My friend Treshelle Edmond is a Deaf actress and phenomenal communicator. We met up after her performance in “Children of a Lesser God,” now playing on Broadway. The play spotlights Deaf culture, and many Deaf actors, directors, and community members contributed to the show’s success.
Treshelle introduced me to her friends. One after another, each person watched my hands as I signed in the air between us. They then responded by typing on my wireless keyboard, accommodating my preference for braille. The conversations bounced back-and-forth through these two different channels. We held space for a moment of connection, looking past typos and signos.
“It’s wonderful to meet a friend of Treshelle,” Joshua Jackson typed.
“She’s amazing! Congratulations to you, too.” Josh played one of the leading characters.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from Treshelle.” A few moments later, Josh wrote, “Would you sign that again? Slowly. It’s a little hard when it’s fast.”
“Absolutely.” My hands slowed down, carefully shaping each sign.
Over the next minute, Josh asks me to repeat myself two more times. Was my signing that bad? Did I do something wrong? Maybe he grew up using a different sign language, like French Sign Language?
“Happy to sign that again. I’m wondering… What’s your first language? What’s the easiest way for you to communicate?”
“Well, as a hearing person—“
“I thought you were Deaf!”
“The last four people I talked to are Deaf.” My shoulders shake with laughter. “I can’t believe I just assumed you’re Deaf. Anyways, I don’t mind voicing. Usually I use my voice when I’m talking to hearing people. Would that be easier for you?”
Through the rest of the evening I remembered to ask each new person: “How do you want to communicate?” Some Deaf people don’t use sign language. Some hearing people choose to sign. The process of discovering each new person’s communication style is like a lively dance. Sometimes, we get these hilarious moments where two people are not sure how to connect. So we ask and learn.
p.s. The Tony-winning play will run through May 27 in NYC. You can learn more about the show on the “Children of a Lesser God” website.