign Language. They have been married about ten years. She has been teaching her kids Sign Language. How did we find out about her? Facebook! I had to explain to Steve who she is.

In one of my comments on Universal Ignorance, I wrote, “Steve is the only signing deaf person, as far as I know, in this community.” Apparently I am wrong. Our new Home Teachers told us there is a signing deaf man and member of the Church who lives in this community. (I should note that this community is small; however, it is growing fast.) Why does it have to take 12 years to find this out? Maybe he hasn’t lived here that long. It makes me wonder how many more deaf individuals live around here.

We recently found out that Andrea Ploehn (Signing4Baby.com) moved into our ward and lives a few houses down from ours on our street. How did we find out about her? She “just happened” to walk by our house when Steve went out to get the mail. According to him, she volunteered to interpret for him in our ward.

I know I should be grateful for all of these people, and I am, much more than I express. It’s hard to understand however, why it has to take so long to learn they exist and why we often learn about them through “Cosmic Forces”. My only conclusion is that when flawed human beings do not take care of our needs, God does. He tests our patience and humility in the meantime.

I Don’t Have Time

I have heard this excuse over and over. I have used it myself on occasion. It usually means “Learning Sign Language is not on my priority list”. It can also mean:

“I don’t want to do it.”
“I am afraid to do it.”
“It’s too hard to do.”
“It looks like too much work.”
“I don’t think I am able to do it.”
“I see no reason for doing it.”
“You will make fun of me.”
“Your wife signs. Let her do it.”

and the list goes on.

A more valid excuse could be “I don’t have money to buy an ASL book or DVD, or take a class.”

But when books and DVDs are offered free, and the teacher is willing to teach for free, and when he is sitting next to you talking and signing in a normal conversation, telling him you want to learn but have no time to learn a few signs, sends a mixed message. “I don’t have time” becomes the most lame excuse on the planet.

Steve has more patience than I do.

So on the rare occasion when someone shows an interest in learning and discovers he or she can communicate with him in signs, it becomes the most awesome feeling ever!…..for the teacher, the student, and me.

Universal Ignorance?

Steve and I are no longer members of the Deaf ward (congregation). It is a long story that I won’t get into on this blog, but I will say I am not happy about it. Even though I could not understand half of the people in the ward, I felt their warmth and love.

The LDS Church has the concept of Telestial, Terrestial, and Celestial Kingdoms, Telestial being the world in which we now live, Terrestial being a higher level existence, and Celestial being the world in which our Heavenly Father lives. The Deaf have a concept of the planet Eyeth where all communication is visual. I have often thought of Eyeth and the Terrestial Kingdom as being similar; in essence, Sign Language is a higher level of communication than talking and hearing. Fortunately, the highest level of communication through prayer and the Spirit is available to all of us if we have the faith to use it.

I feel as if I experienced the Terrestial world, in part, in the Deaf ward. Now I have been yanked back into the Telestial world where ignorance about Sign Language is abundant. I confront this ignorance nearly every day when people think I am able to interpret for Steve. I am married to him, I know some signs; therefore, I must and should be able to interpret for him. For some people, it is very hard to change their minds, and these are the same people who have no desire to learn — to raise their hand to fingerspell a single letter.

Steve is fortunate to have one wonderful lady, same age as I, who volunteered to interpret for him in a hearing ward within our Stake boundaries. She is the only person in the Stake, as far as I know, who is willing and able to do this. Last Sunday Karen informed me that one person in her ward asked her if she is married to Steve. She said several people at our local supermarket where she works, asked her if she is married to him. I suppose I can understand people at the supermarket being confused, but how can anyone in the ward think that when I am sitting next to my husband, and Karen’s husband and kids are sitting in front of us? I guess this person thought I was married to Karen’s husband and Karen was married to Steve because she was interpreting for him.

I told this to Steve and he said we need two T-shirts, one for me that says, “Interpreter Not” “Married to Steve”, and one for Karen that says, “Interpreter” “Married to Steve Not”. Later he said if he has a male interpreter in church, he can introduce him as his gay lover. Funny, yes. Does this make me want to go to a hearing church? No.

My question is, is the ignorance I confront limited to my local community here in Utah, or is this universal ignorance? If it is limited to this community, I think I will move.

Learning Sign Language at Any Age

NBC does not include captions on their internet news stories, so I created them for this video. Do you think if I send the file to them, they will pay me for it?

These parents are willing to pay $180 to learn how to sign. There are many resources and ways in which we can learn how to sign and some are free, especially if you know a Deaf person who is willing to teach for free.

Do you think the many so-called skeptical experts know how to sign or have ever taught a child how to sign?

Here is another video where the parents are teaching their kids how to sign and learn the scriptures at the same time. This child is signing along with a video called “Book of Mormon Stories”, and this video costs only $1.00 at the LDS online store (item 54100010 if you are interested).

My Deaf friends continue to create many ASL Gospel videos that are available for free on lds.org.

Before I met my husband, I knew nothing about ASL and Deaf Culture. I was 45 years old. Steve taught me the alphabet before we were married and many signs after that. I learned basic sign language using a CD called “Sign Language for Everyone” (no longer available) and from a set of VHS tapes that I found on the internet. Since then I have accumulated many videos from several sources that teach PSE (Pigeon Signed English) and ASL (American Sign Language). I enjoyed learning how to Sign Naturally from an excellent Deaf instructor at the Salt Lake Community College, along with several tutors whom I consider my friends. I learned from fluent ASL users in the Deaf ward. I learn by watching interpreters–when we have one–in the hearing ward.

Now I am learning ASL by watching and reading the Book of Mormon in both ASL and English (a slow process for me, but that’s beside the point). I owe this opportunity and privilege to Minnie-Mae Wilding Diaz, the ASL translator of the Book of Mormon.

So what is the point of this blog post? You are never too young or too old to learn some sign language. It is worth the effort.

It’s Been a Year

…since I’ve written anything in this blog. Why? Because the people it is intended for (my family) were not reading it. They are all on Facebook! So I have moved my educational efforts there. I browsed through this blog to refresh my memory about what I have written in the past, and realized I need to update a few things.

First of all, Steve no longer uses his cochlear implant. It turned out to be more of a hassle than it was worth. From what I’ve read, it appears many deaf adults come to this decision eventually, especially now that video phones and VRS are available.

Our decision to become more involved in the Deaf Community has been the BEST decision we ever made for each other. We still live too far away from our Deaf church to be able to attend regularly and that is a bit disappointing, but with the video phone Steve communicates regularly with Deaf and hearing friends. We also use Facebook, of course!

I continue to learn ASL by watching whatever videos I can understand. Most of the time, you ASL users are too fast for my old eyes. But if I watch closely several times, I eventually understand. And once I understand, I prefer ASL over reading English. It’s only by learning and doing that we begin to appreciate the real strength and beauty of Sign Language. Everyone should learn it.

There are folks who are making some real efforts to help us all understand each other a little better. www.DeafTV.com and www.signworldtv.com are two that I am aware of. I am looking forward to more videos from them.