“CODA” stands for Child of Deaf Adults, which means that you are a hearing child with deaf parents. There are not a lot of people in this world that knows what a CODA is, unfortunately. When you elaborate on what it means, all of a sudden, they become so interested in your life as if you were some celebrity rock star, asking you so many questions that just does not make sense. “I didn’t know deaf people can have children…” “Can deaf people drive?” These questions did not make me feel like a rock star. They made me feel more alone in this world than anything else. I felt like no one truly understood what it was like to be me, a CODA.
I did not talk. I did not want to use my voice to speak. I spoke with my hands. Still, I truly believed that I was your normal, average kid. I did not realize that I was different from everyone else. I thought I was deaf. Thanks to both of my parents, I had less than a handful of friends who understood exactly what it was like to be in my position. Thank God, they were CODAs too. I felt so close to them, more than I did with anyone else. I felt like they were my siblings. We had so much fun together and I did not have to pretend to be like everyone else. I was always me.
When I did begin to speak, my words were coming out all wrong. I struggled with my grammar. I knew only what I was able to hear. My mom ended up putting me in speech classes, with the school’s advice, in order to learn how to pronounce my words better. Despite their best efforts though, they told my parents they were holding me back in kindergarten due to my speaking skills. My parents were so disappointed as if they had done something wrong. However, they did nothing wrong at all. It was then that they had decided that moving closer to my grandmother was the best thing to do in order for me to succeed. My grandmother was an intelligent woman and very soft spoken. It was easy to learn how to speak with her help. I became attached to her. She understood me. She was my second mom.
A Story Only A CODA Could Tell
I will never forget this one-day, my mom and I were walking through the grocery store, chatting with our hands. There were two girls, around my age, walking in the same aisle. They were following behind us with their hands over their mouths, whispering. I immediately knew they were making fun of us. I could feel it deep down in my gut. They started flapping their arms around imitating sign and giggling. This was not funny at all. In fact, this hurt my feelings. I tried to ignore them but, as they got a little bit closer, I could actually hear the words they were saying about us. All I wanted to do was shut down and cry. Deaf people do not enjoy being made fun of. Really, who does? I turned around and said, “Excuse me?” and, to my surprise, they both ran off, shocked, that I had heard everything. I felt so incredibly powerful in that moment while my mom, on the other hand, had no clue what had just happened.
“Is your mom is Deaf and Dumb?” or “Is she a Deaf Mute?” I hear these two mostly used phrases all the time when it comes to explaining my life. Deaf and Dumb? Deaf Mute? Who came up with these titles? Just because you cannot hear, does not mean you are dumb or have no voice. Deaf people are just like hearing people except, they can hear. That is all. This killed me on the inside. I was hesitant to tell people that both my parents were deaf. I did not want to have to deal with all the crazy questions that came along with it. It never dawned on me that having deaf parents was actually something special.
Being a Teenager of Deaf Parents
As time went on, I realized that it was actually GREAT having deaf parents! I could talk to my parents and CODA friends through windows. I could talk to them in complete privacy and no one knew what I was saying. I could even sneak out of the house, falling down outside of the bedroom window and knocking things over in the process, without being heard (Sorry, Mom!). I could even to jam out to my favorite music, singing out loud, as loud as I wanted, in whatever voice I wanted. I never got into any trouble for it. Sometimes when I would REALLY get into it, my dad would tell me to be quiet because he said he could feel the vibrations. Still, in my mind, I was a rock star! I felt like I had no barriers. I was completely unstoppable!
When I look back at my life, I realize that being different has taught me to have more compassion for those with disabilities. I understand wholeheartedly what it is like to be deaf because I thought I was deaf. Being raised in both the hearing world and the deaf world has shaped and formed me to be the proud CODA that I am today. I subtly mingle with the deaf world and they believe I am deaf because I act as if I am deaf. I am no longer afraid to answer the crazy questions that the hearing world asks nor am I afraid to educate people. I want everyone to understand that being deaf does not mean anything except that someone cannot hear. They do not need to be judged or looked down upon. They deserve every opportunity that a hearing person has in this world to succeed.
My advice to the hearing world – go ahead and learn sign language now while you still can. It really is not a waste of your time. Whether you do it now or later, face it, your hearing will eventually fade. If you already know how to speak in sign language, you will not feel so lost when you do become deaf. Think about it, really, why wouldn’t you want to know sign? It’s empowering.
Easterseals provides services throughout the county to assist those who are deaf or hard of hearing. To learn more about New Jersey’s offerings, visit their program page and if you’re seeking services in North Eastern or Central Florida, visit their program page.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Adrienne Abercrombie is the Deaf Advocate/Case Manager at Easterseals Northeast Central Florida which is located in Daytona Beach. She is a freelance and contracted ASL Interpreter since 1997 – 22+ years of experience as a Qualified Sign Language Interpreter, and has also worked at Sorenson Communications for 5+ years. She is always involved in the deaf community, enjoys attending deaf events and is always there to give a helping hand whenever it is needed.
Her mother, Amy Barber, was the Deaf Advocate/Case Manager for 10+ years at Easterseals before she retired and Adrienne came in and took over the position to ensure the deaf community could continue to get the help that they need and deserve. Her father, John Hogg, was a Sign Language Professor at University of South Florida/Polk Community College in Lakeland, FL and her stepfather, Chuck Barber, was a Sign Language Professor at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach. Her grandmother, Pat Lozell, was strongly involved in the deaf community after retiring as a model in New York and believed in advocating for deaf rights. Pat did everything she could to help the deaf. She worked for the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and Blind which is located in St Augustine, FL. She also worked for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services in Daytona Beach along with the FTRI department distributing specialized telephones to the deaf and hard of hearing.
Deafness is hereditary on one side of her family but not on the other. She has a lot of family members (aunts, uncles and cousins) whom are deaf from birth. She also has some family members who have become deaf over time. Everyone in her family are big advocates for the deaf and they are constantly trying to ensure that they are treated fairly in every perspective of their lives. “Equality is the key to living a happy life”, Adrienne says