Sunday, 24 November 2013

 Hearing test 21 November 2013

The hearing test last week revealed some interesting things: my hearing has gone down a little more, the PTA is under 90 dB for all frequencies which means that the score is now in the 'profound' range, last time, three years ago, the right was profound and the left was severe with a few mid frequencies in the profound. This is significant shift as without hearing aids, I am officially ‘deaf. This is the reality for me. I can hear really loud noises very close. But that is all.

I did this audiogram to check my hearing level and have a report for the DeafSA card. Looking forward to getting a new deafSA card, my last one was in 1983 and had hearing loss of 67dB and in 1970 I had a loss of 70dB in the ‘speech banana’. I remember not hearing people at all without hearing aids, unless they shouted in my ear. Wow, there has been a big change downwards over the last 40 years.

What was also interesting was the speech-perception score. With hearing aids on, in a soundproof room, I can put up 70 % of the words that I hear. This means that without lip-reading, I am missing as much as 30% of the words, even though I hear sound, it is not clear enough for me to perceive of the sound as a word. And I may have understood a word incorrectly, or have guessed the word from the context that it was embedded in, the flow of a series of words on a topic can help the word perception score, but if it is random, unrelated words, then I struggle to repair the gaps. I am sure that certain words with certain sounds are naturally harder for me to pick up, and it means that some people are also harder to discriminate what they are saying. The same concept holds true for sign language, as some people are harder to read their signs than others. This test shows how much lipreading helps, and in meetings, I need to see the speaker and can easily miss something because the speaker is not looking at me, or I am not aware of the new speaker, and have not turned to face him or her. This needs to be conveyed to meetings to made the communication clear for me. Plus this shows how much an interpreter helps me as it gives me additional visual cues, to fill in the gaps.

Then I asked the audiologist to test my hearing with hearing aids in but not on. I wanted to know how much sound is blocked out this way. And the result was that the hearing aids and moulds block out or occlude as much as 10dB of the sound energy. She was surprised how much of an effect this had on me.  Actually, I knew that this is what happens, but did not have an accurate idea. Sometimes, I drive, work, walk about with my hearing-aids in, but not on, at least I know where they are, if I take them off and put them in a pocket or on desk, there is the risk that they may get lost, broken, dropped, forgotten, left behind… Plus, it shows people that I am deaf. Sometimes, people notice that the battery compartment is open and tell me. Actually, that does not bother me, because I like to choose when I want silence or not.

Last week, I learned two other things about my hearing. It was a long week without the left hearing-aid. This went in for a major service, new microphone, amplifier, tube. It came back sounding great, so clear and brilliant, but the mould is not very effective, or well-fitting, so I cannot push up the volume too high or it squeals with feedback. That needs to be addressed to maximise the potential of this serviced hearing-aid. There is still much life in these hearing aids till an upgrade to the Oticon Chilli hearing-aids.   

The other thing I discovered this week without the left hearing-aid is that although the left is ear is a little better at hearing, my right ear is really a lot worse at picking up words. This was a shock, I really struggled with everyone talking to me, I missed a lot even though I heard the sound, but I could not make sense of the sounds into words. Plus I found that the ‘head shadow’ effect of trying to listen to someone who is speaking to me on me left side meant that I missed even more because the sound was shadowed by my head. This meant that I missed even more, and I have to speak up about this, and say, I cannot hear you on this side, and either person moves to the other side, or I more to the other side of the speaker. Simple, but this has a profound (sic) effect on what I hear. Plus, when I am busy trying to process the sounds into words, my brain is working hard at the processing, and the understanding and cognitive processing is incomplete or in adequate. I need to hear everything and need time to think about what it means, for most people this happens quite naturally as they are listening actively. So listening is exhausting work for me. Plus without the one, the tinnitus in the left ear really was awful for a week, as this ear tried in vain to hear words which the right ear was doing, it subsequently made up a scream of ‘phantom noise’ which was quite deafening and really distracting all week, except when the right hearing aid was taken out at night. Then it settled down. Phew, I am glad that is over. 

 Also, I found that I was grumpy old git this week because I was intolerant to noise and garbled talking, actually I found that I preferred silence to half-hearing. Noises were really annoying to me, even with the noise filter, program on, my second program. I found that so many noises were just irritating, the buses roaring passed my office, to plates banging in the kitchen.  For me, the solution usually was to turn off the right hearing aid, and return to the bliss of silence. If someone was talking to me, then I had to grin and bear it and try to hear them through this one-dimension wall of noise, argghh!

I also found that when my professor talks to me and adds signs that I followed more easily, of course not everyone can do this. But I am amazed how much this helps me and how much I actually benefit from this. I am not advocating signed English for all deaf, or even for hearing-aid users, but there are definitely people who benefit from extra visual cues to ensure that the fullness of communication. This is especially valid for me as English is my first language, and having more than enough sign language, this compliments this communication and eliminates many of the gaps I may experience in listening.

The converse is also true, I have found that I sign much better without my hearing-aids on, and without voice since this allows the visual-spatial dimension and visual grammar is allowed to come through more accurately, and is processed better without the interference from outside noises and words from the hearing-aids when I am operating in the SASL mode, in a relaxed manner. How interpreters can switch off their ears and concentrate on signing is beyond me. I cannot tune out sound, I think I have lost a lot of that ability now which is why noise is so irritating to me now. I need that time-out of silence to recover. At the moment, for every hour of listening, I need an hour without sound to settle again, to recover, and to think quietly and then I am ready to re-engage with the hearing world.  

So right now, I am happy to have the hearing-aid back, but I am also content to write this blog without wearing the hearing-aids, that is the paradox of my life. I love it, and at times I really hate it not hearing something. But I have found that there is a lot we can live with, or work around or do something about it, or ignore it. The maturity, and dignity lies in know which works best when and living courageously and flexibly with the choices available to improve communication of a deaf person in hearing world.

I hope this helps us be more aware of what deaf learners, go through. Each (deaf) person is different: their background, hearing loss and history, parental involvement and teacher support, exposure to language, interaction with hearing and deaf family and people. They have different expectations of themselves, as a deaf person in a hearing world. As well as how they see their oral skills and signing skills, their identity now, and where they see themselves, and how their family sees them. Thus, deaf learners are not a homogenous group, but are heterogenous. We cannot make generalisations about deaf learners, even though that is easy, it is unhelpful. We need to understand each person: then we will connect.  I have learned that if you understand me, then we can connect, and it is my responsibility to do everything that I can to make and maintain that connection.  

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Words of my Journey

The deaf ‘hearing me’: born deaf, diagnosis, severe to profound bi-lateral sensori-neural hearing loss; ENT; 87dB left, 92 dB right hearing loss; hear almost nothing, no voices, traffic, no music, no domestic noises, no  voices only really loud and close bangs and thumps or screams,  see lips moving, do not understand. First hearing test: 5yrs old, green glass ashtray, my first sound with hearing aids, hearing aids; batteries; distortion, Danavox, mercury batteries, flat, sound, noise, Grade One, confusion, pain, people, children persevere, sounds, speech therapy, words, “Say the word: ‘…’” repetition, sound booth, sentences, some knowledge, blocked tubes, earaches, grommets, operations, no swimming, muffled sounds, missed words, lost in class, pin unblocked wax, hated: comprehension tests and reading aloud, dictated notes, assemblies and Chapel, just follow everyone else, humiliated, faiIed to understand, immature, cried, failed standard two, embarrassed, fitted in better, reading improved, sanctuary of accessible  knowledge: library. Bullied, discriminated, ‘big ears’, ignored, no rugby, no hearing aids, felt lost in pool, insecure, alone at school, supportive friends, hymns, banned from singing, high school, Siemen’s in-the-ear, cosmetic, weaker hearing aid, hearing loss level misdiagnosed, struggled to keep up in class, hated Afrikaans, lipreading improved, always sat in front, felt isolated and inferior, English was a struggle to follow talk, talk, talk. Industry Prize Std. 7, honoured, Biology improved, loved science books, struggled with novels, comprehension below par, Science Olympiad Top 10%, visited Wits, shy, many pink slips: merits, no demerits, Science teacher hoh, avoided him, poor role model, bonded with school counsellor, blind-he, deaf-me, connection. Passed matric, relief, university exemption, visit family Scotland, Rhodes, independent, Livingstone house, Anthropology, Visual Communication, irony of hifi for 21st missed, Psychology honours, Methodist church, called to accept my deaf identity, confusion, peace, youth leader, YFC, camps, struggled to fit-in and follow, SADF army, ‘I am hard of hearing, not deaf!’ Basics, G4K3, Medics, officer’s course, Lt. Air Force, back to over-the-ear hearing aids, identity shift, acknowledgement: I am deaf. End of dream: psychologist: I cannot hear you, living a lie, letting it go. High school teacher, English teacher, cannot cope, too much noise, and too little voices, at identity crossroads, acceptance, resigned...


ME DEAF NOW: Wits Deaf Education, lecturer, saw Deaf community in action New Covenant church, signing, awe, my people, wanted to learn, met deafies:  sign language classes. Identity shift: transition (step of faith into Deaf world) marginal, (feeling lost, inbetweenity) liminality, and (I am deaf and oral, and learning SASL, new bilingual identity, dignity) reintegration. It is ok: following interpreter, exhausted, switched off hearing aids, much better. Fingerspelling; switched from right to left, I’m a leftie. Met a deaf girl, dating, engagement, signing improved, switched from signed English to SA Sign Language: much better, living visually, married, (hearing) twins. Masters completed, with distinction, bilingual DeaF identity, now using interpreter for meetings, rely on signed English, stopping the deaf nod, assertiveness, Oticon hi-power digital hearing-aids, emotional healing, conferences, articles, oral deaf, Hi-HOPES, training, Deaf mentor, visit families, exciting, language options and empowerment, DTV interviews, St Vincent Open days, connect with Deaf community, first signed speech MCK Honours day, voice training, own business, proofreading, contact clients by email. Divorce. Registered with SARS as ‘deaf’, my deaf friends, made DeaF dogtag, signing in class only, no hearing aids, no voice, scary but liberating, SASL my second language, started PhD, sign bilingualism, love quietness, introvert, contemplative spirituality, quiet gardens retreats, drive and fly without hearing aids, Holland, Mauritius, Singapore, researcher, writing: poetry, blogs, SASL writing team, dvds: subtitles, reading, not Deaf but deaf bilingual, the bilingual journey continues…          
If ‘kindness is a language that the deaf can hear…’ (Mark Twain), I was wondering what are the other languages of the deaf?
Then, borrowing from the insight of the 5 Love languages by Gary D Chapman, I have also chosen: belonging, connection, understanding, communication, silence, support, intimacy, empathy.

What do you think fits in here as the 'love languages for the deaf'?

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Quiet Teacher 7 July 2013

While reading the book, Quiet by Susan Cain, the idea of the power of introverts rustled through my mind. What about quiet teachers? Surely this is a paradox, or an oxymoron. How can you have quiet teachers? Teachers are loud, outgoing brash, expressive, in-your face bossy, demanding, talkative people, right? But, I am also an introvert, and a teacher. I suspect that both extravert and introvert teachers are good teachers provided that each understands and uses their strengths and weaknesses strategically.
It gives me considerable satisfaction to think about introverts as teachers. From what I have picked up from this book, introverts, need time away from classes, people, noise, and too much going on around them so that they can be calm inside. This time out is so important. I relate to this: I need time out at the end of the teaching day, or after a conference, session, week of sessions, or an inspiring sermon, worship session. This is imperative for me, as an intro, to collect my thoughts, put mind in neutral, then when ready, to think, consolidate, reflect, re-discuss, plan, write, (like I am doing now), read about something related, or completely different. And I need to do this with my hearing aids off. This silence is essential for me, can you relate? How do you unwind?
I am now more sensitive to other introvert teachers. And I appreciate the courage and tenacity that they have in making the effort to put themselves out there in the classroom amongst the world of extraverts, I am not attacking extraverts, but this is the dominant view of teachers, teachers are loud and vibrant and all the things and more that I have said already. Introverts can do this, but it has a cost, it goes against their natural thinking style and nature, so we need to do two things. We need time off after to recoop, and more of this is needed than the extraverts need, which is why extraverts are impatient with introverts for still resting (reflective resting is not complete, please let us finish, our thinking time will be worth it, this is where new ideas are often generated, from the softly spoken but deep thinkers. And we need the action-oriented extraverts to help us action it in timeframe.
Secondly, we need to find and claim our own space. This is introvert territory, and this is what I am looking forward to finding more about in the rest of the book (Quiet). And so far, taking the step out and acknowledging that I am an introvert has been helpful for me. By realizing this, I am now equipped to get over the social misconception that ‘introverts are inferior’. Whatever! But this insight has been really liberating for me. Let it sink into you, think about it. It is good, it is an essential part of you, do not hide it, blame, bury it, cry over it. I am an introvert, and I am not alone.
I thought that all deaf are introverts till I met deaf extraverts, and mainstreamed extraverts, and I met introvert hearing people. The diversity of possibilities is amazing, and there are some features that we choose for ourselves as core drivers of who we are, such as introvert/extravert. And a lot is hung onto this framework. So know which one you are and befriend it. I suspect that you will now see more introverts around than you have previously noticed, or wanted to admit that you saw. Taking it a step further than you have done before, reach out and you will see that other introverts are there and either have identified and overcome their introvert oppression, or have let it overcome them. It’s your choice. I still have much to learn about being an introvert, come with me, let’s find out together what this means. Let’s make a stand for introverts.

Friday, 28 June 2013



“Did you hear what I said?”
                How could I: I am deaf.
“Speak up, boy!”
                Why, you are not deaf, I am.
“I am not going to say this again!”
                Why not, I did not get it the first time.
“Were you talking behind my back?”
                No, I was signing out your sight.
“Oh, don’t worry, they did not say anything important.”
                Tell me and let me decide what is important or not.
“Ag, Shame, he doesn’t talk, he is deaf.”
                And you cannot sign.
“Listen up, you have to….”
                I have no idea how anyone can ‘listen up.’
“Open your ears!”
                I am still looking for the ‘on’ switch
“Speaking for myself…”
                So, if I say nothing, no one takes me in account.
“He can talk the hind leg off a donkey.
                I see mouths moving, so there must a three-legged donkey somewhere.
“I am all ears.”
                And I am all eyes, so look at me: sign to me.
“We need to talk.”
                You doing the talking and I am supposed to listen, how? Where is the ‘we’?
“He is all talk but no action.”
                Ah, that makes sense to me, but he does warm up the room.
“I ll tell you later.”
                Are you ignoring me again?
 “He has a profound hearing loss.”
                Oh no, where did you leave it last? Let’s go find it.
“Watch your tone, with me young lady.”
                How do you watch something you cannot see?
 “She has verbal diarrhoea!”
                I think I’ll stop there, you get the idea…

These are some of the words that invade my life of silence,
And these are the subtitles of my thoughts.
You see, I cannot hear you, but I can see you:
Can you hear me when you see me?
And do you see what I am saying?
                When I see you and you see me there are no more subtitles.

 Guy Mcilroy 2013

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Travel blog 19 June 2013 Post-Singapore thoughts: flying Deaf

This is a follow on from the first flights I took in 2009 to Amsterdam, without hearing aids. That was a significant moment for me because it marked my coming-out as a deaf person.
The ISB9 conference in Singapore allowed me to consolidate and explore some new identity spaces.
 Let me go back to the flying part here. The academic discoveries are in the academic blog.
I decided to fly without my hearing aids this on trip, but with a few extra changes. First I wore my dogtag, and showed this to the cabin crew when I boarded/seated. I felt comfortable identifying myself this way. Partly because I had already mentioned on the reservation that I am a deaf traveller, so the airline already knew to expect a deaf passenger. That ‘rule’ of no more than 4 deaf passengers allowed still rankled me, if there were 5 different passengers seating all over the plane, with an interpreter would the airline complain? I think not. And if there are more than 5 deaf passengers as a group, say going on a sport tour, would they be disallowed, usually one person (an organiser/guide) in the tour group is able to communicate with the hearing cabin crew. Sigh, that is frustrating. I did not fly with someone (a hearing person, such a partner or my parents. My dad used to explain to me what is going on, so I always wore my hearing aids so that he could do that for me, even if I missed out what was said in full). Now, this was the opportunity to travel in silence. I would not have done that with my dad, he does not sign so we would not be able to communicate. Thus I had a hearing-like/hard-of hearing identity with him, and for him, but what about me, who am I inside? And this trip presented the delicious choice between sound and silence, what would I choose, and in the future too? For me, it was fairly simple to choose to travel in silence since I wanted to explore this territory for myself. You know, if it did not work out, then I could always fall back to wearing hearing-aids again.  
On board, I must admit that I did not identify myself very clearly or well on the first flight, but improved on the return leg. What worked for me was meeting the cabin crew when they are less busy, and I am seated, with my ‘deaf’ dogtag and signing that I am deaf. And asking cabin crew for paper to write down anything, such as please tell me any important PA announcements, emergency info, coffee, meal options, if I have not already written down my requests. This worked well with some and less well with other people. The trick, I found is to do it slow, steady and little fuss and with a smile, not to make them feel uncomfortable in any way, and it was a delight to see that working. Cabin crew are usually hearing people with the same lack of information of deafness and lack of contact and skills in communicating with deaf people.  I think that airlines need to do much more deaf awareness training, and I would love to do this! I will come back to this theme later.
When I arrived at Bangkok, I had an amusing moment. I was almost last to disembark, and when I reached the air bridge I saw a Thai staff holding a sign with my name on it, and a wheelchair! I smiled. I am deaf not disabled, and I think that the message that I posted on my reservation went through, but Thai and most airlines are unaware of how to deal with deaf passengers. I need assistance, yes, and I took some courage to admit that upfront. But I really needed assistance with communication so that I do not miss the next flight, or get lost in a foreign place or not understand the instructions when someone is talking. I wrote down that I need assistance with transit process, where to go and what to do. They quickly removed the wheelchair. The person assigned to help me had no idea how to help, but was willing to help. But I made an error, I paid him for his service, I thought about this afterwards, it was not a service that I should pay for. Plus he was so apologetic later when he found me in the boarding area, since I found out the hard way that the gate had changed. Oh well, I learned much from this experience, I hope the airline staff and he did too.
One of the decisions I had to make was where to put my hearing aids. I decided to put them in a small round metal container with cotton wool that fits comfortably in my pocket. Then would I wear them at any time during the flight and airport transits? I have to admit that not wearing them in a setting where I had always worn hearing aids felt odd to me, I felt more aware of myself as a deaf person, and somewhat naked without them on. There was something missing, and that is way I chose to pack them in a box and carry them in my pocket so at least I knew exactly where my hearing aids were. The last thing I wanted to do was leave the box in the seat pocket went leaving the plane. Sign, the lack of subtitled movies was a let-down. Actually, I found a couple of foreign language films with English subtitles, but these were too hard to read on these small screens, the quality of the picture was poor. So I missed out on movies, at least I knew this would probably be the case so I brought my Kobo Glo with me and found reading a book much better way to pass the time.  
Even with my hearing aids off, I enjoyed flying because I could feel the roar through the cabin wall, and that gave it a sense of flying. Once I felt comfortable with where they are, I relaxed. And found that it is ok being deaf. I was more conscious of myself without them than with them on, weird! But I noticed that I loved the freedom from sound, especially noises. The only noise I wanted to hear was the roar of the Rolls-Royce Trent 700 at full power at take-off. And I allowed myself the luxury of this in Bangkok on route to Johannesburg. Since there was no one seated next to me, it was easy to slip my hearing aids on and enjoy this wonderful sound for a few minutes. Once I had satisfied my need to hear this, I was content to pack them away for the rest of the flight. On the first flight, to Bangkok, I did not have them on for take-off, (yes, there was someone sitting next to me, so I would probably have blown the ‘deaf man’ image for her). This is one of my favourite parts of flying. Although I had a window seat, the takeoff at Johannesburg was definitely a let-down for me. The thrill from the noise was missing, which is why I decided that one of the take-offs would be with hearing aids on, which duly happened later. In that sense, I enjoyed the benefits of being a bilingual deaf person and exercised my choice to hear and be deaf when I wanted to, on my terms. The tricky part was being deaf for so long, and amidst hearing people when lots of communication happened during the flights and arrival and departures. I am relieved to say that I managed this and it went much better than I expected. So much so, that when I arrived in Singapore airport for flight back to Bangkok, I checked in early and announced that I am deaf to check in staff. She promptly got help from a person there and he really helped me a lot; he (Benedict) could sign (ASL). Wow, that made my day, and the boarding went smoothly thereafter, I felt a lot more at ease. And I met a friend of his also working at the airport. Ahh, that was a highlight. And this was made all the better while watching the ‘golden rain’ display. I did not feel alone, and revelled in the power of sign language. It is a balm for deaf souls and a bridge of communication in foreign lands.  

 This has been a really good experience of finding more of myself as a deaf person, and finding the courage to live as a bilingual deaf person. Like Sarah, in Children of a lesser god’ movie, I found that I am not nothing without my hearing-aids, and that I did not shrivel up and blow away like a dried-out leaf. I learned to be strong, be brave, smile and enjoy living in both worlds. And let life as I experience it to happen.  

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Bilingual thoughts

The question was raised about which language a person thinks in, for eg. Afrikaans and English and this really had me thinking…
Now, particularly in terms of Sign Language and English, and what I can do, and do not do with each language when it comes to thinking. So, how does and has  Sign Language shape(d) my thinking?
I know that English is my strong first language  and SASL is my second language, but I have such a soft spot for signing. This is because it is really my language as a deaf person, you have to be deaf to understand, you know what I mean. But, it was not always like this for me, and I suspect that there are many oral deaf who grow up not knowing the power and grammaticality/ sight-scape of sign language since they have not been exposed to its expressiveness from and through native signers. I used to have a problem with not being a native or native-like signer, no more, it is my second language. And I want to improve, and the best way is in dialogue with others who sign better than me. I know what I have and what I can have as far as sign language goes, and what I want to achieve, a bit more, then a bit more. Until the language becomes second nature to me all the time. It is in these moments when I let the language live through me it inspires me to do more give more, learn more, be more, you know what I mean? That is what it means to me to be bilingual, and finding contentment in the space between languages and thought. There are times when I think in English, such as writing this blog style article, and when I am in signing =thought mode and the way I see the world and myself and others shifts. It ll be good to tap into what this means and what it looks like and where it takes us as language users and teachers.  
One of  my students argued that ‘mentalese is the language that we use when we look beyond language to the heart of thought. Which is what the question was asking, what language are your thinking in? This goes along with Steven Pinker’s ideas on thought, and I am not in agreement with all of this. I know that SASL and English are wonderful tools for thought and carriers of thought, but these are languages, which encode their own knowledge systems or epistemologies that also shape the way the user, like me sees the world, yes it is complicated, and wonderful at the same time.

What do you think? And how do you think as a bilingual person? How does your first language affect your second? and how are you enriched in thinking by your second language? 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Here is a thought for the day for teachers of the deaf:

"It is an educational imperative that the expectations that teachers in mainstream and schools for the Deaf have of deaf learners be raised to support the identity quest  of deaf learners to be confident and successful bi-cultural explorers. What can teachers do? From a deaf person’s perspective:
‘Teachers need to try and encourage learners to see the links between their language and Sign Language and their culture and Deaf culture respectfully and so they can see that being deaf and signing is quite normal. So I think teachers need to understand deeply how the cultures operate and encourage learners to build friendships across cultures. I know that it is difficult but the time invested is worth it.’ (Mcilroy, 2008: 121-134)"

Monday, 8 April 2013

DeaF Guy: Bilingualism

DeaF Guy: Bilingualism: Focus questions: to get you thinking. I wrote these 9 months ago before the proposal was written and accepted. What questions do you want t...


Focus questions: to get you thinking. I wrote these 9 months ago before the proposal was written and accepted. What questions do you want to highlight or comment on as away forward for doing research? Or have I left something out that you want to add?

Why is it important in SA in Deaf Education? Why is SA Deaf Education not picking up the reins of Bilingualism at schools? Is bilingualism just another method that will soon die out, a trend? Why is DoE not aware and building bilingualism into curriculum and as a national deaf ed policy? What has happened to Deafsa policy statement from last year? What needs to be done and who should do what? What is our role at the centre in Sign Bilingualism? What are the trends now in deaf education? And in terms of bilingualism?  How do we as educators make/build deaf learners to be ‘deaf in their own way? What resources and paradigm needs to be in place for bilingualism to work? What are the barriers on the ground to why teachers are not using bilingual in class? What support is needed in in-service training to nurture teachers? Is bilingual only applicable to first world economies, how can the diversity of SA deaf be served?  What are the other voices of DeaF that have not been heard? How well is bilingualism working and capable of working at the cognitive level? Why do teachers still try to sabotage bilingualism? What is needed in the teacher training programs for the next cohort of bilingual teachers? How has the mainstream and inclusion of deaf learners impacted on bilingualism as a policy and as a teaching method? What is the future of schools for the deaf in terms of bilingualism? Although we talk about bilingualism, South Africa is a country with 11 languages, and English, the most commonly used LOLT, is not the only way to learn, what about the other languages used at home? Is bilingualism too narrow a term and policy for SA? If SASL is accepted as 12 official language, how will this affect bilingualism as a policy and in the classroom, in mainstream schools and in schools for the deaf? Who should have power in over sign bilingualism programs and education? What kind of conversations are needed with parents, educators , learners and DoE to assist this transition to sign bilingualism as a national deaf education policy? What can be expected from oral and signing education communities as a responses to bilingualism? What strategies have been effective, and what should not be done, from lessons learned? How do we get tertiary education and workplaces/employers/DoL to partner with education in building an educated and bilingual workforce?   

What do I think about bilingualism?
Taking the research and paper just done, I can see that bilingual is a key concept in terms of identity, and that this is something worth fighting for in deaf learners who should be as bilingual as possible. For example, I found that teaching the Bed Sign Language class without my hearing-aids means that I am really, deeply deaf and solely a Sign Language user. Actually, this is a significant step forward. A moment of epiphany, as I am fully deaf and not using my voice and hearing aids to assist me with teaching, which I could do, but it is more authentic to switch off and be deaf than try to be both simultaneously, actually that is worth thinking about for a moment. That is just what hearing teachers try to do with deaf learners and end up fluffing both languages.  Thus, it is more effective for me to sign only and rely on signing to communicate so that Sign Language structure can be seen, sic. Then I use English, which they also know, to explain SASL. By doing this I am respecting SL and expecting the same level of dignity that I have to be given to SL, while they begin to see SL for themselves in real time for what it is, a real language to me and other deaf, albeit that I am a second language user of SASL, but ahead of them for two reasons/grounds:   I know the rules of SASL as a second language user, and sign frequently with deaf friends, and obviously, I am deaf, so I am claiming it as my language. Having said that, I know that it is not always easy to match my level with their level, and I am acutely aware of this and have to prepare intensely before class the kind of descriptions/explanations required to instruct a concept that I would otherwise have spoken to class as instructional aside.
The opposite happens in the ACE first year class where I speak and rely on the interpreter to sign for me to help me fill in the gaps that I would otherwise have missed by relying on my hearing-aids and hearing power, which is incomplete. For me, it is easier to talk here because this is in my first language, but the listening part is my weakness. So there are two sides to this situation that I find myself in, on the one hand I am taking on the challenge of signing, and on the other hand I have to relinquish the instinct to be hearing when I am not really able to do that.
I am reminded of someone else who has made this transition from hearing culture into Deaf culture, but is unable to pass as a fluent signer, although her attitude has shifted to becoming deeply compassionate towards deaf culture and sign language. But the skills of signing are not sufficient to allow this transition to be completed, hence the metamorphosis if the beautiful sign language butterfly is incompleted and a stunted butterfly has emerged. I have wondered what is needed to be a bilingual DeaF person, as she undoubtably is well formed in some of the areas, but restricted in other areas, yet she sees herself as a bicultural more than a bilingual deaf person. Her experiences of and in both worlds have nurtured her bicultural philosophy of respecting both cultures, and ontologies. Is she deaf in her own way? Is she happy?
I noticed that there is another way to enter bilingual identity, through Deaf becoming DeaF by accepting and negotiating their way through both languages and cultures without denigrating either. This is a process, and a long process. I cannot say/claim that I have arrived, but being on this journey and recognising where I am is important for charting this journey of self-discovery and ones interactions across a vastly wider net of interactions is the key to this process of identity development. Surely this is what teachers of today want and need to be doing. It is time to let go of the old ways of being deaf or Deaf. 
 From here, I will pick up on the ideas and thoughts and build on this in the next blog next week.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Journey

What mental image comes to your mind about going on a journey?. Is it a car journey with padkos and long hours in a car and changing scenery, and arriving at a holiday destination. 
This is not the one I have in mind here. The book ‘North Face of God’ captures the image of the journey for me in this context better. This research project is a journey that I am on at the moment and is more akin to climbing a mountain.

There is a destination for this researcher to reach: the summit. And I like this image as the way that people climb is often quite different to the route taken by others, but the goal is the same. The scary part is realising that this is a huge task and that is this is most likely beyond my experience and stamina. This is a mental journey beyond my limits, but I know that I am not alone, and if I were then I fail most probably fail, stop, or fall. To complete this journey upwards and onwards to the summit, I need the company of a climbing team: those who have done it before, and those who know me well. This is also a spiritual journey, of living the faith with others and moving forwards, being wise, prayerful, diligent and persistent and well-equipped and protected against the cold and wet and well-nourished to complete the journey. The lack of water and food to sustain me and the team will cause the team to collapse.

So, if you are reading this, this is an invitation for you to join me on this journey, as a fellow researcher, expert, prayer-partner, pilgrim, guide, fellow-burden carrier and friend.  Did you notice how the journey by Frodo and Harry Potter was not a solo journey but a team effort built and sustained by the  loyalty, and friendship and faith in their mission and themselves and they were all changed for the better. We have a mission here. It is not my mission that you are supporting but something much bigger. And we must make haste.

I am a disciple of research, and I was born for such a time and for this project. And I am deaf, and this is one of my strengths here. Being deaf is no longer a weakness. But it is an asset in this project. And I will do whatever it takes to be true to myself and to doing this research on bilingualism as it is close to my heart.  But I also need a strong, passionate team to take up this challenge. 

So tell me what is close to your heart in deaf studies?
Let’s get started, let’s talk, let’s plan, let’s do it.   


This blog is meant to be a collection of the author’s writings on a variety of topics related to research within the academic domain of deaf studies.
Please note that this is not meant to be a site to attack people, so flaming and being rude will not be tolerated or accepted. Hence, the author reserves the right to delete any comments or responses to the blogs that infringe upon the rights and dignity of others at his discretion.
While every effort is made to check the accuracy of the content and wording and message of the blog before publishing the blog, the author is not responsible for errors or misunderstandings.
The aim of this blog is to generate dialogue around educational research in deaf studies with and amongst the reader and a wider audience on pertinent topics and issues.
This blog is intended to be a written form of dialogue of the author’s research journey and an invitation to the reader to partner with the author on this journey.
Sharing of blog posts with others needs the author’s prior permission and has to correctly quoted and hyperlinked. All intellectual property used by the author in the blog remains the author’s property.
For the sake of good ethical practice in discussing research in this blog, any information about the sites of research, participants and details that could jeopardise the identity and anonymity of participants needs to be maintained. This blog is a general blog about issues in deaf studies and deaf education in a general manner rather than focusing on a specific setting. And for this reason, responses need to adhere to this principle by leaving out any details such as names that could incriminate others. Avoid being personal and use of personal content of others in the discussions.
Now that I have said all this necessary legal stuff, I want to encourage you to participate in the dialogue that the blogs generate and look forward to your responses to the blogs through your questions and thoughts, comments and related experiences and insights that you bring and share here.  
Guy Mcilroy
March 2013

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Signing hymns

I went to church today with an interpreter there. Good, I thought. There were only a few deafies there and a reasonable interpreter, the second interpreter was not really clear, too much SE. 
And that got me thinking. I half-wondered at the time, that the songs make sense in SE. It makes it accessible I suppose, by I feel that the worship is dis-jointed and dis-connected for me. I know that sounds somewhat hypocritical coming from me because SE is often a good way for me to follow, half listening and half watching, and hopefully getting the full message. But the reality is that I am usually not following it all as well as I expect, and miss things, and I find this very tiring. This amalgam of two languages is definitely messing with my head. I need to do one and do it properly. 
How does this link to bilingual model and signing? I think that if the worship is signed well, is should draw me into the sacred space, but that does not often happen, unless I already know the songs and the signing helps to transcend the spoken words, which I already know by heart, then this becomes a moment of silence in the midst of the music as I and we as a body find God in our midst. The words have to be known to me, otherwise it is just a meaningless noise around me. At the moment, I am coming back to the hymns I know during Lent, and Easter to find the source of worship and drink deeply there. Do you know any hymns for Easter that are signed in SASL, a video of this would be great to watch. Let’s make a collection, who is interested?
That is a thought on my mind at the moment.
What do you think?

Deaf Blog 27 Feb

Am I a bilingual deaf person? I thought this has become a reality for me. But I think the real issue is that I am not a 50-50 bilingual and never will be because English is my first language, and my signing is always at second language level. So what?  Or is it so what!. Actually, I think that when I am signing, as what happening in the SASL class with third years, I found that my language processing was quite different to when I talk in English. In fact, some of the students commented, unprompted on this afterwards. Umm, that had me thinking about what Claudine said the week earlier:  I am not BI bilingual. And this is ok in the same way as English speaking person is rarely a fully bilingual user of two languages, English and Afrikaans.  
And it is for this reason that I think that being bilingual is fine for most people, as long as they are honest with themselves and their respective audiences.  So this fits in with the trans-languaging view of bilingualism, and releases me from the stress and strain to be BI, but I want to be as good as I can be, through the interactions and contact with others to improve my signing as much as possible, as there is room for growth. I wonder what Prof Young thinks about this point, and how this journey evolves?
Similarly, I also wonder what Garcia would say about this. I imagine that she would go along with this point, and I need to read her paper again to build on my understanding of her argument away from equal bilingualism towards dynamic bilingualism. This leads me to the teacher’s and their experiences and where this understanding of bilingualism  is taking them, and are they happy to go along with the ride, or want to get off, or refuse to get on the roller-coaster?  Change is scary!