The friends who were a part of Coach Mull’s grade 8 soccer team both read my last post. They both agreed that Coach Mull was a crusty dick, but my post evoked a stronger reaction from one of them
The friend, Alana, also had the misfortune of having Coach Mull again on the basketball court. At the time my attitude towards the situation was, “Meh, I guess sports isn’t for me,” for there were other things I was more passionate about anyway. I hadn’t realized this was just the beginning of a lifetime of dealing with people of a similar mindset. Alana, however, was somebody who, growing up, excelled in several sports: softball, basketball, ringette, hockey, swimming, just to name a few. It was how she connected with others, especially those outside the deaf community. When Coach Mull did not let us participate on the same level as the others, his ableist attitude sent our teammates the message that it was okay to exclude us on the basis that we were unable to hear.
But being one of the few deaf students in a school of 800 students wasn’t all bad. In the year affectionately known as Y2K, the three of us were asked by a teacher if we were interested in taking a week-long trip to Ottawa to learn about Canadian politics. The only part of that proposal we liked was “week-long trip to Ottawa”, so we brought home permission forms for our parents to sign. Our parents looked at these forms and probably went, “A week without our kids? Sounds amazing. Hope they don’t come back all Gordon Campbell’d up.”
In Ottawa, we were joined by 100 or so other students from across the country, most of who had to write an essay about why they should get selected. We were chosen because the program, Encounters With Canada, had arranged sign language interpreters for the week to accommodate deaf participants. Being deaf was the only criteria we had to meet.
Coach Mull-types would protest: “Why send students who know little to nothing about politics to Ottawa?! I say we send our smartest, most motivated students!” This sort of argument against diversity hires is made all the time; but how does one gain experience if they’re never given opportunities?
Of all the participants who joined the three us at The Terry Fox Centre in Ottawa, seven were deaf. As far as I know, none of us knew much about politics, but we had a week to get up to speed on how our government operated!
We got to watch a parliamentary debate which, to my delight, involved a lot of juvenile insults being thrown around by the members of parliament. Later in the week, back at The Terry Fox Centre, we had a mock debate, and therefore the opportunity to sling insults at people we had only known for a few days! I passively took a seat at the very back of my group and watched in awe as my group fully committed to this mock debate, without even reducing to the childish techniques used by actual members of parliament. I just stayed put in the back row waiting for the ok to fire a barrage of immature insults, but this was a weirdly mature lot.
To make the program accessible to us, the organizers had to make sure there were at least two sign language interpreters present always. They likely had to make modifications to the program so that we wouldn’t be excluded during certain activities. In the end, we all completed the program with minimal gains in our knowledge of politics. Was this a waste of time and resources?
In just a week, my network of friends spread outside my home province of BC. My move to Calgary in 2003 was spurred by one of the deaf gals I met through this program, Sadie, who was looking for a roommate. With no job prospects where I was living at the time (Halfmoon Bay, BC, where Gordon Campbell happened to be a neighbour of mine) I saw the move as a risk worth taking. Within a day of arriving in Calgary, another deaf Encounters With Canada alumna, Gator, hooked me up with a job. This opportunity didn’t translate into me hanging out at Parliament Hill donning a pantsuit with a funky brooch on the lapel; instead, I found myself in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, armed with a pressure washer, in a garage. Being tasked with removing mystery stains from car seats wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but it allowed me to afford my share of the rent.
More than that, 18 years later, Gator remains one of my closest friends.
Here’s a smiling Gator flanked by three of Coach Mull’s former players:
A benefit to being deaf is having a strong, almost instantaneous network within the community.
Without a Coach Mull-Type among the chaperones, the other participants were open to interacting with us without wearing a hazmat suit. Here, I did not even have the responsibility of being the first deaf person somebody has met.
Why is it that I’m regularly the first? I’ve met more than a thousand deaf people! It’s not because we’re hiding, we’re just often not invited into your spaces.
I may not be able to help out with mock political debates or score a soccer goal, but I’m good at getting the sticky out of your car, and I just taught you the collective noun for a group of deaf people. Which I just invented.
It’s still something.