Learn about communication and language strategies for some people who are DeafBlind
Jelica Nuccio and aj Granda in: “Welcome to Pro-Tactile: the Deafblind Way”.
Jelica Nuccio: Hello! Welcome to our very first vlog [aj taps Jelica vigorously on the knee and smiles. Both are receiving signs tactually, and their legs are touching] Called.
aj granda: Pro-tactile! We abbreviate that, “P-T”.
Jelica Nuccio: PT! My name is Jelica, and my sign name is a Y across the chest [from shoulder to waist.] [both aj and Jelica are smiling at one another. When aj signs, Jelica listens with one hand and has her other hand on aj’s knee, tapping often to let aj know she is listening, sometimes with more force to signal strong agreement, for example. Both presenters are wearing all black and are signing in front of a blue background.].
aj granda: I am aj granda and my name sign is “aj”.
Jelica Nuccio: Our goal today is to introduce something that has been drawing a lot of attention lately, and that is “PT” [Jelica extends her arms toward aj to invite her to continue].
aj granda: Indeed, PT has been drawing a lot of attention lately. And I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been so supportive, so curious, and so enthusiastic about it. And thank you also for your patience.
Jelica and I started developing PT several years ago, and things have been moving fairly slowly. We both have jobs and families, and in general, we have busy lives. But PT has spread across the country and there is a clear demand for more information, so we have finally decided to make this vlog a priority.
We plan to post regularly from here on out. [aj is signing with two hands at the same time. For example, In Visual ASL, the sign CURIOUS would be a one-handed sign. aj signs this sign with two hands-one copy for each hand].
Jelica Nuccio: That’s right, aj. And I wanted to add-I am Deaf-Blind and Ushers. Aj is also Deaf-Blind and Ushers. We both live in Seattle, and most of the people who have contributed to the development of these practices also live in Seattle. Some come from outside of Seattle as well. We want to thank those people. You might notice that aj and I are taking turns and tapping each other’s knees as we communicate [aj pats Jelica’s knee emphatically]. That is part of PT. Now, aj, can you explain why we call these things “pro-tactile”?
aj granda: Yes, absolutely. Many people have asked me why we call it “pro-tactile”. Well, when we put pro- before another word, we usually mean that we support whatever that second word stands for. Tactile, you might think means tactile reception of signs. So many people assume that what “pro-tactile” means is essentially “support tactile reception”.
Jelica Nuccio: But that’s not it! [aj taps Jelica’s knee hard, two times, in agreement].
aj granda: Right. It doesn’t mean that at all. In the Deaf-Blind world, people do not all use tactile reception. Many people do, but we are not saying that people have to do that. That’s your decision. Remember what tactile really means is “touch”. “Pro-tactile” really means that we value touch for purposes of communication. During this presentation, Jelica and I have been giving each other tactile feedback the whole time, tapping on each other’s legs, and hands, and shoulders, and arms. That is pro-tactile.
Jelica Nuccio: Yes, and when you start from there-from a place of valuing touch for communication, this leads you to the Deaf-Blind way. So for example, Deaf people communicate a lot using facial expressions and the particular ways that they do that is part of their culture [aj taps emphatically on Jelica’s knee]. Even if one Deaf person uses Visual ASL, and the other one does not, they are still both visual people, who respond to visual cues as communications.
We know there is a lot of diversity in our community in terms of communication, and that is fine. The only thing that matters is touch. Without a mutual understanding of the value of touch, there can be no communication. [Jelica points to aj’s hand, where it is tapping excitedly on her knee]. What aj is doing right now is a perfect example. That is how I know that she is listening and how she feels about what I am saying. When Deaf, sighted people communicate with each other, they know that the other person is listening because they nod their heads, their jaw might go slack in amazement, their eyes might widen. Deaf-Blind people miss out on that kind of information [aj continues to tap on Jelica’s knee enthusiastically, and also signs YES repeatedly on Jelica’s knee]. Hearing people say “hmmmmmm.” when they are listening to one another and this accomplishes the same function as facial expressions for Deaf people. But when Deaf people are talking to hearing people, they don’t attend to those sorts of noises. They focus on the hearing person’s facial expressions and body language and that is how they establish a connection with them. That is how they get a sense of who that person is and how they can relate to them. Deaf people have visible ways of doing that. Hearing people have audible ways of doing that. Being pro-tactile means recognizing that Deaf-Blind people have tactile ways of doing the same things. When aj taps my leg in certain ways at certain times, it tells me something about what kind of person she is and I have a sense of how we are relating to one another. Touch is our way of being present with one another. It’s about touch. It’s that simple!
aj granda: Yes, although, its simplicity can be deceiving. To reiterate what Jelica has just said—you can see that I am nodding my head right now. Does Jelica know that I am nodding my head? How do you know?
Jelica Nuccio: Head nodding is not natural. [aj taps Jelica’s knee rapidly several times]. That [pointing to aj’s hand] is natural.
aj granda: [nods head and taps Jelica’s knee in the same rhythm]. The head nodding and knee-tapping match. They serve the same function [Jelica nods and smiles at the camera]. If you’re going to nod your head, you have to tap on the knee of the person you are nodding at the same time. Otherwise, they don’t know you are agreeing with them. That is the kind of thing that allows us to share information with one another, and that is being pro-tactile is all about.
One way I like to explain PT is to compare it to using a TTY. You might remember what that was like-when the person you were talking with would type and type and type, and you already knew what they were saying, you already had that information. In person, you would just tell them, “Yeah, I know that already,” but the way the TTY was set up, you couldn’t interrupt, so you just had to sit there and wait until they were done. Finally, after what seemed like an unbearably long time, you would see the letters, “G-A” at which point you would tell the person, “Yeah, I already knew that. You didn’t have to tell me.” So the constraints of the technology made for some really frustrating and inefficient interactions.
Well, before PT, Deaf-Blind communication was like that. Interactions were limited and we didn’t have access to all of the cues that make things smoother and more efficient. Pro-tactile communication is immediate. Turn-taking is seamless. There are no awkward time lags or frustrating constraints. Information is received when it is produced, and there is a constant stream of information coming from the person you are talking to—like now, how Jelica is touching my knee and giving me constant feedback. It’s fantastic!
Jelica Nuccio: And these ways of communicating feel natural very quickly. So you might be asking yourself why PT didn’t happen sooner. Well, the reason is that hearing and Deaf people have been dominant in our community until now. They thought that they were the ones with all of the knowledge and expertise about us, and we thought that was true. But that meant that we had to try to do things the sighted way. That is why we were under so much stress, why we felt that we were slow in learning things, and why we were always the last to know what was going on. For example, if a sighted person was doing something and a Deaf-Blind person was waiting to talk to them, the sighted person would say, “Hold on.” Then they would drop the Deaf-Blind person’s hand and leave them standing there, not knowing what was going on. They might say, “I’ll explain later.” That is not natural for us. If those two people were pro-tactile, then the Deaf-Blind person would be able to leave their hand on the hand of the sighted person while they did whatever they needed to do, and the Deaf-Blind person would know what was going on the whole time. Pro-tactile is inclusive—it allows us to be involved in what is going on when it is going on. For example, if a person is having a conversation with their friend, they don’t have to tell you, “I’m talking to my friend, I’ll tell you about it later.” They can just invite you to observe the conversation tactually. So one of the basic ideas behind the pro-tactile movement is that we can be involved in our environments without interpreters describing everything to us after the fact. We can feel things for ourselves. Everyone likes to watch what other people are doing and what other people are saying to each other. Human beings are eavesdroppers, and Deaf-Blind people are no exception.
aj granda: I agree with everything you’ve said, Jelica. And I want to emphasize: Pro-Tactile is a philosophy that guides action in everyday life. It is a socio-cultural movement that is affecting personal, political, and one more thing-what was it?
Jelica Nuccio: And linguistic!
aj granda: Yes! And Linguistic dimensions of our everyday lives.
Jelica Nuccio: Yes, that is just a very brief introduction to the meaning of “pro-tactile”. From here, we will have a series of vlog posts. The first one will be an in-depth discussion of “backchanneling”. Following that, we will talk about TASL (not TSL). And those are just our first topics. We plan to post many more vlogs in the near future. We will be talking about all of the different aspects of pro-tactile philosophy—its personal, political, and linguistic implications. We will talk about how pro-tactile practices can affect your work environment, your relationships with other people, and more.
aj granda: For now, we’re going to have to end the vlog. But in our next appearance, we will explain backchanneling. We will be giving you some examples, and show you how to do it yourselves. After that, we’ll be talking about TASL, and we will go from there. We are glad to have this opportunity to introduce ourselves to you, and give you a brief introduction to pro-tactile philosophy. Thank you to you all, and we are so excited to share this with you.
Jelica Nuccio: Wait! There is one last thing. Pro-tactile practices are for everyone. Deaf people can be pro-tactile if they communicate the Deaf-Blind way. Hearing people can be pro-tactile if they communicate the Deaf-Blind way. Hard of hearing people can too! Pro-tactile is the Deaf-Blind way, and it is creating a world that is natural for us. That is it. Thank you very much for watching.
aj granda: Thank you everyone for joining us in our new world! Go pro-tactile!!!
Jelica Nuccio: This is aj [name sign: aj], and I am Jelica [name sign: Y across chest from shoulder to hip].
aj granda: Thank you [to Jelica] Bye everyone! [Jelica leans over and rests head on aj’s shoulder. They both smile, and squeeze eachother’s hands].
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