One benefit of my job at National Deaf Academy is taking the patients to the gym over the weekend, where we’ll usually knock around shooting baskets for awhile.
There is nothing – nothing – that takes me back to my early years like playing basketball. The feel of the ball, the rhythm of dribbling, the sense of the shot as it leaves the hands, the satisfaction of a clean basket – it feels exactly the same now as it did then. Very few things in life remain so constant.
Back then my family lived a couple of blocks from Tarpon Springs Elementary and the basketball court there, where I often spent hours playing and practicing.
When the weather was good, there was a steady stream of people coming and going to play. I’d play one-on-one with anyone. Some were easy to beat, some were far better than I, and a few – the ones I enjoyed most – were really evenly matched. I’m a left-handed shooter, which gave me a distinct advantage over a lot of players, and I was getting taller – not quite the six feet I am now, but closing in on it.
Sometimes a thought strikes unbidden, a surprise, and one struck on a Saturday night as I was standing at the free throw line – if I could play now against my 12-year-old self, who would win? I laughed out loud at the idea…and after considering it, I do believe my 12-year-old self would kick my ass on the court.
My shooting then was refined by hours of practice, my speed was much better and my stamina on the court was certainly better. I weighed a good 50-70 lbs. less then, and my legs were probably as strong or nearly as strong as they are now. I could jump better, move faster, last longer.
About 5 years ago I broke my left shoulder in a biking accident. It healed up pretty well, but since then after I throw balls around for about 15 minutes, that shoulder starts to ache. There’s a subtle effect on my shooting, too. I can’t quite pin down how it’s different, but I can feel the difference when I shoot.
That’s ok – I have no ambition of being a ball player. It’s a kick to just get on court 35 years later and feel like I’m 12 again, even when I know perfectly well I’m not. It’s almost as if a basketball court is a personal time machine.
The world has changed in so many ways since I was a mop-headed lad with no greater worry than aiming a red, white and blue basketball at a hoop. The worries are more numerous and serious now, but give me a basketball and a court, and the worries seem to fade away. It’s nice to know there’s a place magical enough to make that happen.
Come to think of it, my stepson Dylan is now at exactly the same age I was when I was hanging around the court, looking for challengers. Can he beat me?
Bring it on…
When I was in high school, we’d study simple forms of life – single cell life, like a paramecium. And the thing that consistently impressed me was how incredibly complicated these forms of life were. We’d examine a single, basic cell, and find it was amazingly sophisticated. It was enough to make one think that maybe, just maybe, the intelligent design people were on to something.
For much of my life, I’ve been mildly interested in building up a sense of the sequence of life. Wouldn’t it be cool to look at forms of life around us and know, roughly, how long it’s been around?
The puzzle of complexity and the mystery of age drove much of my interest in biology for years. And the key to understanding both is the timeline of development.
We know the earth was frequently subject to heavy-duty bombardment by meteorites during the first half-billion years. This pounding was fierce enough that it’s entirely possible that simple forms of life arose and were wiped out several times.
We also know that the earliest evidence of life we can find dates back the time when the bombardment was winding down. Those early life forms were single cells. And that’s how matters remained…
…for the next 3 billion years.
Three. Billion. Years.
Evolution is driven by changes in the environment. Life that can adapt to change survives. Life that can’t…dies. Sometimes it’s the weird mutant cell that survives, say, a period where it’s colder than normal. That mutant proliferates while others fade away. The mutant moves into colder environments while it’s cousins remain in the tropics. Single cells adapted to a variety of environments, including competition with their own expanding numbers. The development of single-cell life, including the arms race of single-cell biological warfare, went on for time out of mind – three billion years.
No damn wonder they’re so sophisticated. To get a glimpse of just how sophisticated, take a look at this chart of cellular biochemical and metabolic pathways:
All the oldest forms of life began in the ocean. It was only about 500 million years ago – half a billion years – that life moved onto land. There are living fossils among us. Sponges date back 635 million years. Horseshoe crabs, 435 million years. Sharks, over 350 million years. Alligators, more than 200 million years. Ginko trees – there are many of them in Washington, DC – haven’t changed in 170 million years.
But to find the oldest form of life, you need look no farther than the cells of your own body. We are, all of us, walking cell colonies. The cells that form us are, of course, far more advanced than the earliest cells, and they got that way because they had three billion years to find their groove.
The most ancient forms of life are the building blocks of your life.
Employment Matters column, i711.com
Do you know who is the largest private employer of deaf staff anywhere?
Yes, anywhere. There are other places – deaf schools, mostly – with many deaf staff, but they’re publicly funded. We’re talking about a private business here, with well over 100 deaf staff. We’re talking about full time workers earning $28,000 to $32,000 a year, and often more with overtime. There are deaf people in management – some have worked there since the business opened over 6 years ago. And what does this band of deaf professionals do for a living?
They work with deaf customers. The customers, in this case, are psychiatric patients living at the National Deaf Academy (NDA). And full disclosure – I work at NDA. So this is an inside view.
Psychiatric care is not easy work. The patients who arrive at NDA have often been abused, misunderstood, neglected. Some have wonderfully supportive families, and others have no family at all, or have been abandoned by their families. Many of them need all the support and guidance they can get – and that’s what NDA does.
The support includes a team of deaf and hearing therapists, teachers, doctors, nurses and Mental Health Technicians, all who watch over the patients from day to day. They teach them, care for them, encourage them when they grow frustrated, intervene when they become upset, praise them when they progress.
The work requires extraordinary patience. The customers arrive with serious issues, and it takes time to sort though the problems and develop a program that will match the patient’s needs. The key to making it happen is being able to communicate effectively with the patient, and NDA has more collective experience doing this than any other place in the world.
Because NDA is a residential facility, there is staff on duty 24 hours a day, in three shifts. The morning team begins bright and early at 7 a.m. and hands over responsibility to the afternoon shift at 3 p.m. At 11 p.m the night crew arrives and works until daybreak, when the morning staff returns and the cycle begins again.
The customers span a wide age range, from young children to adolescents and adults. Most of the MHT staff is younger, in their 20′s, with a few 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings sprinkled through. They’ve all worked long, hard hours, through holidays, weekends, on-call and standby shifts, dealing with autism, severe mood swings, bipolar behavior, aggression, low functioning, bickering between the residents and much more. There’s never any shortage of drama.
It’s a very human environment – the philosophy of care at NDA rejects straightjackets and locked rooms. Patients enter a scheduled, structured program with strict rules, and the staff begins with five days of intense training on how to handle everyday business and emergencies. People who have been at NDA for several years have developed a special bond that comes from working together through tough situations.
What makes NDA stand out for the patients is the ability to talk to nearly everyone. Some of them have been placed in hearing psychiatric care before, where the communication abilities of the staff are limited. This often leads to endless frustration.
At NDA, it’s a different story – there are plenty of people they can talk to, work with, vent their angst, and learn to trust. This is a big deal for people who have been insulted and treated poorly in other places. Still, building that trust takes time – sometimes years.
It’s also a big deal for deaf staff to earn a living working with many other deaf employees. There are not many such places. NDA is just north of Orlando, Florida, so it attracts people with good climate, an easy drive to the beach and a lower cost of living than much of the nation.
This summer will bring growth, with a new 46-bed building opening for adults. NDA is preparing now by hiring more staff. Interested readers can learn more at http://www.nationaldeafacademy.com/employment.html.
Employment Matters column, i711.com
One day at a large Washington, DC courthouse, I was suddenly, without warning, seized by three burly policemen. My first reaction was astonishment, and the second was fury. I had been minding my own business, doing nothing wrong – who were these people to grab me? – and began fighting to break free. Not a good idea.
As they struggled with me, I screamed “I’M HEARING IMPAIRED, DAMNIT!” I would have said I’M DEAF, but I remember thinking they wouldn’t believe me if I was screaming it. And ‘hearing impaired’ was the fashionable phrase among hearing people at the time, so I said what I thought they would understand.
They slapped me in handcuffs and left me standing alone in the lobby, angry and humiliated. Eventually they walked me outside, and a lawyer who witnessed the whole spectacle stuffed his card in my shirt pocket and urged me to contact him later. I was taken away in a squad car and driven to a nearby police station. They emptied my pockets – wallet, lawyer’s card, keys – and locked me in an empty cell. I remained there for 45 minutes before someone came around to interview me. I had plenty of time to think about that lawyer’s card.
The interviewer took down basic identification info, then I explained what happened from my point of view. The interviewer went away for another half hour, returned, opened the cell, gave me my belongings and said, “You’re free to go.”
Huh? I started asking questions. Why had I been seized and taken to jail?
Here’s what happened. I’d gone into the courthouse because I was having trouble locating a building nearby, and the courthouse has an information desk. I wrote a note to the clerk asking for directions to the building, and she very kindly wrote out detailed instructions and drew a small map. I thanked her, turned to leave the building, and glanced up to locate the exit. I spotted it, then returned my attention to the note she gave me as I continued walking. I was nearing the exit when I was grabbed.
Turns out, the police had asked me to stop before I reached the door, but of course I didn’t hear them. They asked again, more insistently, and I kept going. They were working security at a major courthouse, and part of their job is to make sure that none of the assorted criminals there for trial slip away. When they asked me to stop, I – from their point of view – ignored them. So they assumed I was trying to sneak out.
As you might expect, they deal with a lot of people who will lie from sunup to sundown, so nothing I said to them was to be believed. They had to check me out. That’s why I was taken to the police station and held there while they gathered facts and checked out my story. When they discovered I was who I said I was and was doing what I said I was doing, they released me, with no record of arrest.
So I was free again. But I had another question that remained unanswered. I had the lawyer’s card. Should I sue or not? Wrongly arrested, held in handcuffs, imprisoned – all this just for seeking directions?
I mulled it over for a while. I knew there might be money in it, and that was tempting, but in the end I recognized that a lawsuit made no sense – the police were just doing their jobs.
They didn’t, and couldn’t know at that moment that I was deaf. They didn’t, and couldn’t know that I was honest. As soon as they did, they explained what happened and I was free. I took it as a lesson – where police are around, keep your eyes open and pay attention. It also gave me a new appreciation for how easy it is for encounters between deaf citizens and police to go badly. These misunderstandings can be, and sometimes are, deadly.
Conflict between deaf employees and hearing employers is seldom deadly, but it does frequently raise the same question I considered – to sue, or not to sue? There is no simple answer, because every situation is different.
Whatever business they are in, the first priority of private employers is earning a profit. If they don’t, of course, they’re out of business – and so are their employees. Their focus is on increasing income and avoiding costs. When they see deaf applicants and workers, their fear is that the worker will become more of a cost than a source of income. The costs come in the form of accommodations – interpreters, fire signaling gear, TTYs or videoconferencing equipment.
These fears are fed by headlines of lawsuits by deaf workers against their employers. Just last year, there was a jury trial in Baltimore that ended with a $108,000 award to a deaf employee of FedEx, following their refusal to provide him with an interpreter. That case was pursued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the government went to bat for the employee.
Then there’s the huge ten million dollar settlement of a class action lawsuit by over 1,000 current and former employees of United Parcel Service four years ago. This case was also about interpreters, and UPS agreed to provide them going forward.
Three years ago, the Supreme Court considered Tennessee vs. Lane, a case that determined whether disabled people should even be allowed to sue a state government. They decided yes, they should – but the decision was very narrow, with 5 justices in favor and 4 opposed. Just one person, and one vote – by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – marked the difference between our being locked out of court or having a day in it.
Some employers see these stories and many more like them, and see deaf applicants as lawsuits waiting to happen. This, of course, just makes it harder for deaf people to find good jobs.
On the other hand, we know that with reasonable and affordable accommodations, deaf workers can be effective and productive employees. It falls on us to make this clear to employers. There will always be some situations where it will take a lawsuit to convince. But before we get to that point, the responsible approach is to work through alternatives first. The National Association of the Deaf recognizes this, and has published a clear guide for employers.
It lays out what is needed, and notes that employers can deduct the cost of accommodations, and may be qualify for special tax credits to help reduce the cost of reasonable accommodations. This makes the whole cost issue much easier to deal with, and if employers openly worry about a lawsuit, it’s worth pointing out that providing reasonable accommodations in the beginning is the best defense against a lawsuit ever happening.
When we are faced with a stubborn employer who balks at providing interpreters and other essential accommodations, it’s reasonable and natural to get upset. It’s also human nature to be tempted by the prospect of a big score through a lawsuit. But we need to keep in mind the job prospects for other deaf workers. We are all in this together – how we deal with the accommodations issue will affect everyone in the deaf community.
Yes, the UPS settlement created better conditions at UPS for deaf employees, and that’s an important win. It also undoubtedly created a ripple effect that scared other employers. You may meet some of them someday. When you do, tread carefully. Professionally request accommodations, discuss, negotiate. If all responsible approaches fail, then fight, but more in sorrow than in anger. Lawsuits are an important tool, but they should be a last resort.
Our final goal is to treated as equal and work as equal – because we are equal.
Employment Matters column, i711.com
There was a time when deaf employment thundered. Literally – it vibrated and shook, rattled the walls and drove away the timid. And the deaf employees? They were a mob of ink-stained wretches, in the fond phrase of the era. They ran the printing presses, some of which were a big as a small house. In a time before the Net, forests fell and their trees were fed into the maw of enormous machines that required careful, skilled attention.
They were an elite, the men who worked these mechanical beasts. They understood the clanking monsters, knew their temperamental ways. They maintained the subtle balance of tension and pressure needed to apply ink to vast sheets of paper hour after hour, day after day, year after year. They were an essential part of what made every American newspaper a “daily miracle”.
The San Francisco Chronicle had as many as 60 deaf printers producing the paper.
Gary Hendrix and his brother Richard worked there and at the SF Examiner for 37 years, as their father did. Many of their hearing colleagues learned sign language to communicate. One of their co-workers, Doug Floyd, said of 38 years in the pressroom: “It was a total brotherhood.”
In a time when deaf people didn’t get much respect, deaf printers did. In a time when many deaf workers earned meager wages, if any wages at all, deaf printers walked tall with satisfying, regular paychecks.
Many were International Typographical Union members and earned more than teachers. They were living proof of a can-do ethic, of intelligence, ability, and professional reliability.
Some, like Edwin Hodgson, worked hard to share their knowledge and good fortune – he became a printing instructor, making it possible for more deaf printers to earn a living wage, and went on to become a president at the National Association of the Deaf.
That era is gone. The rolling roar of giant mechanical printing presses has muted, and the work is now highly automated. Collections of metal type have been replaced by the mouse and keyboard.
We are no longer slaves to the machines. We are now masters of the Net.
Deaf employment no longer relies on a few narrow professions where hearing workers are at a disadvantage. We are no longer tied down to a single work location. With our pagers, computers, cars and commercial airline service, we have grown wings. We can choose to go where the work is or have the work come to us. Our eyes extend as far as our VRS videophones can take us – which is to say, nearly anywhere.
Where our grandfathers worked in the service of publishers, we ourselves are publishers, with our thoughts available online instantly, for all the world to see. Not only that – we can choose to publish in print, or in sign. The age of the video blog is upon us.
The visibility of ASL is greater now, the appreciation of its grace and expression more widespread. This is opening doors everywhere.
Deaf children today see deaf adults working far beyond the old, limited vocations. We have spread into every area – law, education, insurance, real estate, health care, entertainment, travel and much, much more. For decades, the deaf community has moved forward and upward, gaining speed on the twin engines of education and technology.
Our progress has not always been obvious on a daily basis, so we might not realize just how far we’ve traveled without a brief look back.
We still grump – justifiably – about underemployment. We still lament the quality of deaf education, and there’s plenty of room for improvement. But we have not been shy about protesting when we demand better. Discrimination, confusion, ignorance, even hostility – all these familiar demons remain with us. But deaf professionals are no longer a small, proud pool of ink-stained wretches. They are you and me, breaking new ground as we go about our working lives, preparing a path for the next generation.
Employment Matters column, i711.com
Most deaf and hard of hearing people don’t have a hearing ear dog. I never had one myself, because I never felt I needed one. Then I got accustomed to living with my fiancee’s dog. Her dog was never formally trained as a hearing ear dog, but he just sort of took on the job anyway – and does it very well. It’s really nice to know when someone’s at the door and I’m away in another room, Poppy will tell me about it.
But getting a formally trained hearing ear dog can be long, expensive wait. Many training centers have a variety of conditions, fees, waiting times, and even annual recertification requirements. Some places won’t even let you own the dog – they own it, you merely borrow it. Many of these conditions are created with the best of intentions – they want to ensure the safety of the owner and the good health of the dog. But it also unfortunately means fewer service dogs for people who want them.
If you’ve thought about getting a hearing ear dog, or already have a dog and want to train it, good news – you can do it yourself. It’s not terribly difficult, but it does require a serious investment of time and energy on your part. Be sure you can commit to that before you begin. Think of it this way – your dog is going to school, and you are the teacher!
It’s not all work – treat it as a game you play with the dog. Your dog will enjoy the attention, the training will stretch the dog’s mind, and you’ll develop a much deeper bond with your dog than most people have.
There’s one condition that can be a deal-breaker – your dog’s temperament. Not all dogs are a good fit with the job of alerting you to sounds. Some just don’t have the attention span, or maybe too high-strung to train, or maybe too aggressive to have around the house. If you’ve already got a dog you want to train, you’ll have to use your own judgment here. If you’re not sure your pooch is up to the job, give it a try anyway – you might be surprised.
The most popular way to train a dog, or any other animal, nowadays is through clicker training. To get an idea of what it involves, check out this video of a cat being trained to flip a light switch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vja83KLQXZs. There’s about 30 seconds of voice introduction, but the rest of the video is subtitled and the action is clear. This method is used successfully with many different animals – dolphins, horses, chickens, parrots, even fish. It works great with dogs. This system is entirely reward-based – no punishments needed.
You can see that training can go surprisingly fast with some patience, and it’s very simple. You don’t need any fancy or expensive equipment. Just a bag of cheap treats and simple clicker – you can get those here for less than a dollar: https://www.ssl-serve.org/lcadvertising/shop/lockdown.asp
Don’t expect to teach new skills in a single training session. Your pet’s stamina and attention span will likely grow as it becomes accustomed to these strange new games you’re playing. Just take a break once in a while. Once you’ve trained a dog using the clicker, you can lose the clicker and switch to your own commands – signs, voice, whatever works for you. Practice once in a while until the dog understands the routine and knows what is expected. Training like this sticks, even for years afterward.
Start by training the dog to recognize a particular sound, ideally a sound that is always the same. Door knocks are not the best choice to begin with, because people knock doors in different ways. But fire alarms are a good pick – they make the same sound each time they go off. First train the dog to come to you when you click on the clicker. Then train the dog to go to you when the fire alarm sounds off. Start with you and the dog in the same room, then gradually train at greater distances and in different rooms. It becomes fun when the dog “gets it” and understands how the game works.
The big advantage of doing it yourself is clear – once you’ve trained the dog to react to sounds for you, you can take it further and train it for other useful tasks – fetching it’s own leach, bringing in the newspaper, staying off the furniture, or general obedience training. Once you’ve taught the dog some skills, you’ve also learned how to train, so you both benefit. There’s an amazing amount of helpful tips and guides for training available online, on websites, in videos and books. It’s not at all complicated – if you have kids, they can learn how to do this too. You can put your dog to work and have fun at the same time!
Employment Matters column, i711.com
Well, I’m for that
Got my rubber sandals
Got my straw hat
Got my cold beer
Man, I’m glad that it’s here
It’s my favorite time of the year
And I’m glad that it’s here…Yeah!”
- James Taylor, Summer’s Here
The lazy days of summer are the favorite of millions, especially schoolchildren. For the single working parent, however, summer isn’t always the stress reliever it is for others. It can be a scary time for parents with young children who are caught between a limited budget and the necessity of working while the kids are out of school. Someone has to earn money, and someone has to watch the kids, and few single parents can do both at the same time.
Parents naturally want to ensure their children’s safety and well-being, but this is tough to do while away at a job. It’s a lot easier when help is available from trusted family and friends. But when that’s not an option, where can the single working parent turn?
There’s an old saying – “an idle mind is the devil’s playground”. The idea behind this idiom is that when people are bored and have plenty of time, there are more opportunities to get into some sort of trouble. This is especially true with kids. There’s another saying – “when the cat’s away, the mice will play” – and when Mom or Dad are away, kids can be tempted to experiment with ideas they know their parents wouldn’t approve.
Keeping young minds focused on something positive and interesting is vital to keeping them out of trouble. Doing that on the kind of tight budget common among single working parents is a real challenge. What to do?
One fix is to network with other single parents, ideally someone who has a different work schedule than your own. You trade off watching the kids while the other works. That’s not enough, by itself- you also need assurance you’re dealing with someone who is dependable and trustworthy. You could trust your gut, or you could ask for referrals from their co-workers or supervisor.
Another possibility – check out ChildCareAware.org. This is a good starting point for finding established local child care services – and possibly some useful resources to help pay for it.
While you’re thinking about the expense, think about tax breaks, too – in America, there’s a good chance you qualify for the child-care tax credit. This deal can net you up to $3,000 to help cover day-care costs for one child, and up to $6,000 for two or more children. You can find out more about it here.
Could you use a guide on how to interview a babysitter?
Children mature at different speeds. You’ve probably met a few kids who seem surprisingly wise and mature beyond their years, and some older kids you wouldn’t trust alone more than 5 minutes. If you’re one of the lucky parents who have Yoda children and you’re wondering if leaving them home alone is an option, a good rule of thumb is that no child should be home alone if they are under 12.
Give some thought to activities for the kids beyond the classic choices of videogames and movies. TV is like visual crack – once addicted, it’s hard to wean the kids off it and get them interested in something else.
Get them outside if you can. Gardening is a good bet if you have some yard space, especially if you let on that there are all sorts of creepy (but generally harmless to people) crawlies that are drawn to gardens. (This will repel some kids and attract others.) You can also point out the fun of growing watermelon, strawberries and other summer foods right at home. Living in an apartment? You can still do flowers on the porch and in the windows.
Another idea – astronomy. You don’t even need a telescope. With a few library books and their eyes, a kid can learn their way around the night sky, and if they really get into it, binoculars are a low-cost addition to the hobby.
And another – biking. This is a good habit to encourage early – bikes can become a tool for healthy living for the rest of a child’s life, as well as a source of great fun and a way to get around without driving up your gas expenses.
The problem of keeping children happy, engaged and safe during the summer months affects all single parents – hearing, deaf and hard of hearing. This is one area where we’re all in it together.