Deaf presenter shares the story of her life

Delighting her audience with humorous anecdotes and stories of her trials and tribulations, guest speaker Rose Pizzo told the story of her life without making a single sound last Wednesday. That is because Rose Pizzo is deaf.

Pizzo was accompanied by her friend, Judy Jonas, who interpreted Pizzo’s sign language for the evening. Jonas had also helped Pizzo write her book, “Growing Up Deaf: Issues of Communication in a Hearing World.”

Pizzo was not born deaf, but has been deaf since the age of two or three. She does not, however, remember being able to hear.

It wasn’t until she was a grandmother that she decided to write a book of her life. Pizzo’s daughter-in-law became fascinated by the stories Pizzo told her about growing up and the lives of deaf people in general.

She then encouraged Pizzo to write the stories down, if not for her own sake then for that of her grandchildren. Pizzo embraced the idea.

She began writing her stories, but ran into many problems.

Writing was a struggle because American Sign Language (ASL) was her first language, not English. She asked her then boss, Judy Jonas, for help.

With some convincing on Pizzo’s part and careful deliberation from Jonas, the two came to an agreement. They agreed to sit down and meet face to face once a week. Pizzo would sign and Jonas would translate into a recorder. They did this for over a year.

In the book, Pizzo describes the struggles of childhood. While her parents were “enormously supportive,” they were somewhat ignorant of the deaf world.

They sent her to a “hearing” kindergarten, where she sat in the back and was picked on. Pizzo often went home crying.

She didn’t even know her name until her parents sent her to a school for deaf children, PS-47 in New York. Here she learned to write and lip read, but was forbidden from signing. She would be disciplined and smacked on the hand if she was caught signing. Nevertheless, Pizzo was happy there.

At home, however, Pizzo said communication was difficult and she would often not know what was going on. Pizzo said she thought, “It was OK to not understand.”

While there were many obstacles in her path, the journey has had its light-hearted moments, Pizzo said.

She told a story of the time there was a blackout when her husband, who is also deaf, was working down in the basement and she was entertaining some friends.

Pizzo suddenly realized she had locked her husband in the basement. He had been banging for a while, but she couldn’t hear the noise. Pizzo said he is probably still mad to this day.

The presentation was accompanied by a question and answer session and a book signing.

During the Q&A, Dawn Santin, junior communications major, asked how Pizzo was able to raise her kids to speak, growing up in a house where both parents were deaf.

Pizzo said friends and neighbors helped teach her children to grow up in what she called a “hearing world.”

Dozens of students in the audience were from the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf of Trenton.

The students signed to each other during the presentation.