I just finished my training as part of the 2019 cohort of Gallaudet Peer Mentors. This is a 2-year certificate program for adults with hearing loss (who have various identities and linguistic mixes) who want to mentor other adults. We revisited our plans from 2 years ago, and I found some interesting bits in mine.
Originally, the training was designed for mentoring adults who’d grown up hearing and then acquired hearing loss, but I explicitly applied with the intent to mentor young professionals who may have grown up with hearing loss but haven’t yet had much of a chance to explore what that means.
In my capacity as a peer mentor, I primarily mentor young professionals (college-age and early-career) with congenital or acquired hearing loss. My own work is in the STEM fields, but I mentor young professionals in any field, especially those not specifically related to Deaf culture (i.e. signed linguistics, Deaf education, etc) where they may be among the first few pioneers – and possibly the first or only – person with hearing loss in their school, workplace, or even field.
Regardless of their communication and education backgrounds and preferences, these young people are likely to now be navigating a primarily hearing career environment and figuring out what it means for themselves to “mainstream” as professionals. At this stage in their lives, they’re doing a lot of discernment on identity, community, language, disclosure, etc. alongside all the soul-searching that young people already do when they’re figuring out their career pathway. I [want to become] a faculty member; my work is the formation of young people. This is where I want to be.
I also had some bits specifically about how I wanted to be able to communicate at this point in time. It’s worth noting that when I started in 2017, I was still an extremely new and awkward signer, had never signed expressively in a professional context, always spoke for myself, etc. so these goals were ludicrously far away to me at that time.
My native language is written English, followed by spoken English; given the dominance of this language in the environments in which I work, I still use English regularly and work with my students and colleagues to develops strategies for them to do the same, if they wish.
However, I also… teach and present in [ASL] whenever possible to showcase what the language can do. I’m comfortable working with and co-mentoring new ASL interpreters who want to learn how to work in high-level, professional contexts with unorthodox interpreting dynamics. I do creative things with my students and colleagues, who are a blend of hearing, hard-of-hearing, and d/Deaf. We present in (fully accessible) blends of imagery, sign, written captions, tactile, and spoken language; our presentations are about content, but they’re also performances. The medium is the message. We pun, we joke, we draw, we sing, we rap, we show what visual language can do.
Weirdly enough, I’m actually not too far from this right now. It still seems hard - and it’s not what I do most of the time - but it’s something that feels extremely possible. It’s stuff I’ve done, it’s stuff I know how to do… it’s very much an option, albeit an option that takes a bunch of work.
I lecture in my undergraduate and graduate level engineering classes in full-out ASL, and have started a college-level video lecture series in electrical/computer engineering, with the eventual goal of having a complete undergraduate-level electrical/computer engineering core curriculum available in quality ASL.
Okay, so the state of technical ASL was something I had to learn more about two years ago. I was convinced it was possible and that it was only my own lack of fluency that was causing all the struggles (in other words, if I just became a better signer, this problem would be solved). Now I’m pretty sure that it’s not just me. Sure, my ASL skills could improve! But also, even the most skilled signers make SO MANY COMPROMISES when they’re discoursing about STEM stuff in ASL, because we are still developing that practice in this language. I have learned that I can contribute greatly to developing that practice, and that it’s fun and I’m good at it and it’s a joy to do so, which was a tremendous shock to me.
I’m comfortable in my own skin as a signer, and skilled at codeswitching and mediating across a lot of cultural/linguistic boundaries.
I’m… becoming more comfortable. There are spaces and people where I’m extremely comfortable. My codeswitch is weirdly sensitive to lots of things. But I do have many of these kinds of mediation skills, if they’re allowed to activate.
I want to learn how to communicate well with people who use different signed languages, people whose signed language is still developing (as with children or new adult signers), and DeafBlind individuals who work with tactile, pro-tactile (PT), and haptics, because these folks should be included too.
I still want to do this. I’m more aware of it and probably a little better at all these things, but haven’t gotten to do dedicated practice on any of it.
The next post will be about my lab - turns out that for this program, two years ago, I wrote the best description I’ve ever written about what I want my lab to look like.