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Story 7: Who's Listening and How


Moral of the story: I invite you to read the story first. It actually triggered two important lessons for me that I will spell out at the end of the tale. The story will set the context.

I was asked to record at a gathering where all 35 participants were deaf except for the speaker, the coordinator, the signer and myself.

As a hearing person and never having worked with a deaf community, it took me a minute to grok how this meeting would transpire. I had a couple of initial and spontaneous silly thoughts, like: “but I don’t do sign language”, or “how are they going to know what’s going on if they can’t hear” and things like that. I have a friend and colleague who has worked with disability communities for years. She would have gotten the value in an instant.

After a few minutes, I realized “I am not the one doing sign language” and “in any event, they are seeing what I am doing, not hearing it from me”. I admit this to remind us of how ignorant and unenlightened we can be of other people’s worlds if they are a little foreign to us. We often seem to have unconscious stereotypes or blind spots we have learned over the course of our lives that we need to become more aware of.

After more thinking, I thought “what a brilliant idea”. What I am doing is providing another layer of communication. It’s another form of translation. Signers and graphic recorders alike strive to stay true to the person’s expressions. Recorders do it in words and pictures; signers do it with their hands. So, together, we created a rich experience.

Recording at the session was so rewarding. The participants really appreciated what I brought to the table. Besides meeting a lot of great people, I was immersed in a deaf person’s world, even though I could hear, and took cues from, the speaker and the signer who spoke what people were saying/signing. But I got a taste of what it must be like to be deaf. It’s not a sad state at all, just a different state, like so many disabilities are, my friend would say. Most people with disabilities

have learned how to get along just fine in the world.

This experience opened two areas of thinking for me.

The first area of thinking is about applying our trade. There are many applications for our graphic recording work. Often, we stay stuck in the traditional settings like the corporate world, companies, businesses or training. We rarely venture out. I’ve often thought about, and am currently exploring, ways of introducing our work into situations such as counseling of many and various kinds; mapping or tracking journeys or lives; schools and universities; court rooms or even jury rooms, to name a few places where we might create value. I know others in our field are thinking about it, too. We can help a lot more people if we think outside our boxes.

The first moral of the story: Keep a watch for new opportunities where we can provide the magic of graphic recording and expand how we can help people communicate and learn and create together outside the conference room. And pragmatically, for the business minded, it undoubtedly will create more job opportunities.

The second area of thinking is about listening and respect. It’s not directly related to the hearing impaired community but when I did this event, it got me to thinking. It’s about being aware of and respecting other people’s cultures and perspectives and honoring those through our recording. For example, we include all voices, no matter the content. We try to be true to the speaker’s intent as best we can discern it.

In addition to cultures and perspectives, we are listening for the gestalt of what people are saying and we graphically reflect this as an accurate record of a discussion, e.g., you don’t draw an old one room school house with a bell over the entrance just to have a generic visual, while the group is talking about an innovative new world paradigm for education. Draw images that truly reflect what you are hearing, and that requires deep listening, and being in a learning mindset in the moment.

The second moral of the story:  Open your hearts and minds and respect different cultures and perspectives. Prepare ahead of time if needed to avoid unconscious disrespect. And, deeply listen for the big picture or the context of the conversation and reflect it accurately in your language and your visuals.