Something I've begun to learn recently is the meaning of disability. Since I've been at college, I joined an organization called Deaf Aggies and Friends (DeAF). I've been taking ASL as a foreign language and I've been able to get to know and befriend a few members of the deaf community in Aggieland.
As a child, I always considered deaf people to be disabled. In fact, if I saw someone signing at a restaurant or out in public, I usually sympathized with them, thinking, "How sad that he can't hear! I wish there was something that could be done for him." And I definitely never considered the fact that I could ever be disabled. I was disability-free. Me? Disabled? No way.
It's true that I don't have a physical disability. I can walk. I can see. I can hear. But being disabled can mean other things too, and I've come to realize that over the last two months.
Recently I went to a deaf social at a frozen yogurt shop with the DeAF club. While there are several hearing members of the club, I arrived early with a friend. For a while, we were the only hearing people there. Everyone else was deaf.
As the people around me conversed in quick and flawless sign language, I struggled to keep up. When it came time for me to sign, my words were broken and shaky and jumbled. I had only been learning ASL for less than two months. In order for me to be a part of the conversation, the others had to make an effort to include me and be patient with my mistakes and many questions.
For the first time, I began to feel like I was the disabled one.
Out of everyone in that room, I was the one with the disability, not them. I was the one everyone had to pause for. I was the one who couldn't speak the language. I was the odd one out.
Of course, everyone was very nice and didn't exclude me or make me feel guilty for being one of the only hearing people there. However, despite everyone's eagerness to help me learn, it didn't change the fact that I was the one who was struggling to communicate. Me.
Spending time with the deaf community has given me perspective about the meaning of disability. Deafness is technically a disability, sure, but it definitely does not have to be a defining attribute... at least not in a negative way. There is a beautiful deaf culture and community that I have come to see and appreciate over the last several weeks. This community has been unseen by so many people.
Recently I was given the chance to see what it was like to be the odd one out in a room full of deaf people. Hearing or not, I was the disabled one. It certainly wasn't them.
I'm quickly learning that disability is relative.
Friendship is what matters.
The fingerspelled letters come from here.