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.


Mary-Beth said...

You rock, Tiffany! Thanks so much for sharing your story. It's definitely very inspiring!

Kent Trader said...

I am glad to hear that I am not the only one who suffers with the cognitive processing when watching and listening with the ASL/PSE interpreters in the classroom. I can relate about that they don't have appropriate signs for the words spoken by teachers or students, and it gets so frustrating for me that I hear or see a few words being spoken to me and the interpreters are signing something different. It is not easy for me as a student to "interpret" between two languages while listening and processing the information.