Common Ground: Listening to others helps us all out

Graduating senior Tammy Garner, 18, wears a hearing aid, reads lips, can use sign language and she talks.

Her biggest challenge has been to show those who can hear that she is just as smart, capable and intelligent as they are.

“Everywhere I go, it’s hard for deaf people to communicate (with the hearing),” she says. “Some (hearing people) make you feel unwelcome.”

She’s often asked what it feels like to be deaf.

“Put your head underwater,” she offers.

Garner will graduate in May from the Louisiana School for the Deaf. But she is cautious and troubled about stereotypes harbored toward people with hearing impairments.

Garner thinks the best fix is this: “I want to know your world, and I want you to know my world so that we can mix it all together.”

Garner, who this year landed starring roles in “Grease” and “Alice in Wonderland,” has been accepted into the Rochester National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

She has huge aspirations. She plans to study accounting and wants to be a banker and interpreter for the deaf.

“Hearing-impaired people do bank,” she says. “The banks need employees who can do sign language and work with deaf people.”

Garner’s classmate Malakia Gowan, a senior honor student and athlete, has won national awards in sporting events. She wants to major in pharmaceuticals at the Rochester Institute.

Fear, she says, is an impediment between hearing people and deaf people.

“Socialization is a big part of learning how to be accepted,” she adds.

I remember as a young girl watching a group of hearing-impaired teenagers skating, using their hands to communicate. They laughed and horsed around as much as everyone else on the rink.

I was amazed. It was a simple encounter, but it taught me at an early age that hearing-impaired people do the same things as the rest of us.

They just communicate in different ways.

Garner says she hopes that people will judge her less on her disabilities and more for her abilities.

Technology has helped even the playing field for those with hearing impairments.

Thanks to smartphones and texting, video calls and Skyping, hearing-impaired teens and adults can communicate more easily with people in the hearing world, says Pamela Ross, career and transition coordinator at LSD.

Garner’s experiences remind us that people in general all have similar interests and needs.

People with disabilities simply want us to understand their world and take the time to get to know them — something we all want.

“Don’t push us down,” Garner says. “We are equal.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at