Speaking Without Vocalizing...Where to go?
Ordinarily, I would've felt pretty lame about it, but then I also noticed another person angling back and forth between the signs/words printed on doors 1 and 2, with a look of confusion similar to my own. I turned to ask him where if he was on the same flight as me. When he didn't vocalize in reply, but instead used a variety of Sign Language, and gestured to show me a message he'd typed in English into the Notes feature on his iPhone, I realized that not only was he from my same flight, but that he was also Deaf.
It also dawned on me that this same guy had earlier just been at the Passport Control desk adjacent to me in line, when we had thanked the UK Border Force officer with by gesturing his hand away from in mouth in a sign I recognized as "thank you." Now that we both stood in the airport between doors 1 and 2, the task became about how we would both get to our next flight, as both of us were heading stateside. My new friend tapped his wrist, as if pointing to the time, and indicated that we had only a short while before our next flight. Uh oh. With only limited time, how would we communicate to solve our problem?
Suddenly, with two uniformed people coming our way, I flagged them down. They looked like they knew where to go, and after I explained we wanted to get to our transfer flight, they said we could follow them out door 2. We would have to leave the secured area, check-in again, and go back through security. It would be a pain, but that was the only way to go.
Lost Boarding Pass!
Fortunately, she got the point quickly, and directed us to down a desk on the far end of the check-in hall. "Desk Two," she said, and knowing that my friend couldn't hear her, I responded by repeating "Desk Two?" while gesturing the number 2 with two of my fingers. With me leading the way through he crowd, we made it to desk two with only 5 minutes to go before the check-in time was closed!
Armed with his new boarding pass, my new friend thanked me profusely in Sign Language, to which I could only reply with a smile and limited gestures of my own. I was really glad to help, and the whole experience grew my admiration for his braveness to travel and troubleshoot surrounded by hearing people. I also took notice of how hard it was for me not to vocalize as I spoke with him. This helped me see just how much I take I implicitly define speaking in person as a vocal act, when in reality it is much more widely defined across communities. And as with speaking vocally, users of Sign Language can speak with all sorts of signed accents as well, that marked their regional, urban, and other social speech communities.
We Made It!
Walking through the Duty Free area on our way to the security line, I gestured to the monumental array of perfumes and alcoholic beverages, trying to make a joke, saying, "You're sure you're not interested in any of this?" That gave us a bit of a laugh.
Even with my use of expressive gestures, I knew that I had little to no knowledge of the appropriate vocabulary or meaningful grammar needed to piece together an actual sentence in a linguistic system like American Sign Language (ASL). And importantly, I'd been reading recently with my students about the covert and explicit impacts of audism, the type of discrimination that hearing people and a hearing majority society can extend towards d/Deaf persons.
- For example, in the ways that we can limit the social visibility of Sign Languages,
- or make unfounded assumptions about a person's worth and intelligence because of their use (or not) of vocalization in language.
- Sometimes our organizations also ignore a need for properly trained interpreters, as with the unfortunate, recent case of the ad-hoc interpreter broadcasting to aid with Hurricane Irma evacuations in Houston, Texas.
Finally making it to the security line, my friend thanked me profusely in Sign. As a way of showing my mutual appreciation, I held up my boarding pass and pointed to my name on the card, while looking my friend in the eye. "My name is Jamie," I said, wanting him to know that I saw him as a person. "What's your name?" He reciprocated by pointing to his name on his newly printed boarding pass.
The whole experience taught me that there's so much more to learn about communication in this world, and don't be surprised if I register for a course in American Sign Language in the spring, to try to expand my capacity for communicating with d/Deaf persons! All thanks to my confusion in the Manchester Airport.
And I was especially thankful that the experience came on the heels of my weekend meetup with my language-minded friends in Amsterdam--Dutch Sign Language researcher, Beppie van den Bogaerde, as well as cultural anthropologist and pop culture blogger Charissa Dechène, and our discussions of the wonderful strides that are being made to curb audism and racism in Holland. Bottom line, there's more we can each do to help our fellow humans!