Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cuehood... a process of actualizing an identity as a cuer

Deafhood has received much attention in the Deaf/deaf and hard of hearing communities in regards to the process of coming to terms with the identity shaped by one's personal experiences with deafness.

Now I can't say that I know a lot about what the Deafhood Foundation has brought to the table in regards to Deafhood. After all I've always been intrigued by the idea of taking a Deafhood workshop, yet have been discouraged by the fact that the Deafhood Foundation refuses to accommodate people who are not strong signers, receptively or expressively.

Yet, various discussions and observations have lead me to understand it's basically coming to understand the reality in which "Deaf" people live in and the identities they hold as shaped by the system that governs their education and access to services, whether in a positive or negative way. A question that's been left unanswered is whether there is room for the little d in "deafhood" to represent the greater deaf and hard of hearing community, but that's another discussion for another time.

Native cuers have their own identity with Cued Speech as shaped by their experience with cueing parents/professionals and cued language transliterators. Therefore I would propose that native cuers have their own form of "deafhood" in the sense that they recognize the impact Cued Speech has had on their lives, AKA "cuehood."

In the Cued Speech facebook group, we have people from all walks of life who identify themselves as cuers, whether they have hearing loss or not. Some of those "cuers" identify themselves as either growing up with an oral background or as signers, yet they've come to embrace the idea of Cued Speech as a means of communication and access to spoken language. Some cuers (including myself) put themselves out there in the deaf and hard of hearing community as native cuers with the goal of educating people about what Cued Speech is and how it helps with access to spoken language and communication within the household for hearing-dominant families.

In face of reality today, one should make distinctions between what the Deafhood Foundation asserts as a "Deaf-centric" way of life, and what the majority of people with hearing loss experience. Not all cuers necessarily identify themselves primarily as cuers, but as Deaf people who are part of the Deaf culture as signers. However, the reality is that their lives were shaped by the use of Cued Speech in their personal lives. In this sense, do the ideas of "Deafhood" and "cuehood" come into conflict with each other? Perhaps if one takes the point of view that people who are deaf should accept that reality of deafness and not try to act like hearing people (which would be more of a sloppy generalization of the d/hoh community).

Proponents of Deafhood rail against the system in which we are a part of, which typically marginalizes people with disabilities in favor for those who have full facilities and do not experience discrimination or oppression on the part of ignorant or biased people (read: ignorant management and extremist AVT or ASL advocates). This is the reality that we live in - PWD (Persons with Disabilities) experience a greater level of struggle than the typical person, therefore they develop an identity based out of that struggle.

Now for cuehood, it is a matter of defining the type of struggles that native cuers have experienced growing up with the "mark" of Cued Speech. Even I have experienced vitriol from Deaf people who believe Cued Speech to be an assault on their way of life, therefore my identity is shaped by those interactions and reinforces my desire to dispel people's misconceptions about Cued Speech.

For many cuers, cue camps served as a means of reinforcing their cueing identity through social interaction and the forging of lifelong friendships (and in some cases, marriages). The cue camp experience serves to reinforce the process of cuehood in a positive way despite all the struggles that parents typically have had in trying to get cued language services for their children. It was not until 2004 when the federal government, at the behest of the National Cued Speech Association, finally included the term "cued language" in federal legislation providing protections for the deaf and hard of hearing in terms of accessibility.

I did leave the cueing community for about six years until halfway through college when I returned to Spring (Cue) Camp Cheerio and realized how dramatically the demographics of the camp had changed, with the inclusion of the North Carolina chapter of AG Bell Association as a co-sponsor of the camp. At that time I was angry and wanted it to go back to the way it was, a vibrant camp full of cuers instead of a hashmash of AVT advocates and cuers.

At one point I organized a petition among the cuers to try and push to turn this camp back into a true cue camp, but after pissing people off and burning some bridges (after all my petition was the number one hit on Google ahead of Spring Camp Cheerio...), I came to the realization that maybe it's not such a bad thing to stop preaching to the choir and reach a new audience. Now we have more parents learning Cued Speech in NC and the first child in the United States to get the auditory brainstem implant surgery stateside is a native cuer and his parents learned to cue at this camp...

For each native cuer, their experience with cuehood is different. Some come to embrace American Sign Language and go on to become sign language instructors or teachers of the deaf. Others don't buy into it and go on living their lives like typical hearing people without the use of signing. Yet, they all have one thing in common. Cued Speech.

Now does this mean cuers are going to go on and create their own Cuehood Foundation and give workshops on supporting a "Cue-centric" way of life? Not necessarily. In a way, a different approach has appeared in the form of CLEAR (Cuers for Leadership, Education, and Advocacy Retreat), which is now going through a transition period and is now becoming CLEAR(esources) Center, with the focus on supporting Cued Speech instructors and advocates alike. The emphasis of CLEAR center is on acceptance, inclusiveness, and awareness of all issues within the deaf and hard of hearing community. Facilitators of CLEAR's retreats have made it clear that we cannot afford to be divisive or exclusive as we are still a small minority within this community.

In summary, cuehood is the process of actualizing one's own identity as an cuer through personal experiences.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Conversations with a Cuer: Tiffany Matthews

After seeing all these stories from different walks of life about how people came to learn Cued Speech, I realized that the deaf and hard of hearing community would benefit from hearing these stories so I've established a new series called "Conversations with Cuers." For my first interview, I wanted to find someone who didn't grow up with Cued Speech, but now considers it part of their life. Tiffany Matthews is one of them.

When I first met Tiffany Matthews, it was at a Cues on Tap hosted by CLEAR (now CLEAR Center) in Rockville, Maryland back in 2011. I had come to learn that she actually didn't grow up with Cued Speech, but now uses cued language transliterators in the classroom for her studies in special education.

Here is the interview.

A: What caused your hearing loss and how did you grow up in terms of communication?

TM: I was born deaf to two deaf parents with a genetic syndrome called Waardenburg Syndrome (from my father and my father's side are mostly deaf with various degrees of hearing loss due to this syndrome). I grew up with my mother who used PSE (Pidgen Signed English) with me. My family learned how to sign as well but mostly "home signs" so I lipread and listened with hearing aids which I had since I was an infant. In school, I was in the Total Communication Program in the Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville, MD and used that until I graduated from the program.

A: What was your first experience with Cued Speech? 

TM: I was minimally exposed to Cued Speech from school friends using it growing up so I had knowledge of what Cued Speech was but never really thought about it until my first year of college (2005). I grew up with sign language but used/relied my amplification/listening skills more than focusing on signing. I received my first cochlear implant that December of 2005 and I realized that with it, I could understand a lot more and relied on it much more but when in a classroom situation, I became really frustrated because I basically had to focus on 2 languages at once: English and ASL/PSE. I finally realized that I couldn't do it because it was too daunting for me to focus on the teacher speaking and the interpreter interpreting in a different language which actually made no sense to me, especially in a college level class where they used wording that has no sign for it and was basically brought down to a simpler version which made me even more upset because I wanted the exact same experience that my classmates were receiving and I didn't get it. I was debating what to do then a friend of mine who actually used Cued Speech growing up, suggested that I should learn it, and it might help. I went online to and realized that it was perfect for me! So I printed out the Cued Speech chart and started learning/teaching myself how to cue and the rest is history.  

A: When did you start teaching yourself Cued Speech?

TM: At the end of my first year of college, so the summer of 2006, I taught myself the system.

A: When was the first time you requested cued language transliterators? And what was that experience like?

TM: When I came back to school from a short hiatus, (I didn't really use Cued Speech during that hiatus because there was no one to use it with, but I knew and reviewed it before school began again for me) the first thing out of my mouth to the scheduler was, I want CLTs for my classes, not interpreters. She was actually surprised because I had previously used interpreters. I remember my first night class very vividly.. It was actually the best night of my life relating to school. I was actually very nervous.. doubting myself, asking myself before class, "Would I be able to understand them? Would they be able to understand me? Would it be better than what I have been going through?" All of that questions were running through my head until I met the CLTs and class started. It was amazing. I finally could understand everything that was going on in that classroom that night.

A: Do you remember the first time we met? Where was that?

TM: Yes! It was Cues on Tap CLEAR in Bethesda, MD. That was, I believe my first Cues on Tap in MD ever.

A: We also met up again in Chicago for the inaugural AEHI seminar in January of 2012. What was that like attending the conference?

TM: It was... amazing! Seeing so many different people, and it was my first conference where I was invited to be on a panel which was very special to me. And my first relating to deafness overall.

A: What was that experience like being on the panel? I should say that you seemed to be the star of the panel as a non-native cuer sharing your story of why you chose Cued Speech, based on my observations of the audience.

TM: Honestly... it was very nerve wracking because I have stage fright and I don't really like talking in front of audiences but this was really important to me so when I did it, it really overpowered me and just made me really grateful and was so happy to partake in that panel, talking about my experience (which at the time, I didn't really think was a big deal) but after that, I could see that it really touched some people there and I was even more happy that I decided to share my story.

A: What advice would you give to anyone with hearing loss who is interested in learning Cued Speech or the possibility of using cued language transliterators?

TM: My advice would be GO FOR IT! It is so beneficial in many ways and more ways that I would never thought/ dreamed of. I am really grateful for Cued Speech, personally but of course, it depends on the individual and their experience but basically, I would say that anyone who is considering learning it or the usage of cued speech transliterators, should be willing and determined to make the adjustment because it's a big one but the rewards are a blessing.

A: You've provided so much insight into an experience that not many people have gone through. Can you describe a little about what you do or what your plans are for the future?

TM: Right now, I'm working as a IT technician/on call nanny and still going to school (hopefully done soon!) for Special Education, with the goal of being a teacher for deaf children. My goal is to expose deaf children to literacy and I plan to achieve that goal!

If you would like to ask Tiffany any questions, feel free to seek her out in the Cued Speech Facebook Group as she's more than happy to answer any questions about her life experience.