Ideal communication vs possible communication

Martelle interprets during story time by signing hand under hand with Oona. Martelle is seated on the left. He is a muscular dark skinned man with short hair, wearing a black shirt and jeans. One of his arms is raised in the sign for tree and the other hand is across his body touching the tree. Oona is wearing a yellow dress and white sweater. She is sitting across from Martelle with one hand feeling the tree sign and the other hand tracking his arm that is indicating towards the tree. This is a blurry still from a phone video.
Martelle interprets during story time by signing hand under hand with Oona. Sorry for the blurry quality – it’s a still taken from a phone video.

I want to start this post with a caveat that I’m not a linguist, I’m not Deaf or DeafBlind myself, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of the incredible array of vlogs, blogs, and social media where Deaf and DeafBlind advocates share their knowledge. This is to say: I want to pay homage to others who have undoubtedly written on this topic from a far more authoritative personal and/or academic perspective. I hope to discover and learn from your work. My small contribution here derives from my observation of my child, and perhaps my motivation to explain things to other hearing people given how recently I came to understand so much of this myself. I hope that sharing my thoughts on this topic is helpful to other hearing caregivers of Deaf and DeafBlind children.

So, “ideal communication” and “possible communication” are not textbook terms. They are just two terms that I made up, although other people likely use them in different communication-related contexts or perhaps even the same sign language context that I’m going to apply them to. Here are my definitions: “possible communication” takes place when either the language itself or a given modality (visual, auditory, tactile) CAN be understood and managed by a given person in a given space, but it presents various limitations for them. “Ideal communication” happens when the language and/or its modality is enabling someone to access maximum information and human connection in a given space.

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Children who don’t sign back

To put it simply: We keep signing with Oona because it makes her happy.

Image description: two DeafBlind children between the ages of 6 and 8 hold hands and walk together, sharing a moment of tactile bonding. Their arms are locked and they are turned towards each other a bit with their whole upper arms touching. They are both wearing orange shirts and glasses. The child on the right is holding the hand of his babysitter who is walking a little bit in front of them and smiling looking back at them.

The other day I was with Oona at a playground next to the woods of Sligo Creek. It was dusk and no one else was out… just us, the snow on the ground from Friday, and the creek gurgling in the background. For some reason I suddenly had very clear thoughts on why I sign with my kid – and why I insist that she be in a sign language education environment – even when she doesn’t sign back.

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