We’re great fans of Freecycle and it’s as much about the people as it is about stuff wanting a good home.
We’ve been constantly amazed over the years by the things which are treasure to someone else and which just happen to be deaf- or disability-related. A broken electrical item, which we thought might only yield spare parts, became a restoration project for a teenager with Asperger’s who was passionate about such projects. Offering a surplus Minicom unsurprisingly elicited a response from a sign-language interpreter looking to keep in touch with older clients who hadn’t yet “got” texting. More random was the lady who turned up for the leftover crafting materials and said straight away, when I opened the door to her: “Are you deaf? Oh, my son has a cochlear implant!” She actually lived in our village and as I was on the list by then, I was eager to hear all about it.
The best thing, I think, was a hard hat. The Bear had one to dispose of – as it was three years post-manufacture, and therefore not recommended by the HSE for use on a site, he posted it on Freecycle with the caveat it was only suitable for perhaps, a dressing-up box or a stage prop, rather than on-site work. What we got in reply was from the charity Remap, someone who actually wanted the inside shell to make a soft headpiece to hold the pointer for a client using a communication board. Remap makes custom-built adaptations for the specific needs for clients with disabilities, including a friend’s daughter.
I’ll digress here a bit – after all, today’s blog is a bit random . . . Although he’s never done any work for them, my Dad’s a natural remapper – he just has that ethos and willingness to make things better for other people with what’s available to hand. For example, he rigged up a communication system by lights when I was a child. For Mum, after her broken hip, he adapted the bathroom, which, with the bath built longitudinally under a window, had nowhere to install a grab pole along the other long side for her to get in safely. At 80-odd years old, he joined two metal rods to make an angled, jointed pole, and bolted the upper arm to the wall, stabilising the whole so that it formed a rigid grab handle bolted to the top of the bath. (The nurse who tested it when Mum came home from hospital thoroughly approved of it, but said in an aside to me: “I won’t ask how your father got up there above the window, but we really don’t want to see him as well.”)
Dad also built a little fold-out shelf on the wall next to her armchair for her dictionary (she was a lifelong cryptic crossword addict) so that she could just swing it out and search for the right word without having to pick up a heavy tome with her arthritic fingers. Dad never treated either of us as “different” but made these adaptations and more to suit our circumstances, so that we could carry on being who we were.
Anyway, yesterday a lady came for Mum’s old sewing machine. As she’d come a long way, in atrocious weather, we offered her a coffee and we ended up having a chat about all the spoken and written languages we had learnt between us – we definitely had something in common! She was fascinated by BSL, asking me many questions about it, which I was pleased to answer, and blown away by the richness and expressiveness of the few brief examples I demonstrated. It also blew away some preconceptions that BSL was a translation tool to make English accessible. Maybe she’ll go on to learn BSL, I don’t know, but it just goes to show how you can make a quite random but enlightening connection with a stranger. It also turned out that her husband had age-related deafness – as the Bear has often remarked, I’ll find the only other deaf person in a room full of people!
When you tell people you’re deaf, they’ll often tell you about some other deafie they’ve come across in their lives, typically Great-Auntie Mary who lived to 99 and had a whistling hearing aid. Some folks find these reminiscences irritating, as it doesn’t necessarily mean they have understanding or empathy, which is true (I’ve met the odd one here and there myself!) but I prefer to construe it that they get to build up a network of deaf people in their minds, and realise that we’re as unique, diverse, and normal as anyone else. Forging these connections is an invaluable, if intangible, resource in itself.
I like the theme of remapping. As implantees we often talk of going for a remap, to have our programmes tweaked. But Remap and the work that people like my Dad do on the quiet remaps the lives of those in the community, and just occasionally we have, by chance, the chance to remap other people’s thinking.