A two month trip to the United States this summer included a visit to the CODA International Conference for Adrian Bailey.
I have to say it is a real pleasure to be writing for BDN once again. Some of you keener readers with extensive collections might remember the Between Two Cultures column that Marie Dimond and I shared for a time. That column explored a range of topics and stereotypes very common to the CODA experience – or more precisely, the experience of having hearing when born and/or raised to one or both Deaf parents. Quite a allreat deal has changed since that time, and I’m really pleased to have this opportunity to share that with all of you.
After a period of being out of touch, my interest in all things CODA was kick-started again in the summer of 2015 with the CODA International Conference hosted in the UK. Following some deliberation, I decided to attend and met a huge number of people, all with very deeply relatable experiences. I made some new friends from across the UK, Europe, Australia and the USA. It was a brilliantly organised and very enjoyable conference!
Such was the buzz, that I fairly soon afterwards ensured that I would be going to the next conference, to be held in Austin, Texas. With a little too much time to myself at the computer, thinking and planning, what started as a two week trip soon became two months, with pit stops across the USA – and this is the tale of the highs and lows, the joy and the heartbreak of my adventures out West.
I flew out to Boston via Gatwick, Dublin and Heathrow (yes, I know, a bit convoluted but it was the cheapest way to do it!) to spend a week with a friend from school. This was the only week I spent out there without sign language – and it was a chilled way to start my trip. My girlfriend had sent a phone for me to use in the States and I used it to keep in touch with her, as well as help me get around – I was very excited to be reunited with her and was jumping between trying to stay in the moment and enjoy each of these priceless experiences I was having, with counting down the days to seeing her again. The runner in me felt obliged to head to my running Mecca – the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street – and it was a joy to catch up with friends. I then headed to New York and stayed in Queens, with my good CODA friend Apple. She showed me the sights of the city, and introduced me to New York nightlife – what an absolute blast that was! We stayed with her grandmother, a very sweet Deaf lady from the Dominican Republic and from the second I arrived she made me feel that I was part of the family. It reminded me of the very traditional Deaf welcome – she went far further out of her way to make me feel at home than any hearing people would ever do – ensuring I was never hungry or thirsty. What a wonderful time that was!
Then I left Apple for a while, as we would see each other in Austin (and, as it turned out, Las Vegas) to head to Washington DC. Here, I was met by Jenn, another CODA friend and we did a whistle-stop tour of the major monuments on the National Mall. Then we prepared to head south. We road tripped with another CODA friend of ours, Bobby, who gave me an ASL tour of Gallaudet, which really tested my nascent ASL skills! Bobby and Jenn, together with some others, set up an organisation called KODAheart, whose website you should definitely have a look at. I’d like to say that we had a lot of fun and laughs along the way – it was fun, but there would definitely have been more laughs had I not been asleep for most of that journey… Sorry guys!
We drove through West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Arkansas (eventually – there was an incident of some car keys getting flushed in a Dunkin’ Donuts restroom…) until we arrived in Texas and its state capital, Austin.
Austin is an incredible city. It is one of the major Deaf centres in the USA. While many are familiar with Gallaudet, and others are familiar with Rochester, NY and the Bay Area, CA – it seems Austin is less well known in the UK for its strong Deaf Community.
It is home to Texas School for the Deaf, and around 30 Deaf-owned businesses – more on some of those later – as more pressingly, we had a conference to get ready for, and I finally saw my girlfriend again.
After a few days together, we realised that our relationship was not a romantic one – but we spent a lot of time afterwards exploring Austin and of course there was the CODA conference.
CODA International conferences are annual events that take place around the world, alternating between US and International cities. They are 4 days long and are exclusively for adults who can hear and who have deaf parents.
There are a mixture of workshops, breakout sessions and social events – here one finds the highest concentration of Deaf-parented people in one space and it is an experience that I would recommend to anyone that is curious.
Many are sceptical about these events – particularly Deaf people and other CODA that I speak to. Deaf CODA especially say that they would appreciate being part of this movement; I have to say that I would welcome us creating something in the UK and across Europe that values our common sign language heritage.
I certainly appreciated the time to be introspective and reflective as the modern world affords us little time to do so.
After the conference, I headed out with KODAheart on a tour of the South West US, going through New Mexico, the Grand Canyon, Arizona – and the surprisingly quiet NAD conference, before touching down in Las Vegas for Deaf Expo.
That was a superb event that really showed me what our Deaf community is all about. Mixing and partying with Deaf people from so many countries – plus getting the opportunity to film a few Deaf personalities that you may have seen if you went to Congress – was amazing!
I spent the last three weeks in Austin and really got a sense of that community. I got a sense of the Deaf ecosystem that exists there – Deaf businesses and the community that support each other’s existence. Convo, a VRS company with slick, well produced videos that you can find online, underpin the communication and networking support that many of these businesses use. One such place was Crepe Crazy; easily my favourite restaurant and entirely Deaf owned and staffed. Austin is a city that prides itself on localism; it is harder to find chain outlets there (not impossible, just harder!) as there are many independent businesses that have local support.
The same philosophy is true for these Deaf businesses. Why spend a dollar that will doubtless get diverted to an offshore bank account in the Cayman Islands when instead, you can spend that dollar on a high quality artisanal product made by a Deaf person in your own community – and that same Deaf person can then spend that dollar on another Deaf-made product or service… and thus, the Deaf ecosystem becomes self-sustaining.
As my time in the States came to a close, I was able to really hone in on what I wanted to do once I came back to the UK. I’ve definitely got the travel bug and fully expect to return to the States many times in the future. In terms of our Deaf community – I’ve got the bit between my teeth to move our discourse forwards… but that feels like an article for another time!
If you’re a CODA – regardless of whether your ears work or not – get in touch with me and let’s have a conversation about how we can create spaces for all of our interests.
Adrian Bailey is a freelance registered sign language interpreter and proud native BSL user. Both his parents are Deaf. He sits on the Board of Directors for CODA UK and Ireland, and is an Expert Member of the WFD Advisory Group on Human Rights. He is an avid runner and huge fan of intense dramas and The Big Bang Theory.
CODA – Children of Deaf adults, is a non-profit organization for adult, hearing sons and daughters of deaf parent(s). Since 1983, CODA has grown to include people from many different countries and varied world experiences.
The 31st Annual CODA International Conference took place in Austin, Texas between 23rd-26th of June 2016. Next year the CODA conference will be held in Vancouver, Canada between 13th-16th July 2017.