I want to share with you my recent experience as a DeafBlind person in a theatre group with predominantly Deaf sighted participants and two Deaf sighted teachers of dramatic arts. First week in class, I arrived there and encountered challenges of all kinds. For one, there were no PT interpreters for me as originally requested. Let me tell you that PT stands for Protactile which includes PT philosophy, language, and culture that emphasizes and shapes the lives of many DeafBlind people. I will blog/vlog about the Protactile approach in greater depth another time. (Author’s note, 7/20/19: This blog/vlog is not an evaluation of the program. This an authentic account of how I overcame obstacles as a DeafBlind person studying abroad in a semi-mainstream context while also learning to apply my Spanish and LSE skills through dramatic arts.)
What happened was the two Deaf teachers found themselves in dual roles, as a theatre (drama) teacher and makeshift(1) tactile sign language(2) interpreter for me. They kept switching off and on and at times, they both were teaching simultaneously and leaving me out in the process. In turn, my classmates turned to me and offered help as a makeshift interpreter. Sometimes this didn’t work out because they switched as drama participants in the class and again, I was not fully included. This scanty support system went on like that for the first week of the class. It was a tough experience, lacking information and communication access left me feeling extremely frustrated because I missed a great deal as a DeafBlind person.
The second week of the class was fair; the third week seemed to get better with improvement as I co-mingled with my drama classmates. We had to relegate into acting positions and so on. Sometimes I had an “interpreter” and sometimes none, the access was not perfect. Allow me to revisit the second week of my class, from the first two week of acting lessons and demonstrations; I became more involved as a drama player. You see, there was an agenda of theatrical arts that we were to learn and master. Secondly, we were to use classifiers and practice playing with handshapes in both a dramatic and poetic fashion. For example, the flow of water in the river or a standing tree with a treehouse or a person. We were to make a statue of someone in a frozen position as our first assignment. The third project was to take on a character and project the character’s role to its fullest which meant rehearsing and practicing until we became that assigned character as an actor. In a nutshell, that’s what it was all about.
When the second week was close to finish, I got an assignment by the two drama teachers. Everyone else also got same assignment which consisted of three roles 1) become a statue, 2) become a narrator where I narrate scene wearing a white shirt for spirit affects 3) taking on a role of an actor with lines. Through this assignment, I got involved in different groups in this theatre class. I had no problems assignments #1 and #3 as it was easy going undertaking for me. The #2 assignment as a narrator was very hard because the text was in Spanish and I had to translate into LSE. When I ran into challenging spots, I asked for assistance from my two teachers. What I got was “I’m busy with other students right now,” “I need to focus on them,’’ etc. I patiently hung around and waited for my turn. During that week the days passed, Wednesday and Thursday and then came Friday.
Finally, I received a video from the teacher as to what to do for this assignment. I always waited for specific instructions or directions as to what to do. I went home and did my best. I felt confident because I had spent so much time fine-tuning and rehearsing over and over. I watched the instruction video from one of the teachers signing my part in LSE only come to find out much later it was the wrong one. I had absolutely no clue this video was the wrong one! To elaborate further, I was sent home with a video from the teacher in sign language and while viewing it and reviewing the script in Spanish, I got even more and more confused because the video and assigned script did not match. This was aggravating. I shared with the teachers my frustrations and experiences and requested a meeting, one-to-one.
On Monday, the final and third week of the class, we were expected to stage a performance after all our studies, drama development work and rehearsals, etc. You see everyone was busy feeling the pressure from the expectations of the upcoming performance. Monday, I had no luck with getting the assistance I needed and on Tuesday in the hall, one of the students helped me out by explaining clearly to me the expectations. We then worked on the video where I practiced and rehearsed for two whole days. Imagine the pressure? On Wednesday, one of the instructors sent me another video without instructions. I thought it was a simpler version of the first video they sent as it appeared to them I didn’t understand them the first-time. I focused on this first video because I spent so much quality time and hard rehearsal work.
Finally, when this instructor went around providing one-to-one feedback to everyone and then came my turn, I received minimal feedback, basically stating “no not that one, not that one either.” He explained that the previous video was not to be used but the newer one. I asked what was wrong with the earlier video, the instructor simply replied, “nothing and going forward use this one!” I had no choice but to follow their directions. With two days left of the class towards the performance event, I had to move on and do what was necessary.
Soon after, I found out what was wrong and I learned that the first video sent to me was meant for another classmate and not me as we accidently were assigned the same acting script. It impacted me in a way I felt like a waste of time and energy and even feeling a bit devastated. The whole gambit of emotions and confusion ran through me making me feel not good at all about this whole process. The teacher noticed, came up to me and said “BE POSITIVE!” I thought to myself, “how do I be positive when I am a DeafBlind student of yours without equal access as yours with full sight access. And all you do is keep saying ‘be positive, stay positive?!’ “Furthermore, tell me how to navigate through this quagmire of bumps and knocks on the road through all of this!” I am allowed to be authentic as I navigate challenges and to have my truth be honored. After all, it was the wrong video/script–the mishap information that appeared to have been omitted in the first place.(3)
Through all of this, I wasn’t feeling good about myself but thanks to two special individuals who had just learned the Protactile approach. They were the ones that gave me a lot more support, providing concrete suggestions and encouraged me on. (Author’s note, 7/20/19: It was a collaborative undertaking between Alberto Sifuentes, my study abroad classmate, and myself in educating our peers about the Protactile approach to communicating with me and others like me.) In that manner, I was able to focus and do my part by practicing while waiting for one-to-one communication. I took in suggestions as provided and practiced as much as I could. By the end of the class on Friday, the show was staged. I did my part and performed. I did surprisingly well. The teachers thanked me for persevering the whole while and that it all worked out perfectly. Thank you for visiting!
Author’s Note: This intensive study abroad program was from June 1st-30th, 2019
- Makeshift: Many people can be a signer but not an interpreter; it’s akin to some may know how to drive but not fix a car.
- Tactile Sign Language: Tactile sign language is different all over the world. In this class, naturally, tactile LSE was used with occasional tactile ASL. Because tactile sign language is still visual-based in many aspects, the Protactile approach may be applied to any tactile sign language and signing spaces around the world so that DeafBlind people may have more real-time access. Minimal Protactile approach was used as everyone was still learning about this approach to tactile sign languages.
- Source of Information/information source: In DeafBlind culture, DeafBlind people need “the source of information” like why was this “newer” video sent to me. I realized through makeshift interpreting from my classmates that someone else was rehearsing the same lines I was during the last week; in other words, that was “the source of information” for me. The error of sending the first video meant for someone else or assigning the same narrator lines to two people would have been especially helpful to know early on (when the second video was sent or earlier). As you can see, I was filling in the blanks on my own in order to complete the assignment.