Learn signing to help others connect
A Stratford mother says she is fed up with feeling isolated and left out when it comes to her sons’ schooling.
Chanelle and her husband Chris are both deaf, but their sons, Noah (9), Lance (7) and Josh (3) aren’t.
“Being a parent is a roller coaster of ups and downs for anyone, but being a deaf parent comes with specific issues as well.”
Chris works as a truck driver while Chanelle is a stay-at-home parent to their sons.
“Chris has no problems with his work team. They all understand that him being deaf doesn’t stop him doing a good job. That’s great for him, but being deaf can be quite difficult for me as the stay-at-home parent.”
One thing Chanelle says is really important to her, is that she doesn’t want to have to rely on their sons to have to translate what the teachers or other adults are trying to tell her.
While the boys’ school and pre-school are great at communicating in a variety of ways to ensure Chanelle and Josh are kept informed generally, Chanelle says she struggles with things that wouldn’t be an issue for a hearing parent.
“In the school corridor, when we are waiting for the children to come out of class, the other parents are talking to each other, but I can’t join in as they don’t know any sign. It makes me feel left out.”
Chanelle says while she feels like a spectator rather than a participant at school pick up, when it comes to actually being a spectator at a school assembly or awards presentation, she is again left feeling isolated.
“If I can’t get seats closer to the stage so I can lip-read, I need to have an interpreter, but this is very difficult in Taranaki. Many deaf parents in Taranaki are frustrated as we have to find an available interpreter in Hamilton or Palmerston North to come, so they need plenty of notice to come to a meeting or an event on at the school.”
Chanelle says there is a real need for sign language interpreters in Taranaki, but she would be happy if more people simply learned a bit of sign language so she could get more involved with school and kindy events and trips.
“It would be nice to be able to talk to the other parents, and also for my sons to see New Zealand Sign Language used in the classroom as well, so it isn’t just something they use at home.”
Despite these frustrations, Chanelle says being a deaf parent has many rewards too.
“There is always a silver lining in any situation and for us I think it is being able to silently communicate with our sons across a room. We are also both good at reading their body language and facial expressions.”
The boys, says Chanelle, love being able to sign ‘I love you’ to their parents.
“I also think our boys see how strong we are in living in a world which is hearing-focused, when we are deaf, and not letting us beat us. That gives them a good example of not giving up.”
Deaf parents put themselves out there every day to try to give their children the best opportunities in the hearing community, says Chanelle.
“We don’t let anything stop us.”
The gap between hearing and deaf is one thing Chanelle isn’t going to let stop her, and she is taking steps to change things herself.
“I have asked the school if I can set up a workshop to teach sign next year to some parents. Deaf parents can sign, so there is no reason hearing parents can’t as well.”
She is planning to set up a coffee group once a month with other school parents in the hope that they will learn some sign and help Chanelle feel less isolated in the future.
■ Challenge accepted! Editor Ilona Hanne will learn sign with Chanelle next year. Register your interest by texting Chanelle on 027 369 2483.
Learning sign is just like learning your A B Cs says Chanelle. Here Noah signs A, Lance signs B, Josh signs C and Chanelle signs D.
Noah, Lance, Chanelle and Josh demonstrate the sign for “I Love You”