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Deaf Day silences Valencia students

High school class pretends not to hear and talks only in sign language.

Posted: April 2, 2008 2:47 a.m.
Updated: June 3, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Valencia High School students in American Sign Language classes recently pretended to be deaf for a day and spoke only in sign language.

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Deaf Day was an incredibly interesting experience for American Sign Language students at Valencia High School when, for one day, they all pretended to be hearing impaired.

Students wore signs that said "deaf" on them, wore earplugs, and didn't talk for one whole day except in sign language.

Deaf Day officially started the moment students woke up in the morning on March 20. Valencia sign language teacher Phyllis Madden suggested that the students live this day just as if we were truly deaf --
starting with waking up.

Students had learned that the deaf don't use conventional alarm clocks, so they improvised by putting cell phones on vibrate, placing them under pillows and setting an alarm for the morning. In sign class the students played typical deaf games that required signing or body language and gestures only.

Some of the participating students thought that Deaf Day was only for the eight-hour period that was spent at school when, in fact, it was for the entire 24-hour day -- from the moment they woke up until the minute their heads hit the pillow.

For the entire day, the students were not to talk, listen to music, watch movies with sound, or talk on the phone. If they needed to communicate with a "hearing" person, they had to write it down if the person did not know sign language.

If a student wanted to watch a movie, closed captioning was used. Communicating with friends was easier because of text messaging. Deaf students of long ago would not have had this, but texting has actually become an efficient way for deaf people to communicate with hearing people.

Students were graded at home by their parents and by their teachers during the day to see if they really did follow the rules of Deaf Day. Grades were lowered if students were caught talking during the day with any method other than sign language or writing.

Valencia teachers knew that some students would be "deaf" for the day, and that their class participation might be different than normal. Friends also knew that they should not urge these students to talk out loud, but that did not stop some students from having some fun.

"Hearing" students often poked fun at the deaf" students, trying to get them to talk, to listen to this "great new song that they found," calling them at home, or just trying to get them in trouble. That added to the realization for the sign language students that people who are really deaf deal with these attitudes every day, although not in the exact same way.

For instance, when deaf people order food or buy things, people often make fun of them just because they can't hear. Some students spoke to the "deaf" students as if they were stupid and couldn't understand them. It would have been great to be able to scream: "We're not stupid; we just can't hear you!"

A group of juniors and seniors got together for lunch at The Habit restaurant on Deaf Day and it was fun to be in a group that could communicate totally in sign language. It was interesting to see the curious on-lookers while we ordered our food. Luckily there was a former sign student working at The Habit who was able to translate our orders so we didn't have to write them out.

This program was amazing for all the students, and I encourage all sign language students to participate in Deaf Day in the future. It really will make a difference, not only in your grade, but in your understanding of the deaf culture.

Even though it was hard to go a whole day being in a "deaf" world, it gave us new understanding of the obstacles the deaf face every day.

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