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Deaf in DC

A Memoir

Madan Vasishta

Publication Year: 2010

In his first memoir, Madan Vasishta described being a deaf boy in his homeland India, where “deaf” meant someone who is not human. After rising from herding cattle to being a respected photographer in Delhi, his first memoir concluded with his acceptance at Gallaudet College far away in America. Vasishta’s new memoir begins with his arrival in Washington, DC in 1967 with $40.00 in his pocket and very little knowledge of the new worlds he was entering. Vasishta faced myriad challenges from the outset—he knew no American Sign Language and could not speech read, yet he found himself thrust into classes at Gallaudet two weeks into the semester. Cultural differences mystified him, such as how all American car accidents were someone else’s fault even when one’s car hits a stationary object. He was amazed that his fellow students did not deride him for his mistakes, unlike in India where he would have been scorned for his weakness. After five years, he returned home to India for a visit and was stunned to learn that he no longer fit in, that “even if you do not have an American Dream, the American Dream will have you.” Deaf in DC follows Vasishta through half a century living in America. He witnessed the transformation from facing bias as a deaf, foreign man of color who could not get a job despite having a Ph.D., to receiving five offers as a school superintendent in the wake of the Civil Rights movement and Deaf President Now. His new memoir reflects a genuine worldview informed by the sage perceptions of a person who has lived widely in many worlds.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Series: Deaf Lives Series

Front Matter

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pp. vi-ix

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1. The Story So Far . . .

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pp. 1-4

AT THE AGE OF ELEVEN WHEN I WAS ATTENDING SIXTH grade and living in Gagret, a small village in northern India, I was stricken with mumps and typhoid and became deaf overnight. I thought I had died and gone to hell. I had never met a deaf person in my short life and not being able to hear made me feel less than human. ...

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2. Arrival in America

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pp. 5-11

AIRPLANES, TO ME WHILE HERDING CATTLE IN GAGRET, looked like birds, a bit larger than a crow and the same size as a vulture. Later, when living in Delhi, I had the opportunity to see some of them at the airport. They were larger, much larger. I saw scores of people disappear into the belly of the “bird.” ...

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3. The Cafeteria

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pp. 12-13

THE NEXT MORNING, I WOKE UP AFTER TWELVE HOURS OF dreamless sleep. I felt much better and was ready to face my life in the new country. I saw Godsey sitting in a chair. He smiled when he saw me awake and signed, “eat.” I was indeed hungry and it was nice of him to remember I had gone to bed hungry the night before. I got up and walked to him ...

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4. Prep or Freshman?

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pp. 14-17

SINCE IT WAS EARLY AND THE DEAN’S OFFICE WAS NOT open, Godsey took me around the SUB. He introduced me to the students he knew. I had met many Americans in India—they were all “Americans.” Here, however, they were not from America; they were from Florida, California, New York, and other states! ...

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5. American “Football”

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pp. 18-20

I LOVED PLAYING AND WATCHING FOOTBALL. IN GAGRET, I would walk as far as fifteen miles to go watch a football match. Here a football game was only a few steps away. It felt good to be living in a place where all the action was within walking distance. We arrived at the field and I looked at the twenty or more players dressed in uniforms and steel helmets. ...

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6. First Day of Classes

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pp. 21-23

NEXT MORNING, I GOT UP EARLY AND SAW THAT DAN WAS still asleep. I took a change of clothes, my bag of toiletries, and my small towel and went to the bathroom to get ready. There was no one in the bathroom, so I leisurely shaved and was ready to shower when I saw in the mirror two boys entering the bathroom and making it straight to the shower stall. ...

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7. Teachers and Students

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pp. 24-27

SINCE MY DEAFNESS AND THE RESULTING DISMISSAL FROM school when I was in the sixth grade, I have been teaching myself, except for the stint in the photography school for the deaf in Delhi. Thus, Gallaudet was the first school I attended after a hiatus of sixteen years. I was thrilled. I was going to sit in a classroom and have my own books and several teachers were going to teach me. ...

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8. Reading Palms

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pp. 28-33

BEING IGNORED BY EVERYONE JUST BECAUSE I COULD NOT sign American bothered me. I wished there were some students who were patient enough to talk to me by signing slowly so that I could learn to sign. I kept wondering how I could make people communicate with me. I was used to being the center of attention in Delhi ...

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9. Learning American English

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pp. 34-37

THE BRITISH, ACCORDING TO AN INDIAN NATIONALIST leader, never left India. Their customs, dress, and, most of all, language has taken hold in India. English is not the national language of India, but de facto it is the language in which all official business is conducted. Since English is the key to a good job and advancement in life, every upward mobile young ...

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10. Learning Sign Language

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pp. 38-40

MOST NEW STUDENTS WHO DIDN’T KNOW SIGN language* were encouraged to come during the summer to learn sign language. Others learned some signs during the orientation period in the fall. However, I had arrived on the Friday before classes began, so I didn’t have the opportunity to learn any signs. ...

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11. Being Alone in a Crowd

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pp. 41-43

IN INDIA, PEOPLE SAY “NAMASTE” WITH BOTH PALMS clasped together in front of you when they meet each other. Friends just shake hands, a relic of British times, which Indian people use a lot more than the British. “Namaste” is a more formal greeting. We greeted our boss with a “Good morning, sir.” ...

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12. Cultural Abyss

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pp. 44-48

HAVING READ BOOKS BY ZANE GRAY, EDNA FERBER, EARL Stanley Gardner, and some other American writers, I felt that I knew American culture pretty well and didn’t expect any cultural problems. I knew how Americans dressed, what they ate, how they behaved, and what the general customs were. ...

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13. Back to Photography

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pp. 49-52

ALL MY EDUCATIONAL EXPENSES AT GALLAUDET WERE paid for by a grant-in-aid. The only expenses I had were books, clothes, and cigarettes. I had sworn off smoking when I left India and had vowed to lead a real spartan life like Gandhi did. However, Dan had a carton of cigarettes and had told me help myself. ...

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14. The Missing Bag

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pp. 53-54

YOU MIGHT BE WONDERING WHAT HAPPENED TO THE bag that TWA had lost. Every day I would ask the dormitory supervisor to call the number the nice lady at the Dulles airport had given me. We would go through all the details—flight number, dates, ticket number— and learn they didn’t know where the bag ...

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15. Progress in Classes

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pp. 55-56

AS I LEARNED SIGNS AND GOT THE HANG OF THE American educational system, I felt more comfortable. Being a student after sixteen years of farm and photography work was not easy in the beginning. In India, all school terms, including colleges, had one full year. At Gallaudet, the year was divided into two semesters, which confused me. ...

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16. The First Thanksgiving

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pp. 57-63

STUDENTS AND TEACHERS BEGAN TO TALK ABOUT A mysterious event called “Thanksgiving” around November. Many were going to their homes and had invited their friends whose homes were too far for travel. Some students asked me if I was going home for Thanksgiving. These were either naïve inquiries or mocking comments. ...

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17. Strange American Traditions

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pp. 64-66

SOME AMERICANS THINK THEY DON’T HAVE TRADITIONS like Europe and other countries have and are proud of it. They claim proudly that they are too busy exploring new horizons to develop traditions, or so they say. However, I was stumped with some rituals that Americans practice. ...

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18. The First Christmas in America

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pp. 67-73

AS CHRISTMAS APPROACHED, STUDENTS BEGAN TO TALK about going home. It seems that almost all students—except for few who could not afford to go home and, of course, foreign students—were leaving. Everyone asked me if I was going to India for the holiday and after a while I tired of telling them no. ...

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19. Managing Finances

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pp. 74-75

AS I SAID BEFORE, GALLAUDET HAD OFFERED ME A GRANT, which covered my tuition and room and board. I had to pay for my unit fees, which included charges for participation in various student organizations; the yearbook and some social activities; and books as well as for my upkeep. ...

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20. The Foreign Students Group

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pp. 76-80

GALLAUDET HAD OVER ONE THOUSAND STUDENTS during the 1960s, though only about twelve were from other countries, not counting Canadians. Three were from the United Kingdom; three from Africa; two from Japan; and one each from Germany, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Belgium, and India. ...

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21. Fort Gallaudet

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pp. 81-84

BY THE SECOND SEMESTER AT GALLAUDET, I HAD GOTTEN into the fl ow of college life. The twenty-six years I had spent in India were a hazy memory. The busy life at Gallaudet had me absorbed fully. Classes, homework, a part-time job, extracurricular activities, and friends occupied my time and India became a distant country. ...

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22. Education Outside the Classroom

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pp. 85-87

AS I WROTE EARLIER, MOST OF WHAT I LEARNED AT Gallaudet was outside the classroom. Since my deafness, I was forced to be my own teacher. I learned what interested me and learned when I was interested. Being part of a teacher’s captive audience for fifty minutes I found was not very conducive to learning. ...

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23. Seeing America

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pp. 88-91

SINCE I WAS TO BE IN AMERICA FOR ONLY SIX YEARS, I wanted to see as much of America as I could. My means were limited, but travel was in my blood, so each summer I managed to see one part or another of America. My friends helped in this effort by providing free car rides or hospitality in their homes if I passed through their city. The first trip was to Assateague Island near Ocean City, Maryland ...

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24. Travels in America

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pp. 92-95

ONE OF MY GOALS WAS TO SEE ALL FIFTY STATES DURING my time at Gallaudet. Despite the little money I had, I hoped I could at least visit the forty-eight contiguous states. The only way I could achieve this goal was to travel with friends who had cars or use the wonderful American invention called hitchhiking. ...

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25. A Week with Hippies

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pp. 96-102

KIRK WAS IN A HURRY TO REACH NEW MEXICO. I ASKED him what was in New Mexico. He said, “Friends.” Kirk changed from being the most cheerful and garrulous person in the world to the most grumpy and taciturn. I learned to read his moods and play along. When he took time answering my questions or gave monosyllabic answers, ...

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26. Other Adventures

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pp. 103-110

EACH YEAR, I TRAVELED WITH ONE OR MORE FRIENDS OR even alone. The travels continued after Nirmala, my wife, arrived from India and later, after our children were born. I was able to visit all the states except for Alaska. Notable among those trips were a three-week jaunt with my friend Fred Orr, ...

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27. My First Car

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pp. 111-113

AMERICA IS A COUNTRY OF CARS. MY FRIEND DON USED to have a good laugh by comparing statistics about car ownership. He had learned that while there was one car for every three people in America, there was one car for every 1,100 people in India. I thought that was embarrassing, but to him it was hilarious. ...

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28. Starting Graduate School

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pp. 114-117

MY MAIN GOAL FOR COMING TO AMERICA WAS GETTING a degree that would allow me to teach deaf children. The BA degree in history and psychology had helped me prepare to get admission to Gallaudet’s education department for an MA in deaf education. This was my ultimate dream: to become the first deaf Indian to hold this degree. ...

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29. Visiting India

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pp. 118-125

EACH CHRISTMAS AND SUMMER, WHEN ALL GALLAUDET students began to pack their bags and leave for their homes, I felt homesick. Going to India cost more than I earned as a part-time photographer for six months. After paying for books and incidentals, there wasn’t money left. ...

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30. Plans to Return to India

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pp. 126-128

DURING THE SPRING OF 1973, I APPROACHED DR. Delgado, the dean of the graduate school, and explained my plans to work in India as a consultant or principal of a school for the deaf. I felt that with my MA from Gallaudet and observing for six years what was going on here, I would be a great resource for educators of deaf in India. ...

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31. Challenges in Teaching

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pp. 129-131

HAVING A PRESTIGIOUS MASTER’S DEGREE FROM Gallaudet assured me of a good job and also provided me with the tools to teach effectively, not necessarily in that order. I was full of confidence and was sure that I was going to become a great teacher and change the lives of students that passed through my classroom. Me and millions of other young teachers! ...

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32. Nirmala’s Arrival

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pp. 132-135

IN THE SUMMER OF 1973, I STARTED TEACHING SOCIAL studies at Kendall School in its middle school department. Now that I was gainfully employed and wasn’t going back to India right away, I decided to bring Nirmala to America for a year and return to India in 1974 with her. I bought a ticket for her with my savings and sent it to Babuji along with ...

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33. Setting Up Home

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pp. 136-138

I HAD MANAGED TO PURCHASE A SOFA AND A DINING table with five chairs. I was also a proud owner of a desk—an unfinished door panel lying on two steel drawers. I also had a foam mattress lying on the floor. That was our bed. This was the sum total of our furniture. Needless to say, Nirmala was disappointed. ...

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34. Acculturating Nirmala

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pp. 139-141

I HAD A HARD TIME LEARNING ABOUT AMERICA. I DIDN’T want Nirmala to have any problems and began to explain to her about the “American way of life.” However, my six years here had jaded me and many things that had shocked me and were going to shock Nirmala were too normal to me that I didn’t think about explaining those to her ...

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35. Settling Down in America

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pp. 142-147

AFTER WAITING FOR SIX MONTHS TO HEAR FROM ANY school in India, I began to wonder if they really wanted me. In my ignorance, I had thought my master’s degree in deaf education from the United States was a big deal. It wasn’t. I had written in my cover letter that I was deaf. ...

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36. The Four Dictionaries

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pp. 148-156

AFTER RETURNING FROM OUR DATA COLLECTION AND field research in India during the summer of 1977, life became pretty busy. Nirmala and I had one son, Dheeraj, and another baby on the way. I was taking two classes at Catholic University in the evenings and also analyzing the data we had collected. ...

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37. Moving On

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pp. 157-160

WHILE WORKING ON MY DISSERTATION, I STARTED TO apply for administrative jobs all over America. I thought with my experience and degrees, I would be offered a principal’s job in a school for the deaf in no time. I was living in a fantasy world just like when I had applied for teaching positions in India ten years earlier. ...

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38. The Career Ladder

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pp. 161-163

SOME PEOPLE LIKE TO STAY IN ONE PLACE AND ARE satisfied with their jobs and lives. Both the Bhagavad-Gita and the Bible suggest this. Be happy and satisfied with what you have. Do not hanker for more. I have not met anyone who follows this advice, especially in America where “keeping up with the Joneses” is the norm. ...

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39. Advice—Good and Bad

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pp. 164-165

WE ALL NEED ADVICE AND LOVE TO GIVE IT, ESPECIALLY unasked. I had my share of getting advice—both sought and forced on me—both good and bad advice. Bill Marshall’s advice to get out of Gallaudet was some of the best I received. There are others that I still cherish. ...

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40. Weeds Theory

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pp. 166-168

LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, I LEARNED MOST OF MY LESSONS outside the classroom. We all face real-life experiences that have profound effects on us. I had my share of “learning on the street” and one of these experiences was in Austin, Texas. ...

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41. Deaf President Now!

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pp. 169-170

AN IMPORTANT HISTORICAL EVENT IN DEAF EDUCATION happened in 1988, which changed the lives of Deaf people in America as well as around the world. It also indirectly affected careers of many Deaf people, including myself. ...

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42. The National Conference on Education of the Deaf in a Time Warp

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pp. 171-174

AT THE TIME WHEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY AT Gallaudet University were demanding a president who embodied deafness in its pure form, I had an experience attending the National Conference on Education of the Deaf (NCED) in India in January 2006. ...

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43. Moving Up the Ladder

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pp. 175-182

THE CALLS FOR INTERVIEWS BEGAN TO FILTER IN. AFTER two interviews, I found myself at the Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD) as its assistant superintendent. This was perhaps the first school that had both top positions held by Deaf persons. Pete Seiler had become the superintendent there only a few months earlier. ...

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44. Terms of Impairment

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pp. 183-185

DEAF PEOPLE USED TO BE JUST THAT: DEAF. IN INDIA, THEY were known as deaf and dumb in 1967. This term didn’t refer to a deaf person’s intelligent level; it just pointed to his inability to speak. At Gallaudet, I learned that “dumb” in English means stupid and it was dropped a long time ago. ...

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45. Up in Smoke!

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pp. 186-188

THE NUMBER OF SMOKERS IN THE UNITED STATES HAS gone down dramatically during the last few decades. When I arrived here in 1967, almost everyone smoked. Now, smokers are an exception. Most people either do not smoke or are in the process of quitting. Helping people quit smoking has become a billion dollar industry. I also, finally, quit smoking. ...

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46. The Communication Revolution

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pp. 189-191

DEAFNESS IS ALL ABOUT COMMUNICATION OR LACK thereof. In 1967, when I came to Gallaudet, I was amazed at the accessibility of communication despite my limited signing skills. However, this was only among those who could sign. When it came to communicating with nonsigners, ...

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47. There Is More . . .

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pp. 192-194

PEOPLE OFTEN ASK OTHERS TO SUMMARIZE THEIR experience in some job or visit to a place in one word. My forty-plus years in the United States of America can be described in one word: great! ...

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pp. 195-198

This book could not have been possible without the help of many individuals. I can’t list them all, but will try: ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781563684821
E-ISBN-10: 1563684829
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563684814
Print-ISBN-10: 1563684810

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 17 photos
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Deaf Lives Series