Deaf man, sign language teacher form lasting bond

Belated Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers! Sorry for not blogging for more than a month now.

Today, may I share with you a post-Valentine love story of a deaf man and his sign language teacher which was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer? I know personally the lady teacher here, Mrs. Beatriz Go.

More fondly called as Ma’am Beth in the deaf community, she has been one of my wonderful inspirations in the deaf world and at the same time belongs to one of those looked up pillars in Filipino Deaf education. Although she did not became my sign language mentor, her awesome dedication to the teaching of sign language manifests as the long-time coordinator of Philippine Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (PRID), a pioneering sign language training institution in the country.

As one of the products of PRID and was recently awarded as one of its Outstanding Graduates, I have observed her caring for the welfare of sign language. Well enough about me. I have re-posted the article below written by Jodee Agoncillo. To Ma’am Beth, you are truly an amazing woman. So guys! Be inspired. Be very inspired. 🙂

Love story beyond words

Deaf man, sign language teacher form lasting bond

10:32 pm | Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

 16 392 354

 

ROMANCE UNSPOKEN YET ENDURING Beatriz Go with husband Alexander, children Anthony Benedict, Abigail Bernadette, Albert Noel and the adopted Jasmine

 

Beatriz Go has never heard her husband say “I love you.” She has heard no love song, no sweet nothings, from the man she has been living with for the last 35 years.

Instead, Alexander, being deaf, has loved her in ways that go beyond words.

She’s 66 while he’s 53. A former nun, she used to be his sign language instructor at the Philippine School for the Deaf in Pasay City. The wide age gap being no barrier, his special needs led him to her and her special calling found a vessel in him.

Today they form the pillars of a family of 10—including three children of their own and five more who are adopted. Three of the adopted children are also deaf.

“It just happened.  He was 22 when he started making an effort for me,” said Go, whose face may be familiar to televiewers as the sign language interpreter on TV Masses and previously on the public service program “Kapwa Ko, Mahal Ko.”

“He would come over just to cook for me or bring me lunch. He lived on España, Manila, but would always be my escort taking me home to Pembo, Makati City. He was that consistent,” she said.

One summer, Alexander went on a solo trip to Marinduque province to see her family and ask for her hand in marriage.

There he met some stiff opposition: Some of her relatives disapproved, citing potential “communication problems” between the two. They also saw him becoming a mere dependent because of his disability. Others found the May-December romance too good to be true, and saw something awkward when a student hooks up with a former teacher.

But by then, Go was already in love as well.

Thirty-five years of blissful marriage later, Go said she still catches Alexander, now a retired electrician, telling his friends about their unusual love story—in sign language, of course.

Like any normal couple, they also have occasional spats, usually over the family finances. But such misunderstandings are often resolved especially with the help of Sarah, 42, one of their adopted deaf children, who mediates also through sign language and “interprets our conversations more accurately.”

“We complement each other,” Go said. “Our age gap and physical limitations have never been a hindrance. I defer to him as the head of the family. I guess that’s the secret of our relationship. I am not the nagging, demanding type; I’ve never even gotten hold of his ATM.”

Go currently works at the Philippine Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Inevitably, the principles that guide her at work have found real-life applications in her relationship both with her husband and their deaf children.

“Deaf people mostly feel that they are alone because most of their family members don’t get to learn sign language. They need someone to understand them,” she said.

“They are generally suspicious of other people; when they see someone laughing, they think it’s about them. They won’t give their trust unless you show that you are really interested in them.”

Alexander must have overcome these doubts, these suspicions, the day she started teaching him sign language when he was just 15 years old.

“I guess love is really a function of communication,” Go said, looking back. “Yet sometimes you just need to feel it and leave everything else to God.”

 

 

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Special Registration for Persons With Disabilities

To all my Filipino deaf students and friends, including other Filipino Persons With Disabilities, now is your chance to be heard. Please go to your respective Commission on Election offices near you and register from July 18 – 23. By doing so, you will be eligible to vote on the 2013 national elections. Please see the poster below for more details. 🙂

Update: According to PWD Leader and Advocate Atty. Jessica Siquijor-Magbanua, deaf people can now have access to sign language interpreting courtesy of Philippine Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (PRID).
🙂

Commission on Elections Registration Poster
Commission on Elections Registration Poster

How I survived Fingerspelling

Filipino Sign Language Alphabet drawn by Isabela School for the Deaf and MCCID Alumnus Aquarius Balisi
Filipino Sign Language Alphabet drawn by Isabela School for the Deaf and MCCID Alumnus Aquarius Balisi

Wikipedia defines fingerspelling as the representation of the letters of a writing system, and sometimes numeral systems, using only the hands. Through this medium, an interpreter is able to provide proper names and words for which there are no standardized or equivalent signs. Also, fingerspelling is an essential tool for presenting precise English or Tagalog words.

When I enrolled in summer basic sign language class in 1991 at Philippine Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (PRID), my first mentor Ma’am Sonia Lodado explained to class that manual alphabet is the first thing that we need to memorize before we venture into sign language. She expounded that if you know how to fingerspell, then you can easily remember other signs. This is through the method of initializing words. Take the case, of W-A-T-E-R. If you know the sign for W, use it while tapping your index finger on your mouth twice. That’s our sign for water. Same is true with W-I-S-H. It’s W slides down chest. It’s very helpful especially if you’re having difficulty memorizing signs. It’s like creating codes or formula. Fingerspelling also increases the deaf’s vocabulary.

However, not all words start with the sign of its first letter. We always made fun of using initialized words in some common words like “walk”. Imagine using both hands signing W while moving them one after the other mimicking a walk. It’s like a chicken walking with your three fingers representing its three toes. You would certainly hear a guffaw from your deaf audience if they saw you use that sign. 🙂

Knowing how I flunk in memorization, I had to practice very often. So, after my class, I would start flickering my hands as I walk back home. Whenever I encounter a word on the street, say billboards, street signs and the like, my hands would spell it. Soon it became a habit that there are times I would speak to my friend while my hands actively spelling every word I say, behind my back.

My teacher also taught us how to fingerspell properly. She said that if we are seated, we must place our hands close to our chests just below the shoulder with the elbow positioned comfortably on our hips. That way, deaf people who rely upon lip movements would view your face clearly and unblocked. Same is true with standing but fingerspelling hand’s elbow can rest on top of the other hand. You may also do away with the arm rest if you don’t often spell out words.

Here are some other useful tips when fingerspelling:

  1. Avoid unnecessary movements while spelling words. A bouncing hand would incur dizziness from the deaf reader. Maintain a level hand movement.
  2. Fingerspelling often cause hand fatigue because you only use one hand. It is advisable to use it sparingly. Interlace it with regular signs.
  3. You must not orally speak each word as you fingerspell. Instead, silently shape the words on your lips as you fingerspell. That way, you can assist the deaf person who are dependent upon speechreading or who need it for reinforcement.
  4. When spelling double letters, simply move your hand slightly to your right. This would make the word clearer. For example, when spelling B-O-O-K, separate the two O’s by moving your hand a little bit to the right in order to differentiate the two letters.
  5. Separate words by making short pauses. That way, the observer is reminded that you will be spelling a next word. I remember observing a hearing brother of my deaf student fingerspelling. He separates words by erasing the previous one in the air. It looks funny but quite annoying.
  6. It is not advisable to include punctuation marks when fingerspelling. However, you may employ facial expressions in order to convey the vocal inflections. So instead of drawing an exclamation mark in the air, you might show a “surprised look”.
  7. Clarity of spelled words is more important than speed. Most often, people who spell fast confuse the letters O and S or the letter F and the number 9. Try to maintain a balanced speed.
  8. When interpreting for a dialogue, you might use both hands to indicate which character in the story is speaking. This technique enables the deaf to know who is saying what.

I personally find these tips very practical. However, some of these pointers may not be applicable to certain types of deaf observers. For instance, if the deaf is highly literate and demand a direct English translation of what the speaker says, then the interpreter would almost wholly upon fingerspelling.

On the other hand, if an observer is a low verbal deaf, fingerspelling should not be used. Interpreting would rely mostly on visual and gestural approach. 🙂

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