January 14, 2016
Image description: two women sitting in front of a dark navy blue wall. The woman sitting to the left, is aj, who has her long hair down, wearing a pair of sunglasses with checkered arms, black long sleeve button up shirt, and black pants with a black belt. The woman sitting to the right is Jelica, who has wavy hair that’s let down, wearing a pair of glasses, and a one-pieced long black dress.
[aj taps Jelica].
aj: Hi, I’m aj!. [aj smiling presents turn to Jelica].
Jelica: [smiles] Hello, finally! My name is Jelica, (fingerspells name), J-E-L-I-C-A N-U-C-C-I-O [presents turn to aj].
aj: Hi! Welcome back to our ProTactile vlog.” [Jelica nodding and tapping on aj’s knee with a grin]. We have not posted a vlog in over two years! WOW! [Jelica nods and taps on aj’s knee with a big smile]. We, Jelica and I, were sharing our memories with our past vlogs, the first, second, and third vlogs and felt amazed with how popular it was. It drew in many viewers from all over the US and around the world, too! WOW! [Jelica repeatedly taps aj’s knee and nods in acknowledgement as aj signs]. Since then, we both have been extremely busy focusing on developing a ProTactile (PT) curriculum, teaching, performing workshops, expanding PT into the community.
aj: Today, we want to talk about how much more involved the DeafBlind community are in discussing a variety of hot topics. I’m thrilled because that’s a part of PT philosophy! The purpose of PT philosophy is to support DeafBlind culture, language, interpersonal relationships, politics, PT philosophy in whole as that has a true sense of empowerment. [Jelica taps, signs, “right!” on aj’s knee and nods]. Do you recall Deaf history and how that came about? There were issues with the concept of oralism, oppression, SEE (Signed Exact English), AGB (Alexander Graham Bell), and the constant struggle Deaf people had with the use of American Sign Language (ASL). There was such oppression behind the concept of Deaf people utilizing ASL, yet there was such need for it within the Deaf community to thrive. This provoked the Deaf community to get together, support each other and their rights, and as a result of their rectification, ASL prevailed. [Jelica taps aj’s knee and signs “Right!” with a quick glance at the camera and nodded].
aj: Now, that same kind of process is unfolding in the DeafBlind community. The DeafBlind history parallels with the Deaf history! As the ProTactile movement began to progress, broaden, and grow, there’s been false assumptions about this philosophy and it’s purpose. The terms ‘haptics’ and ‘touch signals’ (ts) were thrown into the mix, and there has been some confusion about how those communication systems differ from ProTactile communication. Do haptics and touch signals have a direct connection to the philosophy of PT? No! And these false assumptions negatively impact our DeafBlind community, our sense of culture, and our language. ProTactile philosophy is not just about “accessing” communication; it affects all areas of life, including DeafBlind culture, politics, empowerment, and language. Therefore, we want to tell you more about how the ProTactile movement is pushing back against many of the assumptions and practices that oppress members of our community. Jelica, can you tell our audience more about that? [aj looks to Jelica and taps her knee].
Jelica: Yes. This Monday is Martin Luther King’s (fingerspelled MLK) day. Martin Luther King fought for civil rights for African American people [aj taps Jelica’s leg with a strong nod and smile]. Inspired by King, we are fighting for our rights [aj taps repeatedly and nods with acknowledgement]. So, this is a perfect time to do this vlog! We would like to clarify these misconceptions about the philosophy behind ProTactile. Today’s vlog will focus on the meaning of PT. What does PT mean? Let me provide you with a simple example: [takes aj’s arm and stands it upright like the trunk of a tree] the forearm/trunk of the tree represents ProTactile [Jelica points to aj’s forearm, grabbed ahold of it, moves upwards toward her hand], which supports the following: [grabs aj’s thumb] philosophy, [grabs aj’s index finger] attitude, attitude refers to culture [grabs aj’s middle finger] language. This, language, includes TASL. TASL, like ASL, has evolved over time and it is therefore a language developed by the DeafBlind community. It is NOT the same as touch signals [signs TS] and/or haptics, which did not develop over time, naturally, among DeafBlind people. [Grabs aj’s ring finger] this represents techniques, which includes back-channeling [signs “BC”], or back-back-channeling [BBC]. It has nothing to do with such cues or “codes”! The philosophy behind PT is all innate, a natural form of communication that’s a part of the DeafBlind culture. We want to emphasize that PT is not set list of symbols with associated meanings, like “touch signals” [Jelica signs, TS for touch signals]. [aj taps repeatedly and nods with acknowledgement].
Jelica: Let’s imagine a scenario/situation, where there is a Deaf child with a hearing family. As this Deaf child matures, his/her/ze(xi) hearing family does not sign or make the effort to include him/her/xi. This child struggles to keep up with the hearing family, struggles with learning their language, and has no sense of culture. As a result, the Deaf child has no sense of identity, culture, or language. Until that Deaf child discovers a Deaf community, becomes exposed to ASL, Deaf culture, and Deaf identity. Through that discovery, their true sense of identity is found - they better associate themselves with the Deaf world. Furthermore, this discovery places a positive impact on their self-esteem, confidence, intelligence, and sense of belonging within the Deaf community.
Take this similar concept and apply it to a DeafBlind child or person in a sighted world, surrounded by those who are signing. DeafBlind people miss bits of information, and those bits add up to a point where they are left out. They are given simple notifications/cues informing them when their food is ready or a drink is being provided to them. It’s not a natural way of life, to live in such isolation deprived of access to communication, language. PT means that it is OK to touch the people and the things around you so you can reconnect with the world—gain access to communication and language, have the opportunity to be involved with family, and other people in the sighted-world. PT allows people to establish communication channels through touch in different ways. For instance, sitting at a table, setting up the chairs so that the DeafBlind person is able to sense the person next to them through touch. This also helps people become more comfortable with touch so that over time, tactile practices will become natural to both parties as they acquire an intuition for ProTactile. In doing so, their sense of self-esteem, confidence, and intelligence, will grown and this will further provide them with access to social experiences. It’s not just about giving/receiving simple cues that only inform them that the color of an object is orange or red. That assumes that all DeafBlind people need is a little prompt, and they will remember how to be sighted. DeafBlind people have a right to obtaining information about the world surrounding them in their own way—through touch—and to build on that experience in ProTactile communities. This should help clear up some of the misconceptions people have about PT. [Jelica turns to face aj] right?! [aj taps repeatedly and nods with acknowledgement], you can’t separate language and culture; that’s not possible [Jelica taps aj’s knee in agreement, turns to face the camera and nods].
aj: When it comes to teaching ASL and the history of ASL, teachers tend to focus on teaching both language and culture at the same time. For example, as a part of Deaf culture, Deaf people tend to chat all night long in a brightly lit kitchen, they tend have “long good-byes” where they repeatedly say goodbye. This type of information is critical, which is always emphasizes in all levels of ASL courses. If a hearing person attempts to learn sign language without learning about Deaf culture they will not succeed on a holistic level in the Deaf world. Therefore, it’s not possible for language to develop without culture [Jelica taps aj’s knee in agreement and nods]. PT includes DeafBlind culture and language, while embracing and dignifying the DeafBlind way of life. The DeafBlind way of life includes everyone, all people [Jelica, taps in agreement and signs, “right!” on aj’s leg and nods strongly]. It’s not about a “special system” to “help” DeafBlind people. That is NOT what PT is about. It’s about how the DeafBlind community as a whole can survive and thrive with everyone involved as one.
Therefore, touch signals, haptics, and such related codes have some utility, but there’s no culture involved. Things like touch signals and haptics do not emerge out of natural processes, and they do not lead to the true inclusion of DeafBlind people in the sighted world. Maybe most importantly, these types of systems do not provide them with an opportunity to thrive. They not help their sense of self-confidence, self-esteem, or autonomy. These so-called “systems” will not help them to get better jobs or acquire social skills to develop and maintain relationships with people. It’s just simple and basic information, nothing more. It will only provide them with superficial information, not important things like facial expressions/intonations, body language(s), background information, and so forth.
Right now, I want to make it explicit that DeafBlind people are responsible for establishing a positive and solid relationship with the community. We embrace and value the DeafBlind way and we value ProTactile. We do not want to repeat the struggles the Deaf community endured. We do not want to repeat Deaf history within our DeafBlind community” [Jelica taps aj’s knee in agreement, nods, then turns to face the camera].
Jelica: Right. We want to ensure that we all work together, as a community. Stand for what we believe in. That’s where we are now, we are advocating for our DeafBlind community to promote a more positive, healthy, and unrestricted future. ASL is not accessible to our community and is therefore not a part of our language. The DeafBlind community is struggling to keep up due to visual ASL. Enough is enough. These so-called “touch signals” do not do us justice. They do not benefit us or do us any good. We need PT as a part of our empowerment in order to live our life and make decisions for ourselves. Language is key to our quality of life. In order to achieve autonomy, we need access to language to thrive. To conclude this, PT is not touch signals [Jelica fingerspells TS]. PT is and includes [Jelica grabs aj’s hand and points to each finger] philosophy, attitude, language, and techniques” [gives aj a high five and then turns to aj].
aj: Lastly and importantly, we want all DeafBlind people to take part in this exciting movement, come together, unified as one. We are hopeful and eager to have more DeafBlind people lead with us. Thank you! [aj smiles, while Jelica taps in agreement].
Jelica: Thank you and we love you. [Smiles, and turns to aj, pats “I love you” handshape on aj’s chest. Meanwhile aj, holds onto Jelica’s right hand, while her other hand rests on Jelica’s leg].