Through deaf eyes

Phoebe Tay
Summary 
Andrew and Craig are best friends. They are both Deaf. They first met in primary school when Andrew was a new student. Craig showed him around the school. They played cricket together and became good friends. Andrew's first language was Australian Sign Language. Craig and his family used speech and lip reading to communicate. Craig learned a little sign language from Andrew's family. Andrew learned how to better lip read with Craig's family. The boys stayed friends throughout high school and university. Today they live in different states but are still the best of friends.
Posted by: 
Phoebe Tay on 13/08/2012
Craig and Andrew sitting in a cafe. Craig is leaning in with his arm around Andrew.
Craig and Andrew sitting in a cafe. Craig is leaning in with his arm around Andrew.

Craig (left) and Andrew (right)

The more Deaf people I meet out there in the community, the more aware I am of the different life experiences of people growing up deaf and establishing a Deaf identity. Some Deaf kids are born to Deaf parents and develop Auslan as a first language, while there are many others who are born to hearing parents with little or no knowledge of Auslan and Deaf culture.

Andrew and Craig share their contrasting stories of growing up deaf in their respective families, and despite their background differences becoming the very best of friends.

Meeting

The two boys first met each other in a mainstream primary school in 1987 when Andrew moved from Melbourne to the Gold Coast. Being new, Craig showed Andrew around the school grounds. One morning Craig asked Andrew to play cricket while they were waiting for the first morning school bell. From then on, they developed a love for playing cricket and often played the sport together.

Different Deaf eyes

Andrew realised the obvious differences he and Craig had in their communication styles. Andrew's first language was Auslan as all his family could sign. On the other hand Craig's family used speech to communicate with each other. Craig used, and continues to use speech and Signed English as his main modes of communication. Signed English is a sign language that is different from Auslan.

While it is common for people of similar backgrounds and common interest to connect together, it was this difference that helped them to forge a close knit friendship.

Andrew initially faced challenges adjusting to his new school environment because it was his first time in a mainstream school. Before moving to the Gold Coast he went to schools specifically for Deaf children.

I was nervous when I first stepped into my new school. I wondered how I was going to connect with my hearing peers. There were only two of us boys in the class. The rest were girls who were younger than us. Craig showed me hearing ways of communicating and behaving. Eventually, I settled well into the school, says Andrew.

Culture shock

Andrew recalls his experience of going to Craig's birthday party for the first time.

I remember going to Craig's house to celebrate his 11th birthday. I met all of Craig's friends for the first time. I was very nervous and shied away from the group because I realised that they were all hearing. I did not know how to interact with them.

Craig's mum tried her best to encourage me to mix with the group and even asked me to go for a swim by the beach with them. His mum realised that I was Deaf like Craig but I lacked the oral skills needed to communicate effectively with hearing people, says Andrew.

Craig adds, Yeah, at my birthday party, I was signing and talking the whole time. I was trying to bridge the gap between Andrew and my hearing friends.

Bridging the differences

When Andrew and Craig moved on to high school, their friendship continued.

Craig picked up sign language from interacting with Andrew and his family, which opened his eyes to Deaf culture. His knowledge of Auslan improved. Meanwhile Andrew was also learning how to effectively lip-read and communicate with hearing people by watching Craig and his family and talking to them.

Throughout their high school years, they communicated effectively and developed a good understanding of one other. They would later became housemates during their university years.

Unbreakable bonds of friendship

Andrew says a quote by C.S Lewis aptly describes his friendship with Craig. Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, What! You too? I thought I was the only one.

Andrew now lives in Melbourne, Craig is still on the Gold Coast. When Craig visits Andrew and meets Andrew's Deaf friends who use Auslan, Craig says his understanding is scattered because he is so used to thinking in English grammar and structure and Auslan is very visual. He often looks to Andrew to interpret or clarify what other Deaf people are signing to him. Craig jokingly comments Andrew helps him in those situations by becoming his interpreter. Andrew light-heartedly replies back, Not his interpreter, but his best friend. At this, Craig chuckles.

The men have encouraged each other's personal growth as individuals and prove the bonds of true friendship are indeed unbreakable even when people live some distance from one another.

Readers comments (2)

HI from deafaccess Gippsland,

Thanks for a great article.

Did you know that deafaccess Gippsland has a wonderful resource "Effective Communication, Real Inclusion Kit"

It contains an 18 minute DVD, telling the story of 3 members of the local Deaf community, first hand experiences. There are also 2 very useful Fact Sheets on effective communication.

Please feel free to email me and I can send you the link to the information and DVD.

Kind regards,

Dale

Hi Andrew and Craig, my name is Alex and I am currently attending year 12 VCAL at Holmesglen vocational college. I am currently learning about mental illness and disabilities. We are trying to gain knowledge about the different life styles that people with these conditions experience. I believe however that no matter how hard we try to understand these people we will never be able to fully grasp the hardships these people go threw or the inspiration of how some people still manage to live happy fulfilling lives. I hold great respect for these people.
I am writing in response to your article as I believe I can some what relate to how you find it hard to communicate with people as I also find it hard at times to communicate with my friends and even my relatives even though I don't suffer from any disabilities. Having to learn a new method of communication would have been a large obstacle to over come.
Making a friend with the same disability and helping each other enjoy life and make friends is an incredible story. I'm sure that many people with disabilities find this story an inspiration and try to follow your positive actions.
I find it very inspiring how you both managed to go to a mainstream school and enjoy a school life making friends and playing sports like cricket. I imagine it must have been incredibly hard and shocking but despite these facts you both still managed to overcome these boundaries and reach out and enjoy your lives just like your hearing peers.

Comment on this article