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Wyatt Chapman, right, laughs a Amelia Bailey, left, signs the word "sex" to explain the differences between meeting, mating and dating at an ASL club meeting on Wednesday, April 8. // Photo by Katie Rickel

A group of kids run up the sidewalk, laughing as they play games. A woman stands on the porch, calling out to a young girl. But it comes out strained, garbled, a strange sound of the girl’s name.

Amelia Bailey runs to her mother as the children behind her laugh and call them names.

Both Bailey’s parents are deaf.

Her parents separately both became sick as children and a lack of medical knowledge caused them to lose their hearing.   

While most parents are able to stand up for their bullied children, Bailey had to stand up for her parents.

“I feel like a lot of hearing people don’t realize that deaf people are the same,” Bailey said. “Just because they can’t hear doesn’t mean they are less of a person than a hearing person is.”

Bailey faced several challenges as a child of deaf parents.

When Bailey got older and began looking at colleges, her parents didn’t understand and weren’t very involved in the process.

“When I chose [to go to] Western, they were offended, I think, that I chose to live away from home,” Bailey said.

They thought she was going to go to school and not come home until she was finished. Her parents didn’t understand why she would move out and go to college far away, she said.

During the process of applying to college up to right before Bailey left for school, her father did not talk to Bailey because the family relied on her to be the translator. It would be hard for Bailey to help from Western.

Bailey has been her parent’s interpreter for her whole life, causing her younger siblings to step up in her absence, said Maria Prieto, a friend of Bailey's. Prieto has been Bailey’s roommate for three years, as well as a friend for nine years.

Ninety percent of deaf adults have hearing children, according to a University of West Florida assessment, and most children of deaf adults tend to take on the role of an interpreter for their parents.

“It frustrates her that her parents have a hard time understanding things, like finances and loans,” Prieto said. “Since they’re deaf, they had a different education than most people.”

She had to explain certain things to her parents, like what came in the mail regarding rent or bills. The English language and American Sign Language are different, Bailey explains. ASL is very straightforward. It doesn’t use metaphors, and a lot of English words or phrases don’t exist in ASL, Bailey said.

Even though she was forced to grow up a lot faster than most kids and assumed a more mature family role, her personality is happy and colorful, Prieto said. From running around the dorms in dinosaur suits as freshmen to watching TV shows together, Prieto laughs about the things that they’ve done with eachother.

At the beginning of her junior year, Bailey saw a booth for American Sign Language Club at the info fair. She saw they were looking for officers and became involved very quickly. For the first quarter, she was vice president of the club and is now the co-president.

“It was very apparent from the start that she knew what she was doing, which was kind of refreshing, because at the time we had a lot of newbies,” said Andrew Glass, public relations officer for the ASL Club.

Even though Bailey grew up with ASL as her primary language at home and has the most real- life experience speaking it, she likes to sit back and let everyone else run the club and figure out signs for themselves.

“I think she enjoys observing other people learn, because she has nothing left to learn,” Glass said. “That was one of her languages that she learned growing up.”

Bailey doesn’t like speaking in front of people as much as some of the other members, but she will occasionally step in to clear up any questions that can’t be answered, she said.

The ASL Club mostly speaks during meetings because a majority of its members are not fluent with signing. However, they do practice signing frequently.

“She manages the accounts, organizes PR and tells everyone what to do,” Glass said. “The list goes on. She does everything behind the scenes.”

Bailey signs a word during a game of silent pictionary at an ASL Club
meeting on Wednesday, April 8. // Photo by Katie Rickel

Though she has become more independent from her family, she still stays involved with the deaf community through the ASL Club and deaf events in Bellingham, like one that Mallard Ice Cream hosts once a month. She views the event at Mallard as a group of students learning ASL and not deaf people hanging out with each other.

She likes the deaf events in Seattle better because a larger deaf community attends.

  “I think the way that the deaf community works is that they are very inclusive, and they only know other deaf people,” Bailey said. “For a deaf person to go outside the deaf community is kind of a big deal, because it’s almost like they’re breaking a barrier between their community and the rest of the world.”

She does go home to visit her parents occasionally, but she doesn’t stay very long. Going home is more like a visit, not a place to stay, she said.

Once she left for college, Bailey was able to focus on herself rather than perform the role of an interpreter for her parents.

Though it was difficult for Bailey to bond with her parents through opportunities such as band and college, they enjoyed other activities together. Sports were fun for her family because it didn’t require her parents to hear. She played softball growing up and often played basketball with her dad and siblings at the park. 

Growing up with deaf parents may not have always been easy, but there are times when Bailey is happy that she does know sign language. Being able to help the deaf community in everyday tasks, such as ordering food, is what keeps her going.

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