Storytelling and Sign Language

Christina's Capstone Project

Category: Research Process (page 1 of 2)

deaf versus Deaf: Defining a Community

In my research and writing, I use different variations of d/Deaf to describe the people and communities I discuss. The capitalization of one letter makes a huge difference in meaning. This difference is best described by Carol Padden and Tom Humpries, who said:

“We use the lowercase deaf when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing, and the uppercase Deaf when referring to a particular group of deaf people who share a language – American Sign Language (ASL) – and a culture.  The members of this group have inherited their sign language, use it as a primary means of communication among themselves, and hold a set of beliefs about themselves and their connection to the larger society.  We distinguish them from, for example, those who find themselves losing their hearing because of illness, trauma or age; although these people share the condition of not hearing, they do not have access to the knowledge, beliefs, and practices that make up the culture of Deaf people.”

Simply put,

deaf=the physical, audiological impairment of hearing

Deaf=a culture defined by their use of American Sign Language (ASL)

There are further definitions and terminology used that you can read about on the following page–http://nad.org/issues/american-sign-language/community-and-culture-faq

Storyboarding Adventures!

So I looked into several Storyboarding apps, but ultimately decided to create my own storyboard using index cards. It seemed to work best for my needs. I wanted to be able to include notes and text about each of the scenes. So below are the images from my storyboarding adventure in Brooklyn:

Act1ImageAct1wordsAct2ImageAct2WordsAct3ImageAct3Words

Research Journal: Living Newspaper Plays

Living Newspaper plays presented factual information to their audiences using found text from newspapers, magazines, interviews, etc. As the director of the Federal Theatre Project, Hallie Flanagan began the encouraging the creation of Living Newspaper plays.

Links to some of the Living Newspaper Scripts can be found here: http://www.aladin0.wrlc.org/gsdl/cgi-bin/library?c=ftpp&a=d&cl=CL8.2

One of my favorites is “One Third of Nation” (http://dspace.wrlc.org/doc/bitstream/2041/60696/OneThirdNationdisplay.pdf).The title actually comes from Roosevelt’s Second Inaugural Address during which he says “I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” This play addresses the issues of overcrowded tenements and dangerous living conditions in New York in the late 1930s. Before the dialogue of the script appears, there are over 8 pages of bibliographic information citing newspapers, surveys, speeches, government documents.

The Living Newspaper and the Federal Theatre Project had a brief run in U.S., lasting only three years. The WPA suspended the project (because of suspicion from the House on UnAmerican Activity) days before the play “The Cradle Will Rock” was set to open. In order to avoid repercussions and restrictions from the government, composer Marc Blitzstein played his piano onstage while actors sang from their seats in the audience. The script for this play can be found here (https://cradlewillrock.wordpress.com/screenplay-original-blitztein-1936-version/)

Research Journal: Themes and Structure

There are several themes and ideas I hope to address in my play. Depending on the type of information used, these themes may overlap and/or blend together. Some the central ideas include:

  • Education of the Deaf: how do students, teachers, parents, and administrators perceive it? Does it need to be improved or reformed? How and why?
  • Self-Identity vs. Societal Perception in the Deaf Community: What influence does society have on the formation of self-identity in the Deaf Community?
  • Differences between the Deaf and Hearing “worlds”: What cultural differences exist? Are they really so different after all?
  • Motivation: What motivates hearing people to engage with the Deaf community and vice versa?

 

To help keep these themes at the forefront of the writing, I’m going to continue to reflect on the notions of “stories” and “identity,” as well as the interplay between these two things (Thanks, Eakin!). So to that, I hope my final piece answers the following questions:

  • What are stories? Who tells them? Why do they tell them? Does the way/manner (spoken, sung, danced, signed, written, painted, etc.) in which people tell these stories matter and how?
  • Does one’s concept of identity influence the stories they tell? Or does society’s concept of another’s identity influence the stories that one chooses to tell?

 

Structure

Ultimately, the final structure will depend on the information gathered from interviewees and other sources. Hopefully, it will follow the structure below:

structure

Here we have the typical dramatic structure of a play complete with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. This will work best if the play follows one (perhaps, two) main character and creates an action depicting his journey. This could ultimately work with a Deaf adult character as the “lead” taking the audience through his/her journey in the education system and include scenes of identity conflict and resolution. This “lead” character would recall his/her story told with the various perspectives of his family, friends, audiologists, therapists, community, Deaf community, etc. So far, using this structure would lead to the following scene break down:

  • The audience is introduced to the main character as he/she recalls their story beginning with diagnosis. This section would include information from the young child’s perspective, parents’ response to diagnosis, reactions of family and friends. Additionally, it would include statistical information about Deafness and its culture.
  • Conflict: here the parents and child are faced with a choice—what educational route to the take for their child. ASL? Total communication? Oral only communication? This section will include different viewpoints of how to raise a child with a “disability” (is it considered disabling or different?). Are there more limits or restrictions placed on this child?
  • The education system: In this section, the main character will show the audience his/her journey through the education system. Dialogue and information will include teachers, administrators, parents, peers, and therapists from both the Deaf and hearing community. It will conclude with his/her graduation and pursuance of a career.
  • Self-realization: Here, the main character will begin to fully express his/her self-identity. At this point, the story will continue with more dialogue and monologues from the “lead,” showing his capturing and exposition of his own story.

 

Interview Questions

Questions about Deaf culture

  • Name, Age, Location, Education/Career
  • Do you use American Sign Language (ASL)? Would you consider yourself fluent? Is it your primary mode of communication? How many years have you been signing?
  • What is your involvement in the Deaf Community, if any?
  • How long have you been involved in the Deaf Community? And in what capacities?
  • How connected do you feel to the Deaf Community? Describe this connection and how it has changed/evolved.
  • Do you consider yourself part of the “hearing world” or “deaf world”? Both or neither? Why?

Questions about personhood (story)

  • Describe a typical day/week in your life.
  • What are your favorite hobbies? Activities? Sports?
  • Who is your role model and why?
  • What are 3 words friends would use to describe you? What are 3 words your family would use to describe you? What are 3 words you would use to describe yourself?
  • What something people underestimate about you? Why do you think that is the case?
  • If you were to write an autobiography, what would you title it? Why?

 

Note: Questions that include identifying information will be changed to protect identity. Depending on the interviews involvement in the Deaf community, the second set of questions may be altered to reflect their opinions of the Deaf community. For example, “what something people underestimate about you?” may be rephrased to a Deaf education teacher to say “What something people underestimate about your students? Do you think it is true? How to you and your students respond to that judgment?”

Research Journal: Estimates of ASL Users

Finding accurate data on the number of American Sign Language (ASL) users in the United States has proven to be a difficult challenge. In my research, I stumbled upon a great paper that analyzes the different sources of estimates. Written by Ross Mitchell at Gallaudet University, the article “Why Estimates Need Updating?” also proposes solutions to improve the system of recording and recognizing ASL users in the United States. The current estimates on ASL users range from 100,000 to 15,000,000—that’s quite a difference. This article clearly lays out the various sources and their estimates in this chart:

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.04.40 AM

Firstly, some of these higher estimates are based on the number of deaf people living in the United States. This is likely because deafness is being conflated with ASL usage. Many people suffer from age-related hearing loss but that does not necessitated ASL usage. Additionally, associating deafness and ASL usage does not account for other users, such as Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs), interpreters, audiologists, and speech therapists. In order to accurately determine the number of ASL users, these factors need to be considered. Some of the estimates were taken based on need for a courtroom interpreter, only accounting for users who could not communicate in English neglecting bilingual users. When these estimates were compared to the language rankings in the United States, ASL was placed high on the list. However, based on research and estimates by Mitchell, “ASL-only users would have easily outnumbered many other non-English-language-only groups.” Meaning that the number of people only using ASL is likely great than those exclusively using another non-English language.

Another key reason for these inaccurate estimates is because the U.S. Census Bureau does not consider ASL as a non-English language. When collecting data on demographics, the Census poses the question: “are there non-English language SPOKEN at home?” Well, ASL is not a spoken language; it’s a manual, visual, gestural language. If an ASL user answers this questions with American Sign Language, the Census Bureau codes it as spoken English, despite the fact that ASL is not spoken. One simple suggestion made by Mitchell is for the Bureau to word the question as: “are any non-English languages USED in the home?” This would allow for ASL to be recognized as a language and to be coded separately from spoken English. Other suggestions include incorporating questions about ASL usage into the annual National Health Interview Survey or create an independent study to address the question. Considering these recommendations an effort should be made to collect accurate data on ASL users.

 

Mitchell, Ross E., Travas A. Young, Bellamie Bachleda, and Michael A. Karchmer.        “How Many People Use ASL in the United States? Why Estimates Need        Updating.” Sign Language Studies 6.3 (2005): 306-35. Print.

Research Journal: Non-Manual Signs

nonmanual sign

 

I thought this chart gave a nice overview of non-manual signs and how they are used in ASL. This gestures can convey important information about grammar and emotion that add to the content of a message.

Research Journal: Signing Isn’t Just About the Sign

Sign language is often spoken of as a “manual” language, meaning that the signers’ hands produce the language. But in fact there is a much more to the language then simply hand motion. Facial expressions, head and body movements, and posture all factor into the meaning of the signs. One study suggests that ASL should more appropriately be described as a “visual-gestural language—where gesture is a generic term referring to body movement.”

Facial expression and body movement help form the sign. They add intensity. They provide grammatical and prosodic information. They also act as adverbs or adjectives. A particular combination of movements determine whether a sentence is a question, an assertion, or a command. It can also indicate negation or structural information about the sentence.

The Facial Action Coding System (FACS) has been used to identify the universal movements of when people experience one of the six basic emotions (happiness, fear, sadness, disgust, anger, surprise). But now it’s been used to code expressions in ASL. The results below show what behaviors occur with various types of questions when signed in ASL. These behaviors indicate eyebrow raise, eyelid movements, and altered eyebrow shape. Slight changes in facial position determine what type of question is being posed.
Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 11.23.46 AM

 

Baker-Shenk, Charlotte. “The Facial Behavior of Deaf Signers: Evidence of a Complex Language.” American Annals of the Deaf 130.4 (1985): 297-304. Project MUSE. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.

Research Journal: Cochlear Implants

As I watched the documentary, Sound and Fury, I began having more and more questions about the Deaf community and cochlear implants. Cochlear implants have been a contested issue in the Deaf world since they were introduced about 30 years ago. Members of the Deaf community see cochlear implants as an affront to their culture and community. As ASL users, they do not rely on speech or sound to communicate and they do not view deafness as something to be “cured.” For pre-lingually deaf (deafness before language learning occurs) children, the implant is most effective before age one or as young as six months. In this case, children are not deciding to get implanted but rather a parent is making that choices. Because they cannot decide for themselves, Deaf community fears that the CI affirms deafness as a disability rather than allowing deaf children to learn sign and develop a sense of Deaf culture and pride.

Since the CI was first invented, technology has improved vastly. The number electrodes used has increased allowing for better and more diverse reception of speech and sound. Cochlear implants have gotten smaller and easier to use. The CI works by bypassing the hair cells of the inner ear and directly stimulates the cochlea nerve with electric pulses. A microphone outside of the skull receives sound input and the processor must determine the frequency of the sound and how it is to be interpreted.

images

 

When I studied this in several of my speech and audiology classes, we were told that speech through a cochlear implant does not sound like the speech a hearing person listens to. Some people describe it as robotic or electronic, but what does it really sound like? Thanks, YouTube for answering that question!

This video plays the speech stimulus given and how it is heard by a deaf individual through a cochlear implant.

Research Journal: Sound and Fury

This documentary from 2000 follows the extended Artinian Family of three generations. Below is a family tree to outline who is who:

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 8.43.00 PM

 

Over the course of a year and half, the film documents the poignant struggle and clash between family members of the Deaf and Hearing worlds. At six years old, Heather, the oldest child of Peter, decided that she wanted a cochlear implant (CI). This device can be used with profoundly deaf clients experiencing a sensorineural hearing loss. It bypasses the damaged cochlea and use electronic stimulation to receive and process sound. Heather’s parents disapproved of the CI because they feared it would take her away from the Deaf world and their culture. Her father believes that as a deaf person his natural language is signing and his daughter belongs with the family in the Deaf world. While Peter Artinian and Nita, his wife, mull over Heather’s suggestion of a CI, Chris and Mari Artinian give birth to twin boys, one of whom is deaf.

Although Chris and Mari are both fluent in ASL and are closely connected the Deaf community, they decide that Peter (their deaf son) should receive a cochlear implant. Mari’s deaf parents are opposed, but Chris’ hearing parents are supportive. Mari and Chris agree that giving Peter the cochlear implant will afford him more and better opportunities in the future. At the conclusion of the 2000 documentary, Peter receives a CI and begins speech therapy. Peter and Nita Artinian decide against Heather’s implant and move their family to Maryland, where there is a large Deaf population.

In 2006, there was a follow-up to the film. At this point, Heather was 12 years old and her parents had opted for the CI for her and her brothers. Recently, Heather gave a TEDTalk at Georgetown University, where she is studying government and politics. Her talk focuses on “building a bridge” between worlds. In her case, she bridged the gap between the hearing world and the Deaf community as she knows it. She urges everyone “to reach out, allow other people in, try to understand different experiences, allow others to understand yours. No matter what your experiences are, positive or negative, you will make an impact.”

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