ASL in My Life
Brian Fruits

I do not know ASL to the full extent, but I don't think that anyone really knows it completely since there are a wide variety of different signs that can be used. Sometimes for a split second, they used English to clarify what they talk about. I learned to use ASL at Gallaudet University during the second or beginning of the third year here at Gallaudet. My first roommate was an ASL signer who was very inept in the usage of the English language but I could understand him as time went by. I came to Gally during the Fall of '86 and had not gone thru NSP (New Signers Program) beforehand because of one main reason. I did not want to lose my valuable summer time vacation. Later when I did come here for the early football camp, I started to learn sign language. I picked up various signs from the students, teachers, roommates, videotapes, television, friends and my teammates in football and baseball. It has come to me much easier now since I have been hanging around and living with the deaf culture for four and a half years now. I guess I could say that I had no teachers but then again the above mentioned were the who really taught me.

My life before I learned ASL was pretty good before I even found out that there were other deaf people besides me. I learned to lip-read everyone even though I can talk on the telephone. Talking on the telephone was something that was restricted to only four or five people in my family and two or three outsiders. In the classroom, of course, I had to sit up in front in order to gain the maximum benefits of the teacher's lecture. But sometimes sitting in the front did not guarantee for me to understand all that the teacher said. I never did have any interpreters or note takers. I either had to copy from a classmate or talk with the teacher and read the book word for word not to miss anything. But conversations between myself and my friends were pretty easy since they all knew that I had a problem hearing. The whole time I was growing up, I had used a hearing aid and really depended on it for the noise and the sounds around me to help me "blend-in" with the hearing world. When I was a little kid, many of my "friends" did pick on me and try to break my hearing aid and really gave me a hard time about it. But I gained their respect, because I started to get involved with sports and I was already bigger than all of them by the time I was ten.

Sports and my size really gave me the break I needed to be accepted by them and to have a place in the hearing world. Teachers knew my name well since I have an older hearing brother who went through all the same grades before I have and was also involved in the same sports. Probably the most important thing in their minds that helped me was my last name Fruits which is not easy to forget.

To keep up with the dinner conversation required a lot of my energy. I could not be expected to eat and to lipread my family at the same time. If I did that, I would not have had a full stomach by the time I went to bed. Probably I would not have grown much, either. Many times I got into an argument with my family, because I would find out many things like going on a trip, eating out, going to a party, having a baby-sitter coming over the next night, etc. at the last possible minute. I told them that they did not tell me. Their reply would be, "Yes, we did tell you at dinner time." I would be damned if they thought that I could concentrate on family subjects and neglect my food. I had to be able to absorb the information in my eyes, as they do in their ears. I needed the eye contact when I was talking, because I had to look at them when they talked to me and thought it was only fair to get the same respect back. I don't know if they forget that I was deaf or that they just did not understand the reason that I demanded that they look at me during the conversation so that I could feel "equal." Riding in their car on trips to see relatives in another state or perhaps just to the store was another thing that I had to endure since I was in the backseat and had no way of knowing what was being said in the front seat. In other words, I got the backseat information and not the frontseat information. I had to piece the missing information together. If I could not, then I would ask "What are you talking about?" I guess you could say it was like the program on television Unsolved Mysteries until I understood what was going on.

Going to church was not all that great since I could not possibly read the pastor's lips. So I just compensated by reading the Bible under the passages which he was preaching about. My family and friends were great to me, but it is just that they don't realize how much better life can be with communication until they have experienced it. I never knew that there was sign language until I was 18 years old. That just shows you how much I knew about the deaf and the language itself as I was growing up. It was almost as if I did not need it since I was doing pretty well. But then again, you never know what you are missing until you have had the privilege of tasting another world.

Hey, I felt great about learning ASL!! It really helped me to understand many things and to learn new things that the hearing people had been using that I never knew about. I could see other people talking about something. Before, I could hear them but I didn't understand what they were talking about. But with ASL, man o man!! It was worth something to learn from the conversations of others and to know more about the world around me. Not necessarily spying on others, I had a chance to know what others are talking about. I had an equal chance to get involved in the conversation, unlike watching hearing people talk. I have been able to express myself in different ways that I could not in spoken language. Sure, you can make the tone or your voice change, but where are the expressions? Now expressions with the language really make the conversation and the idea you are trying to get across very rich. It was less of a headache for me to try to lipread and having to ask people to repeat what they are saying simply, because I did not get it the first time. Many would not repeat it after I had asked them to. They would say, "Forget it." Didn't learn anything from that, did I?? But with the deaf and ASL, I can almost understand everything being signed and fingerspelled 100% compared to what I would say 65% with the hearing world. Using ASL is a very enjoyable part of my life. Being able to use it is almost like a "high" to me. I feel as if I am free of the barriers and can say and understand anything at anytime. I have seen the usage if ASL be very beautiful and overwhelming.

ASL is a part of my identity, because it is what makes me feel a whole person. I have a certain style of signing and it can't be taken away from me. I can always improve it and can adapt new signs. My name is an identity for me since people sign my name "Fruits" with an F handshape7 on the corner of the mouth. In the hearing world, my identity was probably "the big deaf kid." I just feel like ASL is my "home language." When I see a sign being signed, it either feels or looks right, or it doesn't. I am able to analyze my feelings on whether to accept a sign or not. I could not do that with spoken English since I could not identify a southern accent or a word being pronounced wrong.

I use ASL in my school everyday and use it when conferring with classmates or teachers. It is there for me to help me understand and learn more about things that are supposed to help prepare me for the future. I have only used it for four and a half years but feel it is one of the greatest assets that I have especially using it in the classroom.

As I have said, ASL plays a great role in my life now and will continue to do so for as long as I live. It (ASL) is perceived in a series of steps: First, from the mind to the hands. Second, from the hands to my eyes. Third, from my eyes to my brain. Without the language, I would have no idea what that person is trying to tell me.

ASL is a language, because it exchanges ideas between two or more persons and has concepts in each and every word signed. I am really happy to learn ASL. ASL is the language of languages.

My full name is Brian William Fruits. I am 23 years old, was born on July 5, 1967 in Torrington, Connecticut. I am from Russellville, Kentucky. I went to a hearing school all my life and did attend Eastern Kentucky University for one year before transferring to Gallaudet University. My interests are numerous: collecting comics, reading, horseback riding, Camaros, and old cars, baseball, football, basketball, and building things along with working on car engines.

How ASL Caught My Attention
Randi Hegland

To be honest with you, I wasn't aware of ASL and its true meaning as a language. I had no idea what ASL was, even though I had thought it was simply a sign language, a "plain sign language." However, I thought that it belonged to the people who could not communicate with hearing people. Apparently, I thought those signs were mostly like "flying pictures in the air."

I had no knowledge of how to use the sign language or how to communicate in sign language until I was 22. One pastor assured me that if I wished to make friends with deaf people who could not lipread as well, the only solution to ease the tension between me and them would be for me to learn sign so I would be able to communicate with them.

I disliked going to classes, just to learn sign. I hate the thought of sitting in the classroom, learning from a hearing expert. However, I became involved in the deaf community and its organizations/clubs! leagues, such as bowling, ski club, golf league, Miss Deaf Minnesota Pageant committee, racquetball, and so on. I learned a lot from the variety of deaf groups, as if they were foreigners. I fortunately had a lot of friends, who patiently helped me struggle to survive from my frustrations and also taught me to understand their deaf culture.

It was as if someone had come from their homeland into a new unknown land (country) and spoke with their foreign accent. That was when I realized I was learning by listening with my eyes, not my ears. As I listened to those who signed, it was instinctive to know the language well.

After I knew the sign language for a long time, I was told that ASL was a language in 1985. But it did not "grab my mind in the very first moment." The more education I got about what ASL meant, the more curious I became, wishing to know more about ASL, and the more I had realized was how comfortable my eyes became not having to concentrate on lipreading or listening to those who signed straight English and how beautiful ASL was.

Yet, I still use "PSE." Since I grew up orally and "written straight English," I have not gotten onto the habit if signing ASL fully. Fortunately, depending on whether I am conversing with an individual or a group who signs in ASL, I intend to sign in their language without thinking. I sure pray one day that I will be an ASL expert. I often wonder if I should attend ASL classes where the interpreters have been taught and became experts. Who knows? I actually am grateful that I am able to use this language, know its concepts and have a great understanding of what ASL is and how important it is to deaf culture. However, I won't die from learning how to use ASL, since it has become a part of my life.

During the junior high and high school, my life was not as bad as I thought. I really realized how I went through without the aids of interpreters. The teachers would sometimes forget that I was in their classrooms. It was difficult for me, indeed. Fortunately, I could read lips very well and speak pretty good. Of course, I felt left out often and felt so frustrated whenever the students laughed at the teacher's remarks. I was always curious to know what was going on in the classrooms. I often wonder if I would have gotten on the Honor Roll if I had had an interpreter or a teacher (s) who could sign. (I was a "B" student.)

Now, I have the chance to achieve my goal, as I finally am a full-time student of Gallaudet University. The main reason I came here is to get an education and to be able to understand Deaf culture fully and clearly. I also want to learn to communicate in ASL. Most importantly, I want to find my true identity and know who I actually am. I hope to know where I truly belong.

I am a mother of two children a 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son and a divorcee. I am from Minnesota. My interests are playing racquetball/golf, reading great novels, traveling, being involved in tournaments, listening/helping people, needlepoint, and sewing.

I first attended an oral, special class for the hearing impaired, even the school system did not allow sign language in the classroom. I then attended junior high and senior high in Duluth, Minnesota. I went to St, Paul TVI for five months in 1970-71. Went the University of Minnesota (1986-88) to attend a few classes with the aids of interpreters. (Watching interpreters tired my eyes out before the end of the day.)

For your information, I am glad to use ASL all the time and that ASL is my first language. I am a senior graduating next month with a degree in Communication Arts. I am 22 years old and I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I used to go to Minnesota School for the Deaf and MSSD.

Amy Hile

I learned to use ASL when I was around eight to nine months old. My parents are deaf and they are fluent in ASL. Both of them were educated at Minnesota School for the Deaf where they learned how to use ASL. My deafness is hereditary. How did I learn to use ASL? I talked with my mom about it and she told me that they always use ASL when they were talking to me. It didn't matter to them that I didn't understand what they were saying. What mattered was me being exposed to ASL; I used my eyes a lot. All of my life at home I used ASL all the time except for schools I attended like the mainstreaming program at a public school and school for the deaf. At public school, I had a teaching team, two teachers were hearing and one of the two could sign. The teacher signed in English order, which is known as SEE. I know that the teacher tried to encourage my parents to use SEE at home, because I would improve my knowledge of using English. At this time, ASL was not considered to be a language. Deaf adults didn't consider it a language, either. It was so confusing for me as I have two languages, of which one was not considered to be a language, ASL. I remembered I had problems with grammar at school and the communication at home was not in English order. I really hated Language and Reading classes, because they were so confusing. I went to school for the deaf when I entered fifth grade. Social life was better than at home, because not many hearing girls at my age lived nearby. My parents' deaf friends who had hearing children stopped playing with me and my brother as we grew up. In classrooms, I remembered using ASL and the teachers used SEE. The school's philosophy at this time was total communication. The recognition of ASL as a language began to appear at this time. All of my life, I knew I was deaf. For my language, I finally realized that ASL is my first and true language a few years ago. I think, with deaf children now, we need to use a bilingual approach in teaching them ASL and English at the same time. I think that when a person is deaf and knows that his/her language is ASL, it would help that person to establish an identity for himself/herself as a whole deaf person.

The Role of American Sign Language in My Life
Paul Kulick

Actually, I wasn't aware of American Sign Language when I was younger kid. I did not realize its true meaning as a language. I had no idea what ASL was, and I had thought it was a plain sign language. When I was taking the ASL Structure class under Clayton Valli, who taught us last fall, we didn't realize that we were overlooking the fact that ASL is a language.

First of all, I grew up in a hearing family. I was born deaf by German measles. When my mother found out that I am deaf, she was really upset, and she didn't know what to do with me.

When I was two years old, I was enrolled in an oral school in my hometown where they had four deaf children. By this time, my parents were divorced. We moved out and lived with Grandma and Grandpa. I only remember that I was wearing a big hearing aid on my chest. I'd never really liked wearing it. Really, I don't recall that much about that school.

When I was about 5 years old, I went to Mason school in Akron, Ohio. It was an oral school. They didn't allow us to learn how to sign. The emphasis was mostly on speaking. I'll never forget how frustrated I was. I am telling you the truth, how I was getting in big trouble because of my frustration in this school, and my mother was tired of picking me up at the principal's office. My mother gave up and decided to let my grandma take care of me. My grandma was really excited to take care of me but she didn't realize how hard-headed I was. For example, when I woke up, I knew I had to go to school therefore I would run to the kitchen and pick up her car keys and I hide them so she couldn't find them so we could stay home all day. Also, if I couldn't find them I would get all of the dishes out of the closet and throw them on the floor. She really hated me for that. I was really frustrated a lot.

However, I knew only a few words and I wasn't capable of understanding my teacher. I only remember my best friend, Bobby, who was my classmate. We were together in the same room. We always looked for trouble so they would send us home. We felt good that they decided to send us home. We would have liked to stay there more. My mother decided to see a counselor and discussed my situation, to try to find out what would be best for me. Her counselor suggested that we visit the deaf institution in Morgantown, North Carolina. My mother found out that the North Carolina School for the Deaf was one of the best schools in the nation in 1975.

In 1975, we visited that school during the summer. We decided to move out to North Carolina for my sake. She knew that I would be happy at this school. My mother made a good money at the B.F. Goodrich Company but she had to quit her job for me. She also gave up her entire life. We moved out and settled in Concord, N.C. which is about fifteen minutes away from Charlotte. I should thank her for that. When school started, I already loved it, but I'll never forget how disappointed I was because I would not see my mother for five days. I lived in the dormitory. I always cried when I was in bed. They gave us a lift home each Friday. That felt terrible. I always cried when I had to go back to school each Sunday. I missed her so much when I had to go back to school each Sunday. I always wanted to be with her. Everything was hard for me at the beginning, until I was on the football team, and then everything changed. I made a lot of new friends. But one big problem was that I never learned how to communicate, because I had no idea how to sign. Kenneth Simmon was my football coach. He talked with me and asked me what I would like to play. I told him that I had never played football before. I didn't know how to play. I started playing as quarterback and just ran the sweep all the time. I didn't expect that I would lead them to the championship game. Also, we won the championship game and were chosen to be the most valuable player on this team. They also chose me to be in the Star Bowl with hearing players. Many of them were going to watch our Star Bowl game. After we won the game, many kids were running and following me everywhere I went. But I was disappointed, because I could not talk with everyone, because I didn't know anything about sign language. They were trying to talk with me and I did try my best, but I couldn't respond. At that time, I had only one friend that I could talk to, Billy, because he could speak. We became good friends. That was until I met Scott Bradley and Robert Ritch, both members of the champion team who were willing to teach me how to sign. I should have thanked them for that. However, I had a hard time understanding what the teacher was talking about. They put me in a lower class. They decided to put my academic program on hold and they started teaching me how to sign first. Then, one of my teachers invented a prize to motivate me to learn how to sign. For example, if I wanted to get a model car kit which was worth 100 points, then I had to work hard to get 100 points by getting right answers through using sign language. I think it helped me to develop my sign language. Robert Ritch and Scott Bradley had a lot of patience with me when we got out of school at the end of the day. It worked well. I also developed my ability to understand what they were talking about. It showed them that I had improved my receptive skills. A few months later, when I went back to the academic program, I was put in the higher class. I started learning a lot. I understood what the teacher talked about. Our football team was glad to see that I could sign. It wasn't that good but I could sign. I was not yet fluent in ASL at that time.

When I went to junior high school, I was in the top of the class, and most of them had deaf parents. They were fluent in ASL. I had a hard time understanding, because they were signing fast. I couldn't read them. I kept trying to improve. I wouldn't give up. We had been together since seventh grade to twelfth grade and we'd never forget the good times we had. I think it is the best class I ever had. I am telling you the truth. Scott and I were shortest guys in the school. We were so shy when we danced with girls. They loved to tease us. When I graduated from the eighth grade, I was about four feet eleven inches tall. You can imagine how short I was!

In high school at North Carolina School for the Deaf, I became fluent in ASL, because most of the students had deaf parents. We had many good times during the four years in high school. I began to participate in many activities like Jr. NAD, Boy Scouts, Student Body Government, and Varsity sports. I was the leader of the football and basketball team. There are many good things that happened during that time. We'll never forget that we won three straight High-Q competitions. I miss those times so much.

Before I came here to Gallaudet University, I didn't realize that sign language was so structured with so many facial expressions. I just modified my facial expression and signs. I really love Gallaudet for that. Today, I still use ASL and I am really very proud of it, because I grew up knowing that I am deaf. I am glad that my mother sent me to the right school instead of staying at the oral school; otherwise, I might not have made it to Gallaudet University. I have noticed that many who are from deaf institutions tend to make new friends easily. Many people thought I am from deaf parents but I am not. Many of them were shocked and couldn't believe it.

I feel good for who I am, because I have an identity. I should thank my mother for everything she has done for me. My mother gave up her entire life to try and find a good school for me. Now look at me, I think I am successful right now. I will probably get a job at the North Carolina School for the Deaf after I graduate here in May. I will also go to graduate school at Western Maryland College, to study Deaf Education. I should thank my mother for that. I will always remember her. I think she is the greatest mother! Thank God for having a wonderful mother.

Tina Neumann

I began to learn ASL when I was six years old. I was placed in a self- contained classroom with about seven other students, all deaf or hard of hearing. There was a girl in class who had a brother, sister and mother who were deaf. Even though the school program was set in a public school and was based on oralism, I still learned ASL from the other students in my class, and the older deaf students in the school. I just picked it up from them fairly easily.

It's hard to remember much about my life before ASL. I was born hard of hearing, and didn't become deaf till I was six. I remember not being able to understand what people said and not being able to be understood by them. There was always a lot of frustration. After I learned ASL, in some ways communication opened up. I still had trouble communicating with my family; for years they resisted learning ASL, and at that time signing was a "big evil." So at home, communication was still lousy. I remember that shortly after I began school, I came home and tried to sign with my mother. I got punished for that, and I was told to never use it again. I didn't listen, of course. I was just careful about who I used it with.

In spite of what I went through with my family and school, I still held onto ASL. For us kids, it was our way to communicate, and the adults didn't have that. They couldn't take it from us, no matter how much they tried to punish us for signing in class, on the playground, on the bus. At home, I just didn't sign. I was not allowed.

ASL is an important part of my identity as a deaf woman. I have good speech skills; but that in itself does not mean I am hearing or can understand what others are saying. But I also have good ASL skills; I can express myself and understand others who use ASL. I feel I am a complete deaf person, not a deaf person trying to be hearing. That frustration with hearing has always followed me. By using ASL, and being in the deaf community, I have a place and an identity and self- fulfillment. By speaking and interacting with hearing, I have no place among them, no identity except that of a handicapped person, and always, there is frustration.

I already mentioned that the program I began school with was oral. We had to wear phonic ears, or use our hearing aids at all times. A good part of the day was devoted in some way to speech or auditory training. The teachers never signed. If we didn't understand something the teacher said, and asked for a repeat, the teacher would get impatient with us. Often we got punished for being "lazy" and "not trying hard enough." Oh, we tried. We tried so hard. You just get tired of trying to do the impossible. They didn't understand that.

I was mainstreamed completely in high school. That meant I was the only deaf student in my high school, and had no interpreter. It was hell. I'm surprised I managed to succeed in a system that was designed for me to fail. I studied ten times harder than the other students, and was often frustrated by getting B's or C's. I guess I began to feel that somehow I was less bright than the others, and my confidence took a nose-dive. After high school, I attended Ohio State University for two years. For part of the time, I had no interpreter till my last two quarters there. But once I did have interpreting, I began to regain my confidence and realize that I am as intelligent as the other students. I also began to put a lot of things into perspective and realized that I had no place at OSU. So I applied to Gallaudet and entered in the Fall of 1988.

The rest is history. At Gallaudet, I realize more and more how important ASL is in my life. It's a part of me, I know I will no longer live without it. All my good friends know ASL. I go to a deaf university. Yes, my family still doesn't know how to sign, but that is their loss, not mine. I spent so much of my life trying to please them, but I can't. I can only live a life to please myself.

I am twenty-three years old, and I hail from Crestline, Ohio. Before Gallaudet, I attended Ohio State University branch in Mansfield, Ohio; before that I went to Crestline High School/Pioneer Joint Vocational School. I'm interested in bilingual/bicultural education of the deaf and also in mental health counseling. In graduate school next fall, I hope to pursue one of these two interests.