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Running head: Interview With a Deaf Community Member

An Interview With Felicia DAmato


Nathan Chiu
University of British Columbia

Interview With a Deaf Community Member

For this interview, I had the privilege to speak with Felicia DAmato
whose unique experiences provided me with an interesting learning
experience into Deaf culture. Felicia was born hearing to a mother of
Brazilian descent, and a father of Italian descent. She was exposed to
Portuguese as her first language as that was her mothers native tonuge. At
the age of two, Felicia began to lose her hearing. She was diagnosed with a
severe to profound hearing loss. Audiologists were unsure of what caused
Felicias hearing loss, suggesting it could have been due to a high fever.
Felicia also suffered from many ear infections when she was young so that
could have also played a factor in her hearing loss. There was no other
hearing loss in her family history, besides a distant relative in Italy. Felicia
said that though they are unsure whether genetics played a role, she may
find out once she has children of her own.
After Felicias hearing diagnosis, she was fitted for hearing aids at 3
years old. Her parents did not learn to sign and decided to raise her as an
oral communicator. Her parents arranged for her to work with a speech
therapist. Growing up with non-signing parents, ASL was not a big part of her
life. Portuguese was her first language, English was her second, then came
Italian, and ASL was her fourth language. Felicia uses English and ASL now at
about a fifty-fifty split. She uses ASL for when she is at work with Family and
Community Services program of the Provincial Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Services, as well as when she is hanging out with her Deaf and Hard of
Hearing friends. When she is with her family, she uses mostly English, but

Interview With a Deaf Community Member

sometimes uses her fading Portuguese or Italian. With regards to her


preference of language, Felicia says that she couldnt see life without
either English or ASL as both play such a significant role in her life.
Growing up, Felicia had a very difficult time in school. Her parents
decided to place her in the mainstream education system. Her only aids in
the classroom were her hearing aids combined with an FM system. This
caused her to miss a lot in the classroom environment, especially in high
school, where she encountered further hearing loss and the limited hearing
she had left was no longer enough to get her through class. She also found
that she was missing out on a huge social aspect, as she was having
difficulty participating with her peers in group work and class projects. Being
Hard of Hearing, she found herself guessing a lot of the time as to what
others were saying. Because her sessions with the speech therapist provided
her with a strong speaking ability, others were confused and unaware about
her learning needs. There were also points when she could not keep up with
the work because of the missed instructions. Felicia suggests that a lot of the
problems were merely because both teachers and students didnt know what
being Hard of Hearing is or what Hard of Hearing students needed with
regards to adaptations. She enjoyed and excelled in courses such as English,
spelling, History, or anything where she could teach herself by reading.
However, courses such as Math, where the teacher taught with their back to
the class and spoke towards the chalkboard, were difficult for Felicia to
understand, and here is where she struggled. Initially, it was tough for Felicia

Interview With a Deaf Community Member

to speak up because she didnt want to be treated differently, but it was


challenge because her needs were not being met, either.
Another factor that caused Felicia to hate school was the fact that she was
bullied in school and it created a very negative experience for her. This
caused her to bounce around schools in hopes of finding an environment
where she felt comfortable and accepted. Felicia felt that most of the
bullying was to do with her hearing loss. She couldnt keep up with many of
her classmates conversations, was missing a lot of incidental learning, and
was missing a lot of the social aspect of school, which led others to make fun
of her. Felicia was getting quite frustrated with how much her hearing loss
was affecting her schooling and social life.
Things started looking up when Felicia moved to a high school that
provided her with a sign interpreter. This is what she credits as a turning
point for her feelings towards school and her education. Instead of skipping
classes, she now fell in love with school. Felicia noticed the difference right
away. She discovered that there were daily PA announcements, something
she previously failed to hear. And she could now hear the conversations that
were occurring in class discussions and the comments being made from the
back of the classroom. School became a positive experience for Felicia,
thanks to having a sign interpreter to support her. She began to feel more
involved in classes and her grades showed improvement. Felicia mentioned
that the accessibility issue was the big difference for her in transitioning from

Interview With a Deaf Community Member

secondary school to post-secondary. She tried a couple of colleges locally


before deciding that attending Gallaudet University would be the ideal
setting for her post-secondary pursuits.
Asked to reflect on how ASL should be treated in schools, Felicia thinks
it requires much more exposure. She felt that ASL would be a entry point into
the education of mainstream students to Deaf and Hard of Hearing culture,
which would help Deaf and Hard of Hearing students feel less different or
weird. ASL also should be something that benefits everyone, looking at ASL
as a skill versus a specific need for someone.
The theme of Deaf community to Felicia was easily explained as a
second family. Felicia sees the Deaf community as a family that understands
the challenges that she faces. They understand because most of them share
the same experiences that she has gone through. They can even share the
same jokes. Felicia said that if she didnt have this Deaf community, her life
would be much more of a challenge. The Deaf community is evidently a part
of her life. As Padden stated, Deaf community members actively supports
the goals of the community and work with Deaf people to achieve them
(Bauman, 2008, p. 9). Felicia works directly with others involved in the Deaf
community through her position with the Provincial Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Services. The Deaf community to Felicia also represents a good group of
friends, shared ideas and language, bridging the two worlds of Aural and
Deaf together. Deaf community isnt the only community Felicia identifies

Interview With a Deaf Community Member

with. Felicia still feels a membership to the Italian community, Brazilian


community, and even the American community from her time at Gallaudet.
She jokes that the Italian culture goes well with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
culture because they talk loudly.
Getting involved with the Deaf community didnt occur until Felicia was
18. It was her interpreter who introduced her to the transition services
program of the Provincial Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. Here, Felicia
began to meet with other Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals who were the
same age. The doors were opened to the community and it has led her full
circle back to the transition program , but now as a service provider. As to
where Deaf community takes place, she replied it could be anywhere Deaf
community events, kick ball tournaments, social gatherings, their homes,
and more. One place that resonates strongly with Felicia is the Gallaudet
homecoming, which draws many people back to the University campus to
celebrate.
Another theme that I discussed with Felicia was identity. Felicia
identifies herself as Hard of Hearing, identifying with Deaf culture; however,
she was quick to say that this is not what she would solely identify with or
even have that at the top of the list. Felicia identifies herself as a woman,
being Hard of Hearing, and being Brazilian-Italian. She does admit though
that the Deaf culture does play a big role in her identity and life. Felicia
believes that being Deaf is an identity and not a disability. She wants

Interview With a Deaf Community Member

others, such as her family, to be able to communicate through ASL. It is


interesting how Haualand discussed how Deaf and Hard of Hearing
individuals communicate differently and perceive the world differently from
the people who are supposed to be the closest the family (2008, p. 116). I
think this is important for Felicia, in that she would love to connect her two
worlds allowing her family to connect and communicate with her professional
and social life.
Before Felicia began to identify with Deaf culture, she went through a
phase where she didnt want to be deaf. She found it hard to find pride in it.
There were the negative connotations with deafness. Ultimately, there was
no one to role model Deaf culture to her. All she knew growing up was the
hearing world. In high school, Felicia finally came to terms with who she
was. After facing additional loss in high school, the interactions with the sign
interpreter really helped her realize that her hearing loss wasnt a bad thing.
With an interpreter, she was now at a level playing field with her peers and
she realized that this assistance worked for her and she was not going to
give that up. Felicia displays Cokely and Bakers four attributes that reinforce
a strong model of Deaf culture (Bauman, 2008, p. 10). She has an
audiological deafness, uses ASL, is socially active in the community, and is
involved with two organizations (Provincial Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Services and BC Hands and Voices) in serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
community. Felicia is also an example of coequality as her ability to
participate in non-Deaf societies while simultaneously creating temporary,

Interview With a Deaf Community Member

situational localities in which to express [her] Deafhood (Murray, 2008, p.


104), reveals.
In our discussion about what the most challenging thing of being Hard
of Hearing in a hearing-centric environment in day-to-day life was, Felicia
said it was the effort to constantly have to fully concentrate on listening. She
said that she misses a lot of bits and pieces of conversations, yet she
pretends she hears it because shes too lazy to ask. Another thing that she
finds difficult is group settings and activities because of the multiple
conversations that occur which can really cause her to miss everything thats
being said. This led to a conversation about Deaf space and its presence in
Vancouver. The ideal environment for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people to
communicate was open spaces and areas, and not visually loud with colours,
distractions, or activities occurring in the background. As Bahan pointed out,
attention to the periphery develops at a very early age in [deaf] children
[and] signers have superior attention in this area (2008, p. 88). If there was
too much happening in the background, Deaf individuals stronger peripheral
vision could prove as a distraction as environmental noise. Moreover, Felicia
mentioned that in places that are small, such as Starbucks, it can get very
loud (visually and auditorally) and be difficult for her to hear. Felicia suggests
that because of her four years spent at Gallaudet University, where
everything is designed and set up for Deaf individuals, she feels Vancouver
does not currently have very many quality Deaf spaces.

Interview With a Deaf Community Member

When I talked to Felicia about Deaf art, she mentioned that she
personally liked comics, especially That Deaf Guy, who does strips of
everyday life as a Deaf person. I looked at some of the comic strips and they
are very funny in dealing with Deaf encounters in everyday life. She also
talked about Chuck Baird, whose art conveys a deaf worldview. Pride symbols
of language through jewelry and family and cultural stories were also
important to Felicia in representing Deaf art. However she wishes Deaf art
was more exposed into the mainstream, as it hasnt been getting the
exposure she believes it should be.
I felt very lucky to be able to interview Felicia. The lows of her story of
struggling in school and being bullied to the highs of attending Gallaudet and
discovering a passion and thirst for education has been incredible to hear.
But to see her resilience has been the most impressive thing of all. Her
growth and identity represent the term that Guy Mcllroy proposed DeaF
(Bauman, 2008). Her two worlds of ASL and English juggled so smoothly
display the cultural agility that handles the interface/tension between both
worlds (Bauman, 2008, p. 13). Her identity is bilingually and biculturally
fluid and fluent, (Bauman, 2008, p. 13), which does not seem like an easy
task to master. From not wanting to be deaf to now living a fluid and coequal
life, Felicia has embraced Deaf culture fully and cannot imagine a life without
it.

Interview With a Deaf Community Member

10

References
Bahan, B. (2008) Upon the Formation of a Visual Variety of the Human Race. in Dirksen, H., &
Bauman, L. (Eds.). (2008). Open Your Eyes. Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota
Press. 83-99.
Bauman, H-Dirksen L. (2008) Listening to Deaf Studies. in Dirksen, H., & Bauman, L. (Eds.).
(2008). Open Your Eyes. Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press. 1-32.
Haualand, H. (2008) Sound and Belonging: What Is a Community?. in Dirksen, H., & Bauman,
L. (Eds.). (2008). Open Your Eyes. Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press. 111123.
Murray, J.J. (2008) Coequality and Transnational Studies: Understanding Deaf Lives. in
Dirksen, H., & Bauman, L. (Eds.). (2008). Open Your Eyes. Minneapolis MN: University
of Minnesota Press. 100-110.