into the world of the deaf

Sesame Street's Linda

Sesame Street's Linda gives the sign for "I"

I’m sure many Sesame Street fans will remember Linda — the deaf woman who signed so expressively and taught kids simple sign language. My younger sister Margie and I were so fascinated with the signs even at that early age that we bought two sign language books: one featuring Linda and the Sesame Street muppets, and later on, a book used by the Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf.

There there were the deaf dancers from Miriam College — Jomar, Paul, Wiljohn, Henry, and two others whose names I can’t recall at the moment — collectively called the Maui Boyz. My introduction to them was a documentary made by Margie for one of her classes at the UP College of Mass Communication. I later got the chance to work with them when we got them to perform in “Positive Pop!” — a concert featuring Hangad. I learned a good deal of sign language language and was able to communicate with them, with much effort and ever so slowly. But I tried.

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At last night’s TEDx Fort Bonifacio, I was once again transported into the world of the deaf. The first speaker of the night, Ana Arce — who graduated magna cum laude from the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde — is Deaf. Deaf, with a capital “D,” she explained through an interpreter — not deaf, deaf-mute, hearing impaired, and certainly not dumb!

Ana’s talk was inspiring. “The Deaf can,” she told the audience. The Deaf, she pointed out, are businessmen and women, sports enthusiasts, artists and photographers — and yes, educators. This, despite the fact that they live and move in a society that is so hearing-centric. Think about it. How have we made life easier for the Deaf? Aside from the TV show “Kapwa Ko, Mahal Ko,” how many TV shows have had sign language interpreters or even closed captioning? How many theater productions and live events? And how many cinemas show films with subtitles for the Deaf?

Ana closed her talk with a challenge to the hearing: “Let us into your world.” It is time to make our society more Deaf-friendly. We can at least try.

Ana at TEDx Fort Bonifacio

Ana Arce (with scarf) at TEDx Fort Bonifacio

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Interpreting for Ana and for some of the other speakers was Veronica (“Nicky”) Perez, the dean of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies (SDEAS), who happens to be my cousin.

Watching her sign during TEDx, I realized how hard it is to be a sign language interpreter. It’s more than just literally signing what a speaker says. “You have to sign for the Deaf to understand,” Nicky said — which means there can be a lot of explaining and contextualizing going on.

The Deaf community needs more hearing people to learn sign language — and eventually interpret for them. For those who want to learn the language, SDEAS would be a good place to start.

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There’s also the concern about what kind of sign language to use when communicating with the Deaf. The signs used by Linda on Sesame Street are from American Sign Language (ASL). SDEAS is pushing for Filipino Sign Language (FSL).

Many of the signs are universal, but there is one simple difference. “FSL is based on the experiences of Filipinos,” Nicky explained. To make the ASL sign for “dog,” for example, one would slap one’s leg and then snap her fingers. But this is an American’s experience — friendly, well-trained dogs. In the Philippine setting, with dogs roaming the streets freely and barking at people, a more appropriate sign is made by using the hands to mimic the action of a dog’s jaws as it barks.

It’s an interesting language — and like other languages, a living language that continues to remain relevant to those who use it.

"I love you"

The sign for "I love you"

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I also blogged about TEDx Fort Bonifacio here.

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2 responses to “into the world of the deaf

  1. Hi Ate Chingbee!

    Thanks for posting this. 🙂

    It’s not just SDEAS that’s lobbying for the recognition of FSL as the national sign language. The Philippine Federation of the Deaf have been doing this for the looooongest time with the help of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center.

    Sana lang hindi forever bingi ang gobyerno. 🙂

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