A Chance Encounter

I have always felt that deafness has given me more than it has taken away. I would never have met Cat if it were not for deafness that resulted in our paths crossing. Cat is CEO of NeoHear – a social enterprise serving the d/Deaf and hard of hearing. Little did I know, two years later, this chance encounter would lead to a joint project of developing educational materials (Mime Signs Video Dictionary and Sign Families) to help people who are late-deafened and their family and friends learn sign language. This encounter took place at the Association of Late-Deafened Adults’ annual conference in 2019. Read on as Cat shares her story on how we met and her experiences in learning sign language.

“My Journey with Signing”

“I am late-deafened. I went suddenly deaf in December 2017, and since then, I have worked hard to adapt and to learn about deafness and Deaf culture. Before my deafness, I did not know any deaf people. I had taught myself some sign language one summer many years ago, but I did not remember it. Although I was hoping for hearing assistance with my cochlear implant and I did not know anyone who knew sign language, from the beginning of my deafness, I felt it was important to learn sign language. During the first year of my deafness, I signed up for an intensive online ASL course. It was very difficult and I was unable to complete the entire course despite the many hours that I put into it. During the course, we practiced ASL with different instructors, all of whom are Deaf. This was the most beneficial part of the course and I appreciate the inspiration that many of theses persons gave me during our short sessions.

A year later, I attended my first conference for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. It was ALDA (Association of Late-Deafened Adults). I was surprised to see that most people communicated in sign language. At that point, I thought that their assistive hearing devices would erase the need for this form of communication, which for me at the time was so challenging to learn. How would I ever know enough to engage in a conversation in sign language? Who would I sign with back at home? During karaoke night at the closing of the ALDA conference, I met Lois Maroney, and grabbed her card because I was very interested in learning more about her counseling as I was trained in counseling psychology. We connected and she agreed to teach me Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE). I was hesitant at first, given that my experience with ASL was so frustrating, but I decided to give weekly lessons a try. What I like about Maroney’s approach is that she teaches you the easy signs first, builds your confidence and gives you a huge vocabulary right away. Then she organized the signs conceptually and by movement so that you can learn “families” of signs quickly. At this point, I am focusing on CASE because it allows me to speak to my hearing friends and family and teach them signs at the same time. I am also learning ASL as I do want to be able to communicate better with the person who is Deaf. I am young in my journey of deafness and it is important that I discover the best ways for me to communicate.”

Cat and I, through our own experiences, naturally gravitated to the same spot on the sign language continuum. This does not diminish our tremendous respect for every form of manual communication – from the Rochester Method to American Sign Language. So often in life my path has crossed with people who would have a great influence. I feel blessed to have met Cat and I am reminded again, deafness has given me more than it has taken away. Through this chance encounter, I am reassured – I am not making this journey alone.