Lazy Chat - Sandra Reid
Written by: Sam Hughes
As would be published in the April 2020 issue of Lazy Faire Magazine.
Can you start by telling us a bit about you? What do you teach? Where did you receive your education?
I attended Gallaudet University, located in Washington DC, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and then continued onto to receive a Master of Education degree in Deaf Education from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in Westminster, Maryland. I spent my entire professional career of 33 years as a teacher with the Edmonton Public School Board, teaching Math and ASL at Alberta School for the Deaf (ASD). I was the first person in Canada to teach ASL to as a second language to hearing high school students, starting at Jasper Place High School and Queen Elizabeth High School in Edmonton, Alberta. I also taught ASL and Deaf Studies courses to at MacEwan University (formerly Grant MacEwan Community College) and Lakeland College for 32 years. Since 2015 I have been teaching ASL courses at the University of Alberta, with the Modern Language and Culture Studies department. I have been involved in countless projects and events at ASD and in the Deaf Community, serving as committee chair, event organizer, leader, fund- raiser, counsellor and professional advisor. I also have been involved with the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf (CCSD) in numerous capacities with American Sign Language Instructors of Canada Evaluation (ASLICE) and American Sign Language Instructors of Canada (ASLIC) after I was one of the first two people to receive the ASLIC certificate in 1992. I am currently president of Alberta Cultural Society of the Deaf in Edmonton (since 2008) and am very active in the Deaf Community.
What challenges would you say you face in your professional life and how do you go about overcoming them?
Honestly, I think the biggest challenge is the stigma attached to Deaf people. In 2020, we are familiar with sexism, able-ism, racism, and I think (hope) in time we will begin to recognize that there is an attitude of audism towards Deaf people. Audist attitudes have impacted me in a variety of ways, ranging from people simply not believing I work in an academic institution all the way to people being surprised that I can drive. I think it’s important to highlight that Deaf people can, and have, lived lives that are full, enriching, and meaningful to society.
ASL is a very unique form of communication compared to other languages that students may learn. How do you think this medium of communication can be effectively taught to students who may be more accustomed to learning a traditional language?
I suppose it’s unique in the sense that it uses the hands and eyes, as opposed to the mouth and ears. However, as we know language occurs in the brain, regardless of if it is spoken or signed. This is important to note for a few reasons: first, that ASL is a wonderful and challenging language to learn as a second language. I believe my students will tell you that although it is certainly fun and enjoyable, learning ASL is similar to learning any other language in that it is hard to do, the key being using the language often and with native speakers when possible. Furthermore, I think when start to speak with advanced and native signers, especially Deaf ones, they will all tell you that there is distinct “gains” that come from being a signer. Increased peripheral vision, improved 3-D conceptual thinking, and increased reading speeds are just some of the findings from research that come from being Deaf and using sign language. I hope that these ‘Deaf Gains’ begin to enter our public discourse about Deaf people more often than focusing on our hearing abilities.
Would you say that you face a significant disadvantage from your hearing loss, or do you believe that society has taken effective steps to ameliorate those disadvantages?
I believe most of the disadvantages that come from being Deaf are the ones imposed by society, rather than the abilities I was born and live with. There are many examples out there of Deaf scholars, engineers, teachers, nurses, doctors, innovators, entrepreneurs, and so on. However, there are far more examples of Deaf people who have systematic barriers to achieving their dreams. I believe that access to education, healthcare, public spaces, and politics is improving somewhat, as are peoples attitudes towards Deaf people, but there is still room for improvement, I believe. Unemployment numbers of Deaf people are high across Canada and the United States. I believe this is a result of a complex combination of barriers to education, employer attitudes towards Deaf employee candidates, and primarily a delayed acquisition of language for Deaf babies.
What do you believe can be done to improve the academic experience for students who face some form of physical disadvantage?
I don’t think it’s that much different than improving the academic experience for any student, it’s about asking those populations in question what they need to equitably access the spaces and institutions on campus and being willing to make those changes. Providing ASL-English interpretation, celebrating Deaf peoples' contributions to academia, and sharing ASL as a language are all ways that the academic experience can be improved for Deaf people.
Do you have any general advice or information that you would like to convey to our readership regarding interacting with individuals with hearing loss or the usage of ASL?
A common mistake that people make is that all Deaf people can lipread, and somehow speaking more slowly will aid conversation. The fact is, lipreading is hard, for anyone. Many of the phonetic sounds made in English are not made on the lips and can be extremely hard to distinguish. For example, try mouthing ‘I love you’ and ‘Elephant Shoes’ and have a friend try and tell them apart. I think the important thing to remember is communication is a two-way street, have a variety of communication methods ready when engaging a Deaf person. Writing on a paper or phone and using an interpreter are usually the best ways to communicate with a Deaf person, aside from learning ASL. Another popular issue for our community is the delayed acquisition of language for those born Deaf. I advocate with all students who take my class who are going on into careers working with babies and young children: please ensure all Deaf kids have access to high-level sign language.
It’s important to note that 90% of Deaf children are born to hearing parents, and unfortunately many of these children miss out on developing language during critical brain development that occurs between ages 0-5. Some communities are fortunate enough to be starting programs in which a Deaf adult who has advanced sign language abilities is paired with these families as a language mentor, to ensure the child is developing language on track with their peers. I think this is an excellent initiative that I wish we saw here in Alberta.