The Beginning of my ASL Journey + Speaking Up Without Shame

Anyone who has watched Netflix or a DVD with me knows I always have the subtitles on. For most of my life, I’ve had an exceptionally hard time understanding what someone is saying if they mumble even slightly or there are other noises in the environment, or if I’m watching a movie and there’s loud background music. I’ve never felt I’ve had the right to call myself HoH (hard of hearing) because I can still generally hear everything with little issue and without the use of a hearing aid. However, when there’re times I had to ask someone to repeat something again and again, or I can’t understand a certain line in a movie with no subtitles no matter how many times I rewind it, I just felt frustrated.

I always thought ASL (American Sign Language) looked cool and I’d daydreamed about learning it since I was a kid. When I worked at the mall in college, a group of Deaf people were asking me some questions about a product, and I didn’t understand one of them. I felt an aching in my heart and got angry at myself. I knew I needed to learn ASL.

Finally, after waiting years due to time and financial constraints, I started my first ASL class this semester. I am absolutely in love with this beautiful language! Maybe it’s partially because of my slight hearing difficulties, or because I already have a tendency to use facial expressions more than the average hearing person, or maybe because I’m a psychotherapist and naturally pay a lot of attention to body language and facial expressions, but signing just feels so right to me. I have a long way to go, but plan on taking another class this summer, along with a two-week immersion class at Gallaudet University, where the primary language used is ASL.

This is the first time I’m posting about this, but I absolutely had to share a piece of this journey, along with a photo of one of my favorite shirts ever! Melissa Malzkuhn ((@tosignishuman / @mezmalz) created this gorgeous design, and I definitely think it gets to the heart of the matter: signing gives access not only to language, but to our humanity. And it’s not just essential for Deaf and HoH people. There are many people with certain conditions, such as autism, who are able to express themselves more freely through the use of sign. We should be encouraging everyone to learn at least a little sign, because it’ll give them an opportunity to get in touch with their own humanity in a whole new way. It’s an experience unlike any other I’ve ever had before. I’m so grateful for ASL for helping me learn another way of communicating, thinking, and understanding.

I’m also grateful to Melissa because of not only the gorgeous design, but because of how the following was handled: I immediately knew I wanted one of these shirts the moment I saw them. I went to the website to make my purchase, but one of my fears was realized: they didn’t carry my size. This is something that’s happened to me for most of my life. I was disappointed, but not very surprised. Every once in awhile, I checked back to see if maybe they got more sizes. This is not something I never used to talk about a lot because society tells us we should not take up space, and if we do, we should be ashamed. Embarrassed.

The next post I saw from @tosignishuman, I felt sad because I couldn't wear one of these awesome shirts. And then it struck me: why not just say something? As one of my favorite people ever, Ashley Clark Fry (@signedwithheart), commented in a post last year when she was unhappy about something, she decided to not complain, but try to do something about it. I also remembered that no one can read my mind, so if a company doesn't know there is a demand for something, how can they do anything about it? I made a short comment on that @tosignishuman post, simply stating that I loved the design, and hoped they’d make them in plus-sizes one day.

I was totally shocked when I got an immediate response asking me to DM (direct message) the size I needed. What followed was a beautiful exchange of kindness and openness. No shaming. I was so used to not saying anything that I almost forgot I could. And by writing a simple comment to make it known I really wanted to buy one, it was made possible.

Thank you so much @tosignishuman for not only a beautiful and meaningful design, but for caring about making it accessible to people of all sizes! I'm eternally grateful!

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