‘Deaf World’ event to show difficulty of living with a language barrier

Drew Schertzer

Editor’s note: To clarify, “deaf” is being used to mean the inability to hear, whereas “Deaf” refers to a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community who uses American Sign Language as their primary language.

Negotiating the price of flowers seems like a simple task for most people. However, the playing field is changed when there is a communication barrier. 

Members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community are faced with challenges in communicating in their everyday lives. To give perspective on this, the “Deaf World” event is being held at Grand Valley State University. Through this event, students will be given an opportunity to experience what members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community go through. 

“The goal is to expose hearing people to the Deaf culture,” said Rowan O’Dougherty, American Sign Language (ASL) professor at GVSU. “We want to show students how we experience the world.” 

Deaf World will take place Tuesday, Nov. 14, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center Grand River Room. Fourteen tables will be set up around the room with interactive stations for students. Each station will be led by members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, who will instruct participants on different tasks they must accomplish, like ordering flowers from a florist. 

“We want to relay information and experiences in a non-threatening way to see what it feels like to struggle to get your point across,” said Misti Ryefield, assistant professor of allied health sciences and ASL. “Hopefully that will have some impact on their thinking.”

People often don’t think about the struggles that members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community face, Ryefield said. O’Dougherty added that it can be a challenge to go into a restaurant to order a meal. Gesturing is good on a basic level but can only convey a small amount of information. 

Ryefield explained the need for both parties to be able to communicate. Members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community are able to communicate with people from the hearing world through interpreters and ASL.

The interactive tables will include a mock library, post office, doctor’s office and more. Ryefield said a person of the Deaf community can visit the doctor for a checkup. They must speak to the receptionist to check in. Then, they have to talk to a nurse about symptoms they’re experiencing. Following this, they have to speak with a doctor and possibly a pharmacist to get medicine. This process is a lot harder when you have a communication barrier, Ryefield said. She believes Deaf World will be able to display some of the challenges people in the Deaf community face. 

O’Dougherty said that less than half of deaf people can read lips, which creates a large language barrier and makes it difficult to fill in the gaps. 

Information tables will be among the rest of the tabling taking place. Here, information about Deaf culture and Deaf individuals will be given out. The information will be presented by members of the Hearing Loss Association of America. 

The event is free and open to the public. This is the second year in a row that the Deaf World event has been held. Last year, around 125 people showed up, and Ryefield expects similar numbers for this year’s event.