Have you ever watched a group of people play the Telephone Game during a professional development conference? It’s a great ice-breaker game and can be pretty comical as you watch the expressions on the people’s faces, knowing the message is getting muddled and people are perplexed by what they’re hearing. At the end, the last person announces the outlandish message they received and everyone is cracking up laughing.
Well, let’s put a spin on this game and add a Deaf person to the group of mostly people who can hear with only a couple of people who can sign. Imagine a group of children sitting on the carpet at an After School Program. There’s one student who is deaf and assigned a Sign Language Interpreter. The teacher starts out the game by whispering a message into the first kid’s ear. He smiles and leans over to his friend to pass it on. That kid giggles, cups her hand against the side of her mouth and whispers into the next kid’s ear and it goes on and on. The boy who’s deaf is watching the new game play out. Do you wonder what he’s thinking? Maybe he’s trying to figure out why these strange people are so amused? His interpreter keeps positioning himself near each “whisperer” and signing what he hears. The deaf student is watching him sign but sees how each of the kids play the game. Now, it’s his turn. The interpreter signs what the last kid spoke into the deaf boy’s ear. How does the boy respond? He leans over to the next kid, cups his hand like the other kids and pretends to tell her a secret the same way everyone else did. And what happens? The deaf boy starts laughing and the child who can hear laughs too but there’s clearly a different kind of communication breakdown. His Sign Language Interpreter smiles, shaking his head and tells him, “C’mon, silly. SIGN!” And, he does so that whatever transformed message was given to the kid before him, could be passed to the next through the interpreter who whispers the message like the other kids. It’s an interesting perspective, isn’t it?