I'm a little embarrassed to say that I knew about this book for quite some time but thought that it was strictly research-related and just kept putting off reading it. When I was introduced to Gina Oliva at a holiday party in December and she described her book, I knew that it would be a perfect addition to my blog. The book sounded interesting so I bought it that day and started reading. While it is nonfiction and doesn't include any Deaf Characters, the personal comments of many of the "solitaires" (see below for definition) would resonate in the lives of many of my readers. Read my interview with Gina Oliva below.
Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School (April 2004)
by Gina Oliva
Publisher: Gallaudet University Press
Reading Level: Young Adult to Adult
Gina Oliva began school in 1955 as a "solitaire," a term she uses for being the only deaf person in a school. Oliva explains how she felt alone in school because she wasn't able to clearly communicate with her peers in group settings. At home, the situation did not improve although her father had a hearing loss. Her father refused to accept their difference and never learned sign language even after Oliva made her way to Gallaudet University and discovered that her experience as a solitary deaf person was a common experience among other mainstreamed deaf students. Alone in the Mainstream combines Oliva's experiences with responses from the Solitary Mainstream Project, a survey that she conducted of deaf and hard of hearing adults who attended public school. Oliva concludes that teachers are ill-prepared to teach deaf students and are uninformed about hearing loss. At times, Oliva's teachers did not even believe that she couldn't hear. They felt she was faking her deafness. Oliva also concludes that deaf students need to be able to communicate freely and know that they are not alone in the world.
Currently, Oliva is a Professor of Physical Education and Recreation at Gallaudet University.
SPW: After reading the book, it seems that you set out to find some commonalities between your experience and other mainstreamed deaf students and that your findings were overwhelming. How did this change your perspective about your k-12 and early college experience after conducting the research and writing this book?
GO: Hmmm…I would say that I did not expect to hear (read) so much (from my research subjects) about how important extracurricular activities and family support were to them. I didn’t expect them to go into detail on these topics. Also, I did not expect that a majority of the people who wanted to participate in my study were not Gallaudet graduates. In a way this is good, because it shows that even those who choose to attend mainstream colleges have common concerns that ought to be highlighted.
SPW: Since you made your plea at the end of the book, have you seen or do you know of any changes that are being made to include more solitaires? With the nature of the research, are you able to still connect with those who participated in the research?
GO: Since I completed my work on this book, I have launched on a kind of crusade to increase the number of weekend and summer programs available for hard of hearing and deaf high school students. I have a research project ongoing, where I am investigating existing programs, and have found myself with a substantial network of individuals and organizations around the USA that are trying to plan and conduct such programs as a way to bring mainstreamed students (at both the middle school and high school levels) together. Most of these efforts are independent of each other and there is a need for collaboration and mutual support. I hope that my work over the next few years will promote such collaboration and support so that the programs can become the best they can be, and that in particular they will be welcoming and accommodating of students who are not fluent in ASL, because there are so many such students in the mainstream today.
SPW: Do you have any plans to conduct follow-up research on the Solitary Mainstream Project?
GO: I do plan to do either a second edition or a second book. I want to include younger informants and also information about summer and weekend programs.
SPW: In the book, you mention that you'd like to learn more about your deaf family members. Have you been able to do so? And, have you come to terms with your father's denial of his own deafness?
GO: I did contact my father’s nephews, my cousins on my father’s side. The contact was sweet, bur brief, and I have not had time to do more in this area. One of these days I would like to go to Palermo, Sicily and see if I can find other cousins and/or relatives. I have become fascinated with the lives of my paternal grandfather, and his mother, who both had hearing loss, but again I have not had enough time to pursue this. As for “coming to terms,” I think I have done so, yes.
SPW: What do you hope young readers will gain from Alone in the Mainstream?
GO: I hope they would learn that being deaf or hard of hearing is not a liability, but an asset. They can choose to see it as an asset. Not everyone has an opportunity to be a part of two worlds. Sign Languages and Deaf Communities are rich elements of human life and it is my desire that more people would see them as such. I hope my book would encourage them and their parents to learn more about this world.
SPW: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?
GO: Professional Advice…hmmmm Study Hard! Read, read, and read some more. Remember that the world is full of not only truth but also prejudice, misconceptions, and myths, about everything. Prejudice, misconceptions, and myths about people with hearing loss affect the lives of most hard of hearing and deaf individuals, whether they are aware of it or not. Strive to learn more about the pioneers who came before you, and then strive to become a pioneer yourself.
For more information about Gina Oliva visit her Gallaudet University webpage or to purchase the book