Exclusive interviews with contemporary newsmakers                  

Mark Drolsbaugh
Writer, essayist, and advocate

Mark Drolsbaugh has an offbeat history. He was “born hearing to deaf parents,” learned to sign easily and naturally as a toddler, and had free access to his parents’ “fascinating” community. He also had a slowly-progressing hearing loss. When he was 5, “medical professionals and hearing relatives” persuaded his parents to keep him "as far away from the Deaf world as possible.” He had to learn to “fit in with the Hearing world”—a frustrating and ultimately futile proposition. Growing up “just four blocks away” from the old Mount Airy campus of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, he attended public schools and tried to keep up with his hearing classmates. He wondered “what it would be like to be a member of the Deaf community.” Finally, “some open-minded teachers at Germantown Friends School” provided an ASL interpreter for him, and “this made a world of difference.”

He was able to “thrive as an authentic Deaf person” when he entered Gallaudet University in 1989. He met his wife, Melanie, there, too. After earning his B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in School Counseling and Guidance, he returned to his roots at PSD as a school counselor, so he’s had a longstanding connection with the school he wasn’t allowed to attend. Melanie teaches ASL part-time at Arcadia University and the University of Pennsylvania. The family lives in North Wales, Pennsylvania, and have three children, Darren, Brandon, and Lacey (Darren and Brandon are shown at left)—all native signers. Brandon and Lacey are hearing. Darren is early-deafened and has been getting excellent support services at his school; he plans to enroll at a Deaf program when he enters middle school.

Drolsbaugh works at PSD during the week, and in his spare time, blogs, writes, works on upcoming books, and spends time with the kids. It goes without saying that he absolutely loves to write. Joyfully, passionately, humorously, furiously—the pleasure he takes in writing shines through.

He has written columns for several Deaf Community and general publications, and has published three books; a children's book is in the works. He and Melanie run Handwave Publications. His autobiography, Deaf Again, was originally published in 1997; the fourth edition was published in 2008. Anything But Silent, a collection of his best articles written between 1997 and 2003, was published in 2004. On the Fence: the Hidden World of the Hard of Hearing (2007) features the work of 37 talented writers. Deaf Again is used in “numerous ASL/Deaf Studies classes and is an underground hit in England, Australia, and Germany.” (The German edition, published by Signum Press, is titled Endlich Gehörlos, which translates as “finally Deaf.”) It’s about reclaiming and embracing his lost Deaf identity.

His Website, Deaf Culture Online, includes articles, guest essays, and information. It’s a valuable resource and an enjoyable browse. And one doesn’t have to be Deaf or a Deaf Power enthusiast to benefit.

Drawing on his own rich store of experience, good and bad, he writes about the hazards of “social bluffing” (faking comprehension of spoken dialogue in an attempt to fit in with a hearing crowd), the difference between fitting in and belonging, about communication, parenting, being a baseball dad, Deaf identity, the right of deaf babies to have access to ASL, experiencing raw, naked discrimination at an AGBell conference in Alexandria, Virginia, his children's adventures and struggles, and his own. He argues persuasively for being authentically Deaf while celebrating the diversity of the Deaf community.

When we asked him how he deals with that favorite accusation that Deaf Culture advocates try to discourage hearing parents from choosing cochlear implants for their deaf children because implants are perceived as a threat to Deaf Culture, he replied:

As for claims that culturally Deaf people discourage parents from choosing cochlear implants, that’s just another attempt at creating a division between the hearing world and the culturally Deaf people who have so much to offer. Yes, there are a wide range of people in the Deaf community with varying opinions about the implant. But really, it’s not an issue of “don’t do implants.” It’s an issue of ASL awareness. Go to any large gathering of culturally Deaf people and you’ll see a TON of diversity. Go to Gallaudet, NTID, any Deaf residential school, or any large-scale Deaf event and you’ll see a wide range of people with varying degrees of signing skill... people with and without hearing aids... people with and without cochlear implants... people who voice, people who don’t voice... hearing people, Deaf people... everyone’s there. Nobody’s excluded. Everyone’s welcome in the Deaf world. And it’s never too late to join, as Deaf Again shows. But I really wish I had the chance to join much earlier and I meet so many deaf people who say the same thing.

Meanwhile, there are countless places where ASL and the culturally Deaf are flat-out EXCLUDED. I could tell you so many horror stories, past and present. I’ve met hearing parents of deaf babies who told me that their children’s hospitals never informed them about deaf-friendly options. I’ve seen people going out of their way to make sure deaf children aren’t exposed to Deaf adult role models or even same-age peers who sign. This sort of exclusion is such a travesty. And it’s so mind-boggling when you consider how ASL is the most accessible language from birth. Hearing parents with hearing babies are eager to learn ASL to gain the research-proven benefits of early language acquisition, but deaf babies are often denied this opportunity. Mind-boggling. So bringing this rant full circle—I don’t think it really comes down to saying whether or not cochlear implants are right or wrong. It comes down to advocacy and ensuring that people are aware of what ASL is and what the Deaf community has to offer.   

Definitely addictive.

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