Hello. I’m Angela Stratiy. I’m Deaf. My brother and parents are Deaf. Both my parents started school late- at the age of twelve. I was born Deaf. How did I get interested in reading? Comics. That’s what attracted me to reading first. Illustrations were a must. I’d open up a comic book and see the pictures. I’d see what was written in the bubbles and link them together. Sometimes, I’d ask my mother for help if I didn’t understand the meaning of a word. Together, we would examine it word by word.
My first love for reading was with the Classics- the Junior Classic Fairytales. I still have my collection of five volumes. I read the first book repeatedly, reading the words, reading the English sentences. And also, I read fables that had a moral to teach for each story. I’d re-read them over and over again. These were my first readings.
Then I entered school. For ten years I endured an oral education. In class, my eyes would look at the teacher to lip read and then my eyes would move to the words on the blackboard. Back and forth, I’d struggle to make sense of it all. Sometimes the teacher did mime. I struggled but by reading constantly, my English, in time, improved.
Sometimes, I’d write pages. A couple of weeks went by and I met a Deaf worker at the school who was fluent in ASL. When reading, I’d go to her for help. What does it mean, I’d ask. She’d sign it back to me. Bit by bit, I started to pick up the meaning of new words and did this for the ten years at that school.
When I entered Gallaudet University, I was shocked. All the professors signed ASL fluently. Lectures were done in fluent ASL and written English simultaneously. I could easily make the connections between the signs with the written English on the board. I quite enjoyed that. With that constant exposure, I gradually became a fluent reader independent of the signed lectures.
This eventually lead to teaching literacy to Deaf immigrants and Deaf adults. I started with comics. I then used movies with subtitles. They were fascinated. This is my approach of teaching Deaf people to read and write English.
How do I teach Deaf people to read? Again I emphasize the importance of using pictures. For example, suppose there is a phrase: “man frowned”. I’d ask the student to look at the words not the picture. If you’re puzzled, there is no need to run to the aid of a dictionary right away. Learn to trust your intuition. Then look at the picture of the man’s wrinkled brow. “What do you think the man is feeling?” The student might say “mad, upset, angry”. Yes, right. The student can learn to make the connection by matching the picture with the printed word. Later, they can go to the dictionary for confirmation.
Secondly, reading sign by sign is dry. Take for example: “The dog ran way.” Signing it literally has little meaning. It is crucial to know ASL semantics. Eg: “DOG-ESCAPED/TOOK-OFF”. It catches the student’s interest and they get the concept immediately. Deaf people need to realize that individual words combined become an idiom that has a completely different meaning than the individual words. It is important to know ASL semantics for these idioms and that each idiom has a corresponding ASL semantic equivalent.
English idioms are the most difficult of all for Deaf people to read. A Deaf person will read “get up” and sign the words separately as “GET” and “UP” which makes no sense. Instead, it needs to be “GET-UP” (as in person classifier gets up). Then it makes sense. The list is endless. Newspapers heavily use idioms.
Thirdly, there is the passive verb tense. There are many examples. Eg: “He was hurt.” Many Deaf think that he hurt someone when it is the exact opposite. Someone hurt him. This tense needs to be explained as it is used a lot in written English. It’s a learning process that requires repetition. With ASL, Deaf can learn to read English more effectively.