sign-languageWhen I was a little girl, my parents took me to visit our cousins. I noticed immediately that something was different in the way they communicated. They used hand gestures and had an interesting accent when they spoke orally. Their children were also using these hand gestures from the crib and play pen. I learned that my cousins were Deaf and that their two children were hearing, but were communicating with them in American Sign Language (ASL). I was completely and utterly enthralled to say the least. I loved watching them communicate and vowed to learn their beautiful expressive language. As I got older, I became interested in Helen Keller after watching The Miracle Worker, and decided that I wanted to teach Deaf children at some point in my life.

I realized that dream the year after I graduated from college. I chose to take a year off between college and law school, and obtained a position as an instructor and sometimes interpreter at the NY School for the Deaf. I wound up staying 3 years as I loved it so much! I attended law school in the evening instead of the day in order to continue teaching. Those three years were very important to me. They helped me develop my love of ASL and become an advocate for persons with disabilities. I wrote and published many pieces on disability law, taught disability law classes for a law school as an adjunct professor, and served as the co-chair of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Committee for the American Bar Association.

Eventually, I left my law career and that ended my official disability law pursuits. However, it did not end my love affair with sign language, or my support of Deaf rights. I carried many lessons with me that I learned from my years working within the Deaf community.

Did you ever notice that when someone is speaking to a deaf or hard of hearing person, they do the one thing that makes absolutely no sense? They start speaking a lot louder! Sometimes they even start yelling. This makes absolutely no sense because the one thing the deaf person can’t do is hear.

In fact, the Deaf community has a popular phrase: “I can do anything but hear!” It is an empowering phrase that reminds them that although deafness may be perceived by the hearing world as a disability, that is their only limitation.

What is your perceived “disability”? How would you answer the phrase “I can do anything but _______.” I am hoping that there is nothing after the word but. However, some of you may have something that came to mind. It may be a limiting belief, an outdated assumption, a block, an objection, a stereotype, a negative message that you were programmed to believe. Those things may be your version of a disability.

Here are 5 success principles I learned from teaching the Deaf that will help you develop a Can-Do Attitude and start breaking through your own limitations.

1. Don’t Make Assumptions
We all make assumptions based on our background and experience. We often have a running commentary in our head that is like a broken record playing over and over. Be careful of that recording! I learned about not making assumptions from my experience working with the Deaf. For example, sign language isn’t Universal. Not all deaf people can read lips. Not everything is as it appears in life. What “assumptions” are you holding onto that may be wrong, outdated or are not serving you in business and in life? Work on identifying them, turning them on their head and challenging them.

2. Make Eye Contact
You must look at a deaf person to communicate. In the hearing world, it is amazing how many people don’t make eye contact when speaking to each other. Making eye contact is a great habit to cultivate in general, but it is even more vital for an entrepreneur, coach, consultant and certainly for a speaker. Pay attention to people when they are speaking to you. Make eye contact and show them that you care!

3. Don’t Just Hear… Listen and Understand
Deaf people can’t hear, but they do listen. A common phrase that the Deaf often use when having a conversation is “I understand”. They are showing that they are paying attention to what you are communicating, and that they are truly listening to you. Many people are good speakers, but not good listeners. If you are not truly listening, try it. It can make a huge difference in your communication and relationships.

4. Keep Your Sense of Humor
Many deaf people have a wickedly good sense of humor, and can laugh at themselves. This is a great lesson for all us in life and business. It helps you to keep a positive attitude and draws people to you. Find the humor in everything and keep things as light as you can. I often think humor is a wonderful way of diffusing many difficult or challenging situations. Learning to laugh at life, and ourselves, is a great skill to cultivate.

sign_language-superpower5. Plan Ahead for Life’s Bumps in the Road
If you know there may be a roadblock ahead, don’t bury your head in the sand… plan for it. I had a student named Matthew that had Usher’s Syndrome. He was deaf and was slowly losing his eyesight also. Usher’s Syndrome causes loss of vision slowly over a period of time, first affecting your peripheral vision and then slowly affecting your entire eyesight like a tunnel closing up. Matthew planned ahead for this eventual vision loss by learning braille and sign language in hand so he could continue to communicate. Talk about dedication and planning ahead for a bump in the road! Tak e a page out of Matthew’s book. When you plan ahead, prepare and face life head on. It helps you to not only obtain a better result, but possibly enjoy the journey and the process.

I hope you are inspired by these brave deaf individuals and their can-do attitude. Now ask yourself, can you develop a Can-Do Attitude? What success principles do you have in your bag of tricks to help you start overcoming your perceived limitations? Start tapping into those success principles and tools.

Here’s to a Can-Do Attitude!

I’m exciting to be presenting American Sign Language 101 and the Deaf Culture at the Florida Public Library on June 28th.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, as I have deaf cousins and spent 3 years as an Instructor and Interpreter at the NY School for the Deaf from 1991-1994. I also taught sign language for many years at my local community center, and was privileged to be the interpreter for a wonderful book called Hands of my Father.

This program introduces the hearing adult to the manual alphabet, finger spelling and basic conversational vocabulary. Common myths about deafness and sign language will raise awareness about the deaf community.

The Details:

  • Date: Thursday, June 28, 2012
  • Time: 6:30 – 8 pm
  • Location: Florida Public Library, Florida, NY
  • More Details:

Last year, I was asked to interpret a reading by an author named Myron Uhlberg for a book he wrote named “Hands of My Father,” a coming-of-age memoir. Myron was born in Brooklyn in the depths of the Depression to profoundly deaf parents. As a hearing child, the responsibility to communicate with the hearing world fell to Myron. He became his parents’ interpreter, and their link to the outside world.

I have a cousin that is deaf. He married a lovely deaf woman, and they have two wonderful hearing children. I grew up watching this couple communicate in sign language with each other and with their children. I was captivated by this beautiful language, and vowed to officially learn it some day. That day came during college when I took an American Sign Language (ASL) class. I then went on to work as an instructor and interpreter at the New York School for the Deaf in White Plains, NY for three years. It was an amazing experience and one I will cherish for life.

Sign language is at the heart of Myron’s book. Thus, the publisher felt it important for the public to be able to actually see the language. I had the pleasure of serving as the interpreter for the excerpts from the book that Myron chose to read. 

If you want to see a beautiful, expressive language, and hear the chosen excerpts read by Myron, click here. I hope you are as moved by this unique language, and Myron’s story as I am. It was an honor to be the interpreter for this project.

Lisa Signature