If You’re Deaf, How Can You Use the Phone?

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“If you’re deaf, how can you use the phone?”

For most of my life, the phone was my enemy.  Even though I grew up hard of hearing, my brain couldn’t interpret sound into comprehensible English over the phone. My dad tried for years to get me to practice by calling him at work, but all I heard was a bunch of sounds that made no sense.  Every once in a while, I’d get lucky and understand a phrase or two. We came up with a system where I’d ask him questions and he’d respond with a “No, no.” or a “Yes.”

As a teenager, my dad handled all the calls coming in, including the ones from guys.  You can just imagine how fun it was to deal with that.  “Yeah, Dad, tell John I’ll go ice skating with him. What time is he picking me up?”

When I first became deaf after a fall while barefooting as a teen, I had no idea at the time it was going to turn out to be a blessing. After a few months of struggling in my classes at Northern Illinois University, I had an epiphany one morning: I could continue to be miserable about being deaf, or I could change my attitude and become the best possible deaf person I could be.  I chose the latter and began to learn American Sign Language.

Little did I know, that decision would lead me to be able to access the phone in a whole new way.  In fact, most days, I’m on the phone interviewing someone for articles or an upcoming book. ‘

So, how does a deaf person use the phone?

For me, it requires a sign language interpreter on a videophone. I simply dial the person I want to call and the interpreter appears on the screen.  I use my voice to talk on the phone and an interpreter signs everything the other person says.  I use ZVRS for this service.  Keith St. Onge (2x World Barefoot Champion) and I spent two and half years on the phone while writing his book, Gliding Soles, Lessons from a Life on Water.   When we first started working together, Keith and I didn’t know each other at all.  We spent hours and hours on the phone crafting his life story with interpreters switching places to keep the conversation flowing.

The ZVRS team came to the World Barefoot Center in Florida to capture how a deaf mom and a World Champ wrote a book together:





2 replies
  1. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I’m curious – can you use video chat/video calls? As in, if you can see them talking/read lips, does that help with your brain interpreting the sounds?

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