You may know Shoshannah Stern from her role as Dr. Lauren Riley in Grey’s Anatomy, and since her debut there, she penned a wide-ranging and informative essay for the New York Times’ Modern Love column. A link to the article is below.
Her words are instructive to hearing Americans who want to know about communication in American Sign Language and deaf culture.
I am a deaf person from a multigenerational deaf family. My mother met my father at a leadership convention for deaf youth when they were in high school. Every time my father tells their story, he doesn’t sign when he describes the moment that he first laid eyes on my mother. Instead, he uses his face. His eyes light up and his mouth drops open in an incredulous smile. Without words, we see him falling in love with her all over again.
Photo by: Carroll County Board of Developmental Disabilities
Later in her column, Stern describes “mouth morphemes,” facial movements that “only the most fluent users of sign language know how to apply.” Stern writes that the expressions are often seen as comical by hearing observers, and trolls’ comments about the ASL interpretations of Marla Berkowitz (left) come to mind. Berkowitz is an ASL interpreter at Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s COVID-19 press briefings.
Stern recalls a comparison of blindness and deafness often attributed to Helen Keller.
I never thought [Helen Keller] was right. It’s people who cut you off from people. And more often than not, it’s by choice. Not learning someone’s language is a choice. Not providing sign language interpreters is a choice [that] becomes the differences between solitude and isolation, which is sometimes the choice between life and death.
Stern’s essay appears [here].