Bounding over barriers: One student’s signs of success

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By Jaison Anderson

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Jaison Anderson. I am a deaf African American student. Some of you might know me as Charlie Bucket from the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” play presented by the Cleveland Sign Stage that debuted this past October.

I was heavily involved in the American Sign Language (ASL) club from 2015-2019. I am not involved this year is because I felt it is time to move on from the club and focus on how I can unite the hearing and the deaf community in a unique way.

Although I put so much time, heart and effort into an organization that focuses on spreading ASL, deaf culture and deaf awareness on campus, I felt it is appropriate for me to move on, but still help ASL students. I do so by signing with students and signing music. I am passionate about sharing my culture, experiences and language that I’ve used since I was four months old.

My parents are blind and I am deaf. My mom taught me ASL and verbal communication. I’ve been using both modes of communication, but my preferred communication is American Sign Language. Currently, my goal is to continue to spread ASL awareness, deaf culture and teach ASL, not only on campus, but off campus as well and truly close the gap between both worlds.

My experience here at Cleveland State University has been an interesting one because I am the only deaf African American male on campus. This can at times be lonely because it is hard not to have someone who relates to you and can share your experience as a student, and as a person with a disability who is African American. There were a lot of times when I felt isolated from conversations because I don’t have the same experiences shared with other white deaf/hard of hearing people. Most likely because they themselves have very limited experiences or exposure to deaf African Americans in their communities.

There are times when I feel like I have to subdue part of who I am with white deaf or hard of hearing students at Cleveland State because they cannot relate to or fully understand the systematic barriers that a black deaf person goes through. Sometimes when I interact with them, I feel that they will either judge me or view me as a stereotype.

Last year, during Christmas break I could’ve gone to jail for being black and deaf. I was literally walking out of McDonald’s. As I walked out, I was signing music and a cop car pulled up and said I looked exactly like someone who robbed a store. I said, “Hold on, I can’t hear you. I am deaf.” They proceeded to keep talking while I got out my identification to show them I was. Luckily, they didn’t think it was a weapon I was pulling out and shoot me.

This could have ended up being a tragic situation if I didn’t read their lips and put on my hearing aids. I heard about a story in another area that a deaf guy was signing and he was shot by the police because they thought he was threatening or was doing something dangerous. He wasn’t — he was just trying to communicate.

Besides the racial barrier I constantly experience, being deaf is awesome. There’s advantages and disadvantages. I get to surprise people with my abilities. For example, I had someone tell me that I wouldn’t be able to make friends, be successful in college academically and create an event for the club that would be successful.

While in college, I’ve made many friends, am excelling academically and have coordinated an event on campus that exceeded prior years’ attendance records. I primarily accomplished this by seeking out a partnership with another organization and help from a close group of my friends who had love for ASL and deaf culture as well.

One disadvantage is that sometimes the closed captioning does not work. Often times, it has been hard to get a notetaker for my classes throughout my years here at college.

Overall, I’ve erased all the things I couldn’t do and made them into things I can do because I am just like everyone else. I know I want to be someone who can educate and inspire people to want to communicate with not only me, but with other deaf people, regardless of race, gender and sexuality. I believe everyone should be treated with kindness.

I wish everyone could learn ASL because if you said, “Hi my name is____, what’s your name!” and “Nice to meet you!” you would make a deaf person’s day! We love people that want to learn our language and want to communicate with us.

Anyone can become deaf at any age, which is another good reason to learn ASL.

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