Making a Difference: Seattle performance brings unexpected surprises
Everyone knows that a Rachel performance in their town would be a wonderful thing. We’ve all seen the pictures of the smiling kids clutching at Rachel, read Facebook comments from parents whose lives were touched, and thought about how much fun it would be for our kids to have that experience. Then we’ve sighed and gone back to our lives teaching, parenting, and working without any hint of how many people are touched in so many ways when Rachel comes to town. I admit to a similar cluelessness when I began to pull together the event in Seattle this past November. My focus was on the practical: securing a grant and a venue, searching for sponsors and interpreters, locating chairs and volunteers, and working across state lines with my fellow Instructor, Megan Spires. What I didn’t know was when Rachel performs in your town, it is a healing, uniting experience for families of all kinds and the ripples go much further than your city borders.
As tickets started to sell and my phone began to ring, the stories started. A woman I’d never met told me about her daughter, a lovely girl with low muscle tone, a few delays, and a tracheotomy, who’d been consigned by her doctors to a lonely world without communication. Until they discovered Signing Time, they had no way to communicate with their daughter, but now the child was able to express her thoughts, feelings, wants and needs. She sobbed on the phone with me when I confirmed that Rachel was indeed coming to her city and that her daughter could actually meet Rachel. The next phone call was much the same, as was the next, and the next. One mother told me that Signing Time not only gave her daughter a way to communicate, but gave her hope. They would be watching and see Lucy in her wheelchair and her daughter would feel included. Then, when her daughter got a walker, they would watch Signing Time for kids in walkers, and then for kids in forearm crutches. A former professional photographer, the woman offered to take photographs at the concert and print them out so Rachel could sign them. She wanted to donate the proceeds to the Signing Time Foundation if we would come and do a story time at the Children’s Hospital in Seattle, where her daughter had been so well cared for.
At the concert, I saw a different group being touched by Rachel’s performance. This set included my own daughter, Rory, and Megan’s son, Owen, and several hearing children with younger Deaf brothers and sisters. These were the older siblings of the kids born with a hearing loss or other difficulties, who remembered when they started signing. One boy, about nine, told me that his grandparents had brought some Signing Time episodes to their home when his sister was born five years ago with a profound unilateral hearing loss in one ear, and a progressive loss in the other. His family was introduced to the whole concept of signing in such a non-threatening and fun way, that they were happy to continue learning, and to provide this little girl with ASL as her first language. The young man himself is now nearly fluent. My son, Julian, is three, and he won’t remember a time when Signing Time wasn’t in our lives, but his older sister, Rory, remembers when the first DVD came home. Owen, too, remembers learning all the signs from Rachel as the videos were exposing his infant brother and parents to the signs. These kids’ excitement, their joy, at seeing Rachel live, at getting to give her a hug and take a photo with her, was touching. They remembered life before signing, and knew their families’ were improved for it.
After the show, I saw how the performance had touched those that I didn’t expect it to touch: the Deaf parents with hearing children. They had come because one hearing friend or another had recommended the program for their children as a way to involve the signing they’d be using at home with the music and auditory input that hearing children enjoy. I watched these families with interest during the concert, as the parents watched Rachel perform, eyes darting between her and the interpreter, while the children’s eyes remained glued on the dancing, singing, signing woman in orange on stage. When Rachel was done, a few of the families came by the booth to pick up a DVD or three, and were thrilled to know there was something they were going to be able to share as a family. “The kids like these better than most other signing things we’ve brought home,” one man signed to me, “and since she’s teaching them signs, we like it better than regular children’s television.” Another Deaf woman in line chimed in, “With the captions on, we’ll be able to learn the words to the songs, too.”
I had undertaken the concert endeavor because I’d known of just a few families in the area who wanted Rachel to come to Seattle. I knew their stories, and knew that it wasn’t going to happen in 2010 unless I signed my name to a few pieces of paper and got the ball rolling. I wanted to help my Washington area Instructors fill their classes and introduce a few people to Signing Time, while raising some money for a good cause, and, yes, sell a few DVDs in the process. These hopes were met and exceeded, however, seeing around 650 people, nearly 150 of them from the Deaf/Hard-of Hearing community, spellbound as Rachel performed. Some of the attendees had traveled hundreds of miles, from southern Oregon and Montana in some cases, just for this event. There were kids in wheelchairs, youngsters with Down Syndrome, children on the autism spectrum, those dealing with the frustrations of verbal apraxia; and yet, all of these families were able to come together for an afternoon that was truly accessible and entertaining. Many a tear was shed during the performance and meet-and-greet. New instructors applied in areas of Washington that hadn’t had access to Academy classes, and now more children will have the opportunity to learn some ASL vocabulary as a result. Seattle was moved by Rachel’s arrival, her story, her performance and her pep, enough so that they are already trying to figure out how to have her back. Your town could be next, if you’re willing to make it happen.