We’re on a level playing field’

Mary Park, Scene Editor

More than 10 chairs and tables were pulled close together for the Deaf Coffee Chat held on Oct. 11 at Starbucks on East University Way.

Everyone sat around the island of tables in a circle and chatted about school, family and friends and things happening in the community. When a new person joins in, the group greets them with a smile and a wave. 

Making eye contact and facial expressions are crucial as most of the individuals use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.

According to the Deaf Coffee website, Deaf Coffee Chats are social events for the Deaf community that take place in a public space such as a coffee shop, mall food court or bookstore in various locations throughout the U.S.

The chats in Yakima and Ellensburg are hosted by the Yakima Valley Association for the Deaf (YVAD). Students from CWU and Yakima Valley College (YVC) attend to support it and to spend time with other students and community members. 

On the second Friday of each month, a chat is held in Ellensburg and on other Fridays, they are held in various Starbucks in Yakima.

Mary Park

Sofia Rabadan, a third-year student majoring in deaf studies and Spanish, said as a hearing person, she enjoys taking part in the Deaf community because it reminds her of her own culture.

“I come from Hispanic culture and it’s very family-oriented and just seeing people I know makes me happy,” Rabadan said. “Just coming together and catching up.”

Rabadan, who has been involved with the ASL Club for three years, said she doesn’t consider deafness to be a disability and that deaf people are capable of doing as much as a hearing person. 

“Maybe they might have some setbacks but don’t we all have setbacks, that’s the way I look at it,” Rabadan said. “It’s all about learning [and] I’m still learning.”

Rabadan said that one thing she would like to see improved is the service to deaf individuals in restaurants, who may take some more time to order as they write it down or type it  on the phone.

“A lot of waiters and waitresses get frustrated and I understand, I worked as a waitress too,” Rabadan said. “But if you take the time as much as you take time for a hearing person, that’ll make their day so much better.

Cheryl Jones, secretary at YVAD, was born deaf and uses a hearing aid. Jones shared about experiencing discrimination because of deafness, at a chat on Oct. 18.

“I played different instruments and people in the music industry say you can’t do that because you’re deaf,” Jones said. “They look at me and they judge me and think that I can’t do certain things … I don’t know how other people feel about it, but that’s my personal situation.”

YVAD Vice President Ruth Cyr said that in the past, people weren’t very interested and that they made fun of deaf people. 

“They’d go ‘ugh, you’re deaf,’ that was horrible for me, and it really injured us as deaf people,” Cyr said. “Hearing people thought the deaf people were dumb, no, no, no, we’re deaf, we’re not dumb. We can drive. We can read… We can do the same thing, we’re on a level playing field.”

Cyr also mentioned that she wants to have partnerships with hearing people. 

“I want them to join us and understand, I want to understand hearing people too,” Cyr said. “I noticed that hearing people are interested to be around deaf people, interested in ASL, I am so impressed by that.”

Anyone who is curious about the Deaf community can take ASL classes at a local college or the deaf people in their community can teach them sign language, they just need to ask, Cyr said.

Taralynn Petrites, a Deaf professor and advisor for the CWU ASL Program, said there is a high demand for qualified ASL interpreters in Washington, especially in the K-12 setting.

“I’ve noticed many schools, high schools and some colleges as well, where the ASL teachers don’t have a strong background in ASL,” Petrites said. “They might have minored in ASL, or they might have taken one or two ASL classes and move on to teach the course in high schools.”

Petrites said there are many benefits of learning ASL, whether a student wants to become an elementary school teacher or an emergency medical technician.

“I always explain [to students] that we need people in the community to work with us,” Petrites said.

Petrites said last year, she and Michael Johnson, chair of world languages and cultures department, put in a proposal for a major program for deaf studies. The proposal is currently pending approval at the faculty senate.

According to Petrites, there is a difference in the labels people who are deaf or hard of hearing use to identify themselves. 

The term “Hard of Hearing” refers to the medical condition and the range of hearing loss a person has. They may or may not know ASL or be able to speak.

“Big D” deaf is a reference to Deaf culture. People who use “Deaf” to identify themselves cherish and support the Deaf community.

“Small d” deaf also typically refers to the medical perspective of deafness. Individuals who identify “deaf” may be part of the Deaf community, but it’s possible that they became deaf or learned ASL later in life. 

Hearing-impaired is a term that many deaf people find offensive because it focuses on what people can’t do and implies substandard or damaged.

Petrites said there is no wrong or right choice, the community is very diverse so it’s a personal choice for each unique individual.

Maya Solmiren, a senior in elementary education and president of CWU ASL Club, said she came to CWU for her education degree as well as for the ASL classes offered here. 

Solmiren said she was surprised to learn that “deafness is so much more than the inability to hear but it’s an entirely independent cultural identity.”

Ashley Helmold, elementary education major and ASL minor, said learning ASL was scary at first but became more enjoyable as she got the hang of it.

“What I knew about the deaf people before was that it’s just a medical condition,” Helmold said. “But once I got to know the culture more, I realized that it’s an actual community and group that has something to say and has a voice.”