The Arrival of Self-Advocacy, or, The Wall That Paul Saw
Check it out. My little brother, Paul, got featured in his university newspaper.
He’s learned how to be a self-advocate. He went on a church mission to Arizona, speaking ASL. He had both hearing and deaf mission companions; companions are basically fellow missionaries who are also your roommates. For the first time, he found he could go out the front door without his hearing aids. With or without verbal companions, his ears were free because of the language. When he got off the mission, I think he realized how much he prefers sign to speech in everyday life.
Our parents did shelter him, as they did me. I still love them, because they weren’t conscious of what they were doing, but he had it worse than I. In middle school, he tried going to the deaf middle school that I had chosen to go to, but he couldn’t find a social niche among the deaf kids there. I couldn’t quite figure out why he was unhappy; we weren’t exactly the closest kids ever growing up, mainly because we were the closest in age. It’s ironic: we fought often even though we should have been close because we’re both disabled. I went to the Deaf schools (high and middle) in the city but needed no accommodation. He went to normal schools, but chose to have an interpreter sent in.
I think we did that partly because those places are where we found our friends. His friends were all hearing; I had more Deaf acquaintances than he did, and that was just because I rode the bus with them. He found friends as a band geek, mostly. I had mostly hearing friends both in and out of the theatre department.
And yet, I think he found a strong identity on his mission. The Deaf culture is very accepting, very warm. There is a slight sense of “we must collect our own” among them; anyone who is hearing impaired and hurt is welcome in their circle and comforted by the sharing of other painful pasts. Isn’t that the way it is with lots of cultures? Deaf, blacks, Mormons, gay/lesbians… They find strength in the similarities they have. In the things that other people might consider slight but they consider to be a major part of their identity.
I feel content that my little brother has found a place that accepts every part of him. It makes him feel more whole, more defined. He’s happier.