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In another’s shoes

Mandi Stirone | Monday, October 6, 2008

On Sept. 1, The Observer ran a story about Architecture students who had the opportunity to almost literally be disabled for a day. Some of them became physically disabled. They were in wheel chairs or had to use crutches. Others had to wear blindfolds in order to simulate blindness. I’ll admit, at the time, I felt bad for these students, and maybe a little smug. I was secretly glad I didn’t have to do anything like that. Of course, I was wrong about that, and the sad thing is: I should’ve seen it coming. I’m taking a sign language class this semester with three of my friends. I’ll admit that when I signed up for it, I was just looking to finally have a class with my friends, and maybe learn something that could be classified as “cool.” I probably should have known I would be getting more than I bargained for. We are going to be getting two out-of-class practice assignments to help us better understand “deaf culture.” We are supposed to go into some public place, like a store, and try to do something completely ordinary, like buy something. For the first one we’re not allowed to have an interpreter. For the second assignment, we are going to be allowed to have an interpreter. We have to do the first assignment sometime this week. Now, I must say that I do like this class. I’m actually learning a lot and I can communicate using the language, sort of. At this point I can really only ask someone’s name, where they’re from, and whether or not they like something. Oh, and we learned how to say we’re hungry and thirsty, two very important things for college students to be able to say. All that being said, the idea of going somewhere and trying to perform some common function without the use of my voice while pretending I can’t hear whatever poor soul I inflict myself upon is far from my idea of fun. I get it, it’s educational, and I’m really going to get a feel for what this is like. Honestly though, I’m a little scared and slightly ashamed by this exercise. I can probably predict what is going to happen because the way the person will most likely react will be how I would in the same situation. The difference is I can actually hear them when they inevitably raise their voice until they’re shouting at me even though, were I actually deaf, it would do them no good. I will both be embarrassed by their frustration and appalled because I would probably feel the same way if our places were exchanged. I haven’t done the exercise yet, but I am already thinking and feeling what it is probably aimed at making me think and feel. It makes me wonder how people with disabilities can go though life without lashing out at people who react that way. Thinking of that, I am amazed that people do react the way they do. Why do we do that?