Tell us a bit about yourselves, and how you fell in love with travel.
We were both born and raised in Los Angeles, and have known each other since middle school due to being in the same Deaf program. Our primary language is American Sign Language, a beautiful language that it is hard to explain beyond words! We’re both proud of who we are, and although it may be sound unbelievable to many, we wouldn’t take the “magic pill” to turn us into Hearings (referring to those who are not Deaf and Hard of Hearings). Another thing about us is that Lieurene is more sociable whereas I can be pretty socially awkward, haha. However, I’ll warm up to new people when my shyness subsides. Ah! Lieurene has a problem with coffee. I personally don’t like coffee nor did I find anything that I like…yet, haha, but I love milk tea boba. Okay, okay, well, I don’t just love it, I’m addicted. In fact, I’m drinking that right now. I bet Lieurene is drinking coffee at home as I’m writing this.
Stacey: How did I first fall in love with travel… you know, as I thought back about my life, I thought that I’ve fallen in love with traveling when I was a kid when I frequently visited Mexico growing up. However, I don’t think that was the case yet at the time. I did want to explore around, but it was difficult to do so with my family. As much I wanted to explore on my own, my family expressed many fears because, I’m a young, deaf female. So, I didn’t have the euphoria of traveling until I visited Hawaii with my family. I found it fascinating that there are more people around the world, but I didn’t think I’d ever be capable of traveling again. Eventually, I traveled to New York and Florida, and the euphoria emerged again. “What else is out there?” I wondered. My first backpacking trip in Asia changed everything: the culture, people, life lessons, struggles, accomplishments, and everything. I’ve fallen head over heels for travel. My passion and desire to travel intensified since then!
Lilo: I grew up with her mom always taking her out on vacation every summer. I used to visit my Godparents in Hawaii almost every summer. I always loved to see what is outside of my home and I’ve always been curious. Even though I’ve always wondered what more is out there, I never thought it would be possible until 2014 when the opportunity arose with Stacey. Since then, it changed my perspectives and I realized that it’s possible for anyone to travel if they truly want to.
Were you scared before your first trip without your family by your side? Were you traveling solo or with a partner in crime at the time?
Stacey: My first trip without my family was when I visited New York when I was 21 years old. I was more anxious about not knowing how to navigate myself through airport procedures, because I became accustomed to my family doing everything growing up. However, when I was preparing to travel to Asia for two months, I was more anxious about that! I guess it is due to the fact that it’s a whole new world for me. I was also worried since I read so many horror stories (damn you, media, and my thoughts), such as getting my stuff stolen, etc. I was also anxious how I’ll be able to travel being Deaf. I mean, how would they perceive us? Are we going to be the ultimate walking targets when we encounter people who would rip us off or whatever? For this first big trip, I was traveling with Lieurene. Even though we have experienced Audism (discrimination and prejudice against those who do not have the ability to hear) during our travel, we both had great experiences. She got my back, and I got her, so it was really helpful too 😉
Lilo: Oh, I was definitely scared and even more nervous especially on the first night in South Korea! It was the fear of the unknown and I was worried that we would get lost or worse, due to social media portraying all the dangerous things that could happen. However, everything worked out and it helps a lot to have Stacey on my side.
Do you have to adapt your travels to being deaf? How so?
Oh yeah, definitely! However, it’s not just with travel; people often are not aware that we actually learned to adapt since we were born. We gain “superpower,” enhancing visions skills instead. Additionally, even in our own country here in USA, we still get looked at as foreigners to those who have never been exposed to Deaf culture. We’ve already learned how to use gestures at home, so it wasn’t much trouble out in the world. There are many tools for anyone to speak with a Deaf person, such as communicating through writing paper, using notepad app on our phones, gestures, images, and more.
Do you think that you experience travel in a different way than most because of being deaf? In what ways, both positive and negative?
Being Deaf, it does add some challenges to travel, because not only do we face language barriers, but we also face communication barriers – especially with those who are not exposed to Deaf culture and are unsure how to interact with Deaf people initially. To help conquer both language and communication barriers, often we found that it’s useful to use pictures. One of the challenges, for example, if we use gestures to say good, we would use thumbs up, but in other countries, it can be considered offensive. So it’s something else that we need keep in mind when traveling other countries as a Deaf person. The positive experiences we gained as Deaf travelers are not only we are spreading awareness to those that we meet along the way, but for us to learn and meet other Deaf in other countries too. Throughout our travels, we have learned so much about ourselves and gained more appreciation for our challenges. The fact that we went out and followed our dreams to travel changed our lives forever, and now we know we are more than capable to do anything.
Have you noticed different perceptions of deaf people in different countries? Tell us a bit about them.
We do notice different perceptions of deaf people! For example, in Thailand, we learned that Deafs aren’t allowed to be monks if they want to be one. Although, we haven’t really been able to find out more about why this is, we can get the idea that it is simply because they’re Deaf. I also learned that in South Korea (even in USA and other countries too), they highly value oralism (meaning that they learn to speak, no sign language) which consequently causes the majority to learn sign language and their deaf identity at late age, according to our Korean friends. Another example is Laos’ perception. Although we haven’t been to Laos, I learned that Deaf and Hard of Hearings are not allowed to drive there, unlike several countries such as America, South Korea, etc. In the US, Deafness is viewed as a disability, whereas in some other countries, it’s viewed as a handicap.
Some countries also perceive Deafness as a mental issue or “retardation,” unfortunately. Several perceptions are similar or different based on their society, culture, education, etc. Although some countries have shown improvement in certain areas, and may be better than the others, we all still face the stigma. That’s something that I’m hoping will change in the future.
Were any countries particularly hard to travel because of being deaf? Why?
Lilo: As for me, I noticed it was hard in Taiwan and Thailand, because the majority of people there don’t speak English, which it what we need to have a conversation through writing. In Thailand, there are no visual accommodation whatsoever in buses or songthaews. Drivers often shout out the destination when arrived (and we don’t have wi-fi to use the GPS), making it difficult. Other experiences that we have actually faced is sympathy from other people. When they see that we are Deaf, they felt sorry for us, but it’s hard for us to explain that nothing is wrong if a person is Deaf. It’s hard when countries are not aware of the capabilities that Deaf have.
However, I don’t actually think it’s way too hard for Deafs to travel to any countries, but it may be harder as a solo Deaf traveler, because they often thrive on the idea of communities, and there are things that we would have to be more careful with such as being aware of our surroundings, scams, etc. However, it shouldn’t stop anyone from traveling. It’s a great learning experience, not only for a Deaf person but for those who interact with us as well.
What about the happier side – were the people in any countries particularly accommodating when they saw you were deaf? Can you give us an example?
Most certainly! There was a time when Lieurene and I got off the very wrong city that sounded (and spelled!!) the same in Taiwan. We needed to go to Taichung (north western), but we ended up taking the train to Taitung (south eastern area). Both sounded so similar to us; the cashier just spoke it, no matter how much we tried to tell the cashier to write it down. So, when we arrived Taitung (and didn’t know yet), we were asking the staff at the Tourist Information booth through writing in English, asking for directions of the attractions we wanted to go to. In the end, we found out that we took the wrong train. Whilst some other staff do not want to give us free train tickets to the place where we left from (Kaohsiung), the female completely understood the lack of accessibility and accommodated us by giving us free tickets back to Kaohsiung. We were soooo thankful to her and appreciated that she understood. There are many friendly people that we met and feel fortunate to meet them along the way.
What would you say to any Deaf people out there who want to travel the world, but are afraid that being deaf will hold them back?
Don’t let being Deaf bring you down. Don’t let the society get to you; prove them wrong. The only difference between Hearing and Deaf people is lack of hearing. Yes, we will face difficulties, such as audism. Yes, the world is audio centric. But we will gain so many rewarding gifts, whether it may be developing the deaf identity, making new friends, educating and spreading awareness where you go, or most importantly, personal growth. If you want to travel solo, go for it. If you want to be with other friends, go for it! Whatever it may be, traveling is a rewarding experience. If Deaf can be a writer, actor, doctor, lawyer or even an attorney who works for President Obama (Google “Claudia Gordon”), then yes we can travel! #Deafcan!
Any final thoughts?
Stacey: I remember I was talking with a Deaf friend, and she was saying that she was afraid to travel because, “how could I? I’m Deaf…I’d feel more comfortable with someone who can hear and speak with me.” I understand that fear, and in fact, I’d be lying if I say I don’t have that fear anymore whilst traveling. Even though the only difference is hearing, it is the stigma that the society put on our face. I mean, the unfortunate reality is, we always have to accommodate with the world, because it’s audiocentric. However, I can’t keep complaining about the lack of accommodation, I have to stand up for myself. So, what we need to do is to educate, spread awareness. Because, only that way, there will be changes.
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