John Tracy Clinic & My Deaf Life

I was born Deaf/Hard of Hearing.  Most likely I was Deaf/Hard of Hearing in the womb.  My mother noticed right away that I did not turn my head when I was called.  Also I did not react to noise the way someone who had normal hearing would react.  Normal being subjective.  I love being Deaf/Hard of Hearing and would not change a thing.  I certainly don’t feel as if my lack of hearing is something negative.  In fact; I view it in an positive manner.  Always capitalize the “D” in Deaf and the “H” in Hard of Hearing.  Deaf culture is capitalized the way Black, Jewish, White, Asian, Indigenous cultures are capitalized.  Where I live there are almost no Deaf people.  The only person who is Deaf that I know of; uses ASL exclusively; and I don’t.  I know almost no ASL.  You may be wondering how can someone who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing know no ASL?  Good question.  I was raised oral.  When I was fifteen months old; I went to the doctor to get checked out and the verdict of the ages was that he was hearing impaired.  Now the “ONLY” people who should say hearing impaired are doctors; everyone else should just say Deaf.  When I turned eighteen months old; I got my first hearing aids.  At this point what should have happened was that my parents would be informed of the need for ASL.  Instead my parents were steered more in the direction of being raised Oral.  Personally I think the ideal situation would have been to raise me bilingual; ASL and voice.

Now about two years of age or when I was potty trained, I started to attend a clinic for Deaf/Hard of Hearing children.  This clinic specialized in Oralism.  The focus on lip-reading and speaking.  This was all fine and dandy had I been receiving ASL lessons along with the rest of the family.  No it was Oralism all the way.  This clinic was called the “John Tracy Clinic”.  They did good things with me.  They taught me how to speak and make the best of my hearing.  That’s all good and everything.  But I think a little ASL should go along with Oralism and a little Oralism should go along with ASL.  There’s no need to say one or the other is better.  Both ASL and Oralism go together like fish and water.  Being raised one way or the other is a damning judgment on the politics of Deaf/Hard of Hearing culture.  The results are in; the happiest people are those who are bilingual.  It’s true that those who are profoundly Deaf or completely Deaf (Most Deaf people are not actually Deaf, many are not even profoundly Deaf) do not benefit as much from Oralism.  Even if your completely Deaf; you can still learn ways to interact in a hearing would.  People who teach Oralism can help those who are completely Deaf to do better at bridging the divide between Deaf and Hearing.  Those who teach ASL can help those who still hear some sound; bridge the divide between Deaf and Hearing culture.  Why limit your children to Oralism or ASL only.  Aren’t we better off enjoying and living in multiple cultures.  Who wants to live in a neighborhood where for hundreds of miles around everyone is the same color and religion and income etc. as you.  For this author; I prefer a neighborhood that is diverse in as many ways as possible.  From differences come strength of community.  Imagine a world where everyone had training to make the most of lip-reading and knew ASL.  Even better would be SL types from all over the world enriching ASL.  Everybody; Hearing, Deaf, Hard of Hearing would be better off if we all had some training in Oralism and ASL.  Frankly it amazes me that working at Starbucks does not require the knowledge of the ASL signs that pertain to Starbucks products.  How can a business in the twenty-first century not have employees fluent in the ASL that pertains to the product at hand and how can a business not have employees trained in basic lip-reading, body language skills.

I’m thankful for what the “John Tracy Clinic” gave me; lip-reading, speaking.  The only reason I can speak is because of the clinic.  I still speak poorly enough that it is challenging to get people to understand.  I prefer text to phone calls because it’s too hard to make the person on the other end understand and too hard to hear.  I love my hearing aids and I love putting them on mute.  Sometimes I just don’t wear them on occasion.  It’s not up to me to understand you unless I want or need something from you.  If you want or need something from me, then it’s up to you that I get the message and no I don’t have to put on my hearing aids, you can use paper and pen just fine or just text, email me.

Here are some photos of me posing for the “John Tracy Clinic”.

class photo of deaf and hard of hearing kids enrolled in the john tracy program in the mid seventies
A photo of the kids enrolled at the John Tracy Clinic in the mid seventies.

Notice that all the kids have wires attached to their ears.  I am on the bottom row, second from left wearing the horizontal striped blue, yellowish shirt.

More pictures.  This time at the zoo.


This time at what looks to be a ball game.


In the classroom at “John Tracy Clinic” celebrating my birthday.


Then when I was four or five; we moved to Montana, so long California.  Helena, Montana is a wasteland of Deaf ASL and Deaf Oralism culture.  Whether you were raised ASL or Oral, if you lived anywhere in Montana you were alone.  The only time you were ever surrounded by your peers was at the Montana school for the Deaf and Blind and that school was a sad joke played upon those without hearing and sight.  When I briefly attended school there; I saw first hand what it meant to be marginalized, in the 1989 school year the text books were as young as 1952.  The biology text books did not even have the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA!  That was the very first time I understood what it meant to be an outsider in the American society.  I was as much marginalized as Black people were in Montana in 1989 when I attended school.  The school was located in Great Falls, Montana.  My parents lived in Helena.

It’s getting late.  I’ll stop here.  Feel free to ask questions or leave comments, I’ll answer to the best of my ability.


ASL – American Sign Language

John Tracy Clinic

All photos, ©®

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