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Valley Life for All column: Not all deaf people are alike

Annie Uyehara
Special to The Aspen Times
Tammy Nordstrand

It goes without saying that no two people are alike. Yet when it comes to deaf people, there’s an assumption that all deaf people are alike.

That’s simply not so, says Tammy Nordstrand. She was diagnosed as profoundly deaf when she was 1 year old. “Everyone is different,” Tammy says. “It’s like with eyeglasses, we all wear different prescriptions, we all see differently. It is the same with deaf people; we all have different needs and do things differently — some people only sign, others write on paper to communicate, others speak.”

Those with profound hearing loss can hear nothing at all. However, Tammy, 48, had speech therapy throughout her life and speaks as well as signs, and hearing aids help her hear loud sounds. “I grew up with a hearing family,” says Tammy over a Zoom interview with the aid of Erin Gallimore, a deaf teacher and interpreter. Tammy’s husband is deaf, and they have three hearing children. “I have a lot of lip reading skills, and I sign and speak with my family and friends.”

Communication difficulties arise when meeting strangers. Tammy speaks so well, people assume she can hear. “Lots of people I meet ask me, ‘What country are you from?’ Or, ‘What is your accent?’ I have to explain to them that I’m deaf,” she says. “But I have to look at them or get their attention to read their lips. Some people won’t repeat something I missed and say they’ll tell me later, but they forget, and I miss out on that information, which is frustrating.”

While there is occasional discouragement, Tammy’s communication skills with the hearing community have been very fruitful. She was a National Cheerleading Association summer staff instructor for four years. “Many campers were amazed by my experiences and ability to teach with different competitive high school teams.” She was also the head cheer and dancing coach and a children’s ski school lead counselor and a ski instructor for 14 years. Tammy worked with deaf school students and hopes to work this fall with a young deaf boy.

“I think we need to improve school programs for deaf children and to make connections with other deaf people in the community,” Tammy says. “We need more exposure to the available services and help navigate the support that is there, like RISP.” RISP (Rural Interpreting Service Project) provides opportunities for initial and advanced sign language interpreter training to increase the availability of interpreting services in rural areas.

The Aspen Times, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, continues a monthly series of profiles about people in our community who have different abilities. Valley Life for All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. For more information, go to http://www.valleylifeforall.org or on Facebook.


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