As It Happens

How a classroom fart became a teachable moment for deaf and hearing students

A Facebook post about the moment a deaf student learned that other people could hear them farting shows that there are missing pieces in how educate people with hearing disabilities, says deaf educator Stacy Abrams.

'Farts are funny, but ... it's really about access to communication,' says deaf educator Stacy Abrams

Selected schools that were to field test Alberta's new kindergarten to Grade 4 curriculum, will have to wait a little longer. (weedezign/Shutterstock )
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When one of Anna Trupiano's Grade 1 students broke wind in class, they couldn't understand why all the other kids were staring at them. 

That's because the student, who is deaf, had no idea that farts make noises.

Suddenly, the American Sign Language interpreter found herself inundated with questions from all three deaf students in the mixed class with hearing students. 

"Hearing people can hear farts," Trupiano explained.

"Wait, they can hear all farts?" the child asked. "How do you know which farts they can hear and which farts they can't?"

Trupiano' Facebook post about the exchange has been shared more than 11,000 times.

"They didn't really understand what was going on," Trupiano, a Michigan-based ASL interpreter, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"They found out something that they didn't know about and I think at first they were just like, wait a minute, this is like a mind blowing experience. But then, just like any kid would be, they're just fascinated. Who can hear farts? And who farts? They want to know everything about it."

As It Happens is not naming the school to protect the privacy of the students. 

'The last people to find something out'

The story, while lighthearted, highlights deeper problems about how hearing people communicate with and educate deaf children, says Stacy Abrams, a deaf educator and activist based in Washington, D.C.

"This particular story is funny because it's about farts and farts are funny," Abrams told As It Happens through an ASL interpreter. "But if you look at the larger picture of this it's really about access to communication." 

Stacy Abrams, deaf activist and educator, makes the American Sign Language word for 'signing.' (Clare Cassidy Photography/Submitted by Stacy Abrams )

She said many things that may seem obvious to people who hear can be baffling for those who don't — like that bodies make sounds or that a doorbell indicates someone is at the door. 

"I have had this conversation with my friends and people in our community where oftentimes, you know, we become the last people to find something out," Abrams said.

"These children just truly had no idea. And that's how it is. If no one tells us, then we just are at a loss. We don't know."

'This isn't just about farts'

Abrams and her sister are both deaf. Their parents, who can hear, are fluent in ASL, and always kept them apprised of all the audible signals they might have otherwise missed.

"They would tell us what made noise. It didn't matter that we couldn't hear it for ourselves. They wanted us to at least have that awareness," she said.

"So if we were out in the community, out in public, we knew what was making noise."

Anna Trupiano is an ASL interpreter who works with deaf and hard of hearing students. (Matt Lavere Photography/Submitted by Anna Trupiano)

But that's not the case for many deaf kids, Abrams said.

Many deaf and hard of hearing kids, including those in Trupiano's class, don't have parents who can sign.

"The opportunity for incidental learning doesn't happen at home for children the way that it does for hearing people, and I think hearing people often take these things for granted," she said.

She hopes Trupiano's Facebook post will get people thinking about filling those gaps in deaf education by encouraging more parents to learn how to sign and involving deaf adults in the education process. 

"This isn't just about farts. It needs to be about how we all can become more proactive in ensuring we are focusing on information, information access and language so things aren't missing," said Abrams, who invites people to join the conversation with the hastag #WhyISign.

"We need to push for more ASL in classes. We need to push for more ASL classes for parents. We need to encourage more conversations to happen ... between schools and families to ensure deaf children have full language access both in their educational settings and at home."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Kate Swoger. 

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