ACROSSToday in explaining the value of learning American Sign Language to hearing family members of deaf individuals, I used this imagery to give them a sense of what it means, to a deaf family member, when they make the effort:

Imagine you see your family, not too far away from where you stand. There they are: the ones you have known and loved your entire life. Parents, siblings, a favorite uncle, even your children. You walk toward them, wanting to join your family and spend time together. Then, suddenly you halt, for you have reached the edge of a chasm. A deep, wide gulf that separates you from your family, one that you cannot jump across. This chasm is your communication, or lack thereof. You see your family and you reach out, but you cannot understand them. The gulf is too wide. The chasm is too deep. You cannot see the bottom, nor a way around. You see your family that loves you, talking to each other, but you feel left behind.

You try to build a bridge across and it feels shaky. You struggle. The bridge collapses again and again, and you find yourself constantly lunging for the solid ground, pulling yourself back up, and never on the side with your family.

Now imagine this: Your family is creating a rope of words. It’s thin, for the vocabulary is not a large one. Just one sign and then another, until they have just a good enough vocabulary to create this lifeline. They fashion the rope with their words. They twist it around and around. They sign small phrases and the occasional word, crafting this rope with care. They make a loop at one end, and when they’ve learned enough that the rope can bridge the distance, they twirl it in the air and throw it across. The rope is flying your way, soaring high and fast, and it lands at your feet. You pick it up quickly, and you fasten it to a tree. There. You have it. A tightrope crossing that chasm. It’s only a tightrope for now. Thin, frail, fraught with danger that it may break for neglect, but it is something. You can get across, and so can they.

Perhaps in time, the tightrope will have a twin, alongside. Then one day, planks. The bridge will get built, one piece at a time.

To my deaf peers: will you ask your family to create this tightrope?

To our hearing treasured ones: Are you willing to begin?


This post was first featured on another site of mine, years ago.