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Can Writing About Food Spread Understanding of Deaf Culture?

Anna: These days, everyone is obsessed with food, posting photos of practically every meal they eat, cook or fantasize about on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Besides being an interpreter, I am a freelance writer and focus my magazine articles on the intersection of food and culture in order to increase Americans’ sensitivity to people from various cultures. I trust that the subject of food is so fascinating that while readers learn about “exotic” dishes from around the world, they may unconsciously absorb some cultural knowledge as well.

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Culinary Arts instructor, Vernon McNece, shares a moment with his students in the F.E.A.S.T. program at the California School for the Deaf – Fremont (photo: Nick Wolf)

But could this strategy work to sensitize Americans to the elements of Deaf culture as well? I think it definitely can. Although Tom and I have written books and produced videos to educate people about the features of Deaf culture, our consumers are usually ASL students or interpreters and not members of the wider public. So whenever I have the chance to write a food article and give some exposure to a Deaf chef or restaurant owner, I consciously include some relevant details that I hope will reveal aspects of Deaf culture to the general public. My initial chance to do so was when I  profiled my friend Betty Ann Prinz, the first self-identified “foodie” in our local Deaf Community. Besides teaching ASL, she cooked, catered, taught wine classes and became a trusted authority whom other Deaf people could go to with food-related questions. After recounting her life journey for my article, Betty Ann added some tips about which are the best seats for Deaf restaurant patrons (depending on the shape of the table, lighting and a non-distracting location). I am sure many hearing readers never considered this before.

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Melody and Russell Stein, owners of Mozzeria in 2011, during their construction phase (notice paint on Russ’ hands)  before their opening night. (photo:Anna Mindess)

The biggest challenge came when I interviewed the owners of the now acclaimed Deaf-owned San Francisco restaurant Mozzeria, Russ and Melody Stein. My meeting with them occurred a couple of weeks before opening night and Melody informed me that she definitely did not want me to give away any secrets about their up-coming menu (like their signature Hoisin duck pizza). So what could I write about for a food-focused website if not the food? The day I visited their not-yet opened Italian restaurant in a historic 1908 building, there was a lot of preparation going on: hammering, sawing, drilling.  Speaking with the Steins, I learned that they had hired Deaf wood refinishers to bring out the warm luster in the old floor, a Deaf electrician who was Melody’s classmate at CSD and a Deaf woodworker to design and make their door, tables, shelves, seating and marble-topped counter. So I mentioned: “As is the custom in collectivist Deaf Culture, the Steins looked first for Deaf artisans and laborers to fill their needs.”

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Deaf food fans on Edible Excursions’ ASL tour of the Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto get a lesson in local butchery. (Longtime foodie Betty Ann Prinz is in the center) (photo: Ken Arcia)

In another article, I wrote about a local food tour in ASL for the many Deaf Bay Area food lovers who aren’t chefs themselves, just regular people (software developers, college professors, actors and retired folk)  who are obsessed with trying out new places and learning about the food history of Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto.” As the tour leader, I knew I would be breaking a rule of politeness in Deaf culture. Due to our tightly planned schedule tasting tidbits at nine places in three hours,  I was going to have to rush the group from one spot to another. In Deaf Culture, I wrote, (despite the advances of email, video phones and texting), face-to-face communication in expressive ASL often has top priority and thus it is considered rude to interrupt signed conversations.

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Students Maribel Vargas and Milana Boren work on their entry for the Deaf Culinary Bowl, while Vernon McNece enumerates the tasks left to do in their timed practice. (photo: Nick Wolf)

My most recent article to pair food and Deaf culture came about when a mutual friend, –who knew we were both food-obsessed —  introduced me to Vernon McNece. Vernon had just moved back to California to become an instructor in the F.E.A.S.T. (Food Education and Service Training) program at the California School for the Deaf – Fremont.  It just happened that the day I visited Vernon’s classroom with a photographer, he and his students were preparing for the 8th Annual Deaf Culinary Bowl. That subject gave me a chance to describe the long tradition of diverse competitions in the Deaf community, such as the National Deaf Academic Bowl, the Deaflympics and even school football games and neighborhood bowling leagues.

Vernon also shared his story of working in a Food Lab, but as the only Deaf employee.  It was a frustrating experience for him, because although he had exceptional talent in creating formulas in record time, his hearing co-workers couldn’t even tell him how well he was doing.  When I turned in my article to the editor of Edible East Bay magazine, she expressed her appreciation of learning so many new facts about Deaf culture and her certainty that her readers would be equally enlightened.

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Vernon McNece explains to Maribel Vargas how to plate her salad to impress the judges. (photo: Nick Wolf)

Here is the full article about culinary instructor, Vernon McNece:

http://edibleeastbay.com/online-magazine/fall-harvest-2017/deaf-chefs-compete/

So if any of you are experts in something, pick your topic: be it sports, dance, art, cars, business and find a Deaf angle to write about. You may be doing a service by educating a new community of readers.

Visit Two Deaf-Owned Restaurants: Taipei’s Lotus and Bravo

Visit Two Deaf-Owned Restaurants: Taipei’s Lotus and Bravo

Anna Mindess 

As the waitress gently places the closed bud of a lotus flower in my pot of boiling broth, it slowly unfurls to show off its bright purple petals. CAN EAT? I sign to my new acquaintances around the table in this Deaf-owned restaurant. I see a chorus of nodding heads. It’s my first night in Taipei, but I’m already feeling quite at home thanks to the warm welcome from a half-dozen Deaf people and a couple of hearing interpreters who have come to dine with me at Lotus hot pot restaurant.

“Hot pot” refers to a classic Chinese DIY dinner, in which diners cook a variety of thinly sliced meats and a garden of vegetables in their own bubbling pots of broth. But Lotus hot pot is a bit different – and not just because its owner and many of the restaurant staff are Deaf – it also features an extra-healthy menu of organic vegetables, therapeutic broths with your choice of “Chinese medicine base” plus a salad bar of wild mountain herbs “to help remove toxins from the body.”

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I look forward to meeting the owner of Lotus and learning his story, but right now, he’s busy in the kitchen. So, it’s time to eat. The server brings out platters of assorted cut-up veggies, sliced meats, fish balls, plus the shellfish I ordered. And here‘s my next challenge. After being an American Sign Language interpreter and hanging out with Deaf people for over 30 years, I am used to one of the consequences of a culture that values face-to-face communication above almost anything else: eating cold food. Sure, the food comes out of the kitchen hot. But since a bit of juicy news or a good story needs to be appreciated in its entirety, it would be impolite to interrupt signed remarks for something as basic as enjoying hot food. The food will still be there, albeit a little cooler, when the story is done.
img_5058In the case of a hot pot restaurant, however, each diner must cook the various ingredients in their broth and carefully remove them before they overcook, so that the vegetables don’t become mushy and the meat doesn’t toughen up. As a novice, I am attempting to juggle my chopsticks, the unfamiliar green botanicals and some slippery shellfish while simultaneously trying to converse with a tableful of guests who know varying amounts of ASL. The woman sitting next to me, Ginger Hsu, a hearing Taiwanese Sign Language interpreter who speaks some English, has been looking up on her phone the English words for unfamiliar ingredients. Once she notices that my timing is off and the vegetables in my pot are becoming limp, she volunteers to help cook my dinner while I chat away. What impressed me most during my two weeks in Taiwan was the caring kindness of strangers.

Thanks to the global network of Deaf connections, this evening was organized for me by Will Chin, a thoughtful Taiwanese Deaf man who lived in the US for nine years while he attended Gallaudet, the University of Maryland and later taught.

The chain of Deaf acquaintances that led me to Will started with Melody Stein, who with her husband, runs San Francisco’s famous, Deaf-owned Mozzeria restaurant, which I wrote an article about on the eve of its opening in 2011. A couple of years later, when I was planning a trip to Hong Kong, I remembered that Melody was born there and asked if she had any friends in Hong Kong who might know ASL. She did and made the connection for me to the wonderful Jenny Lam, who had also attended Gallaudet. Jenny organized a dinner for me, much like this one, with a dozen Deaf people who had spent time in the US. Later, she took me an elegant dim sum restaurant because she knew I was writing an article about dim sum. When planning my trip to Taiwan, I contacted Jenny to see if she knew anyone in Taipei who might know ASL. She introduced me to Will Chin. When I emailed him and mentioned that besides being an ASL interpreter, I also write articles about food and culture for magazines and websites, Will knew I would love to visit this Deaf-owned restaurant.

After we finish eating, Will takes me back to the kitchen to meet owner Lu Chia-Hsun and interprets for me between Taiwanese Sign Language and ASL.

Lu previously had an office job, but in 2009, he worked on the International Deaflympics in Taipei. He had become ill because, he tells me, because he ate out a lot and didn’t make healthy choices. After mingling with Deaf athletes from around the world, he realized the importance of good food. When the Deaflympics ended, Lu looked for another job but became frustrated when he was repeatedly turned down. On his travels around Taiwan, he visited the city of Hualien and discovered a healthy hot pot restaurant, Sakura. He thought that opening a branch in Taipei would meet with success, asked his family to support him in this venture, and they agreed. But when Lu approached the owner of Sakura , he was met with resistance. Other people had tried to open branches of this restaurant but they had all failed. And now a deaf person with no restaurant experience! Lu’s family members negotiated on his behalf with the owner, saying if Lu fails, we will take responsibility. The owner finally agreed.

Lu opened the Taipei branch in 2009 and initially, not many customers came. Then slowly, as word spread about this healthy version of classical hot pot, the spot attracted more and more customers. “Business is very good now,” Lu tells me, “except when the weather is too hot. But when it’s cold outside, we have a huge line!”

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Will Chin showed me Jiufen and two Deaf-owned restaurants

A few days later, after Will takes me to visit the quaint mountain town of Jiufen, we head back to Taipei for an afternoon coffee at Bravo, another Deaf-owned restaurant. This cozy café sports a sunshiny interior, from its butter yellow walls to its taxicab yellow coffee roaster and espresso machine. Since, like Lotus, this restaurant caters to both Deaf and hearing customers, the walls are decorated with illustrations of some crucial signs – especially for caffeine-deprived customers who need to get their morning fix in a hurry. While we wait for our drinks, I practice the signs for “Good morning, “Coffee,” and “Thank you.”

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Johnny Lo makes coffee at Bravo

Will introduces me to husband and wife owners, Johnny Lo and Mandy Chang. Lo tells me that when he decided to open a coffee shop, he was warned that it was a very competitive business. In order to achieve coffee drinks with an exceptional taste, he studied privately with a teacher for a year and a half. And it took six months of practice, he adds, to master the flowers, swans and heart shapes he fashions out of foamed milk to top his coffee drinks.

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His little shop attracts both Deaf and hearing customers. The busiest time is 8-10am for regular customers. Saturday is the most popular day for Deaf customers, who in Deaf cultural tradition, tend to stay all day. After their morning cups, they migrate outside to continue their conversations. On weekday afternoons, like today, there is usually a Deaf group around the table, who can sip and chat for hours. But if some new hearing customers come in, as I observe on this day, the Deaf regulars, quickly make space for them to be comfortable.

Lo and his wife, who are Bravo’s only employees, serve just coffee, cocoa and tea drinks plus waffles (in original, green tea and chocolate flavors). Since there are no hearing employees and Lo and his wife are both Deaf, they provide a large placard where customers can point to their drinks of choice.

As Will and I leave, I wiggle both thumbs to sign a big “Thank you” in Taiwanese Sign Language to Johnny and Mandy.

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Deaf Interpreters: New Focus on a Traditional Role

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 10.14.16 PM  Anna:

As long as there have been Deaf people on earth, they have helped each other by explaining or interpreting to     ensure that all members of the Deaf community have access to information. This often-overlooked facet of Deaf  culture is currently receiving much well deserved attention in a variety of settings. In a new book, Deaf Interpreters at Work: International Insights, published by Gallaudet University Press, four distinguished editors and 17 contributors document the historical roots and current practices of Deaf interpreters in Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and the United States .

While the professionalization of hearing people earning their living as sign language interpreters has eclipsed the traditional role played by Deaf people within their own society, there is currently a momentum for Deaf interpreters (DIs) to reclaim this traditional cultural role and work alongside hearing interpreters in the hospital, courtroom or on the conference stage.

In the Introduction to Deaf Interpreters at Work, the co-authors acknowledge that while DIs and hearing interpreters both follow a formalized code of conduct, there are crucial differences between them, including “the fact that DIs are Deaf all of the time…[consequently] DI and hearing interpreters have dissimilar access to information; DI and hearing interpreters have a different relationship with Deaf culture in that the former have more confidence in their position in that culture than do the latter.” The authors also describe a division of strengths: “DIs have a better understanding of sign language nuances, hearing interpreters have a better understanding of spoken language nuances…” (Adam et al. 2014, 7).

Deaf and Hearing Interpreters Can Work Together Effectively

In my own work specializing in legal interpreting for the past 20 years, I have had the privilege and pleasure to work with many highly skilled and creative CDIs (Certified Deaf Interpreters) in an array of challenging situations. I believe that this configuration can often achieve a deep accuracy not possible when hearing interpreters work alone.

For Deaf and hearing interpreters to work together successfully, however, they need training in a specific type of teamwork. Last week, I attended a three-day intensive conference in Denver which focused on Deaf and hearing interpreters working together effectively in the legal setting. The turnout at the ILI (Institute for Legal Interpreting) demonstrated a historical show of strength and a growing acknowledgement of the necessity for and power of Deaf interpreters. Of the 220 attendees, there were 54 CDIs from across the country. For more details see this post on Street Leverage.

Speaking of history, the attendees at ILI were treated to a fascinating presentation by Anne Leahy, a graduate student in Salt Lake City, who shared her historical research on Deaf interpreters being used in several court cases going back to the mid 1800’s. I look forward to Anne publishing these intriguing stories when her research is complete.

Recently, on the website Street Leverage, I issued a challenge to hearing interpreters to accept their pivotal position as “first responder.” When we are called to an interpreting assignment and must make the decision whether to halt the proceedings until a Deaf interpreter can be summoned, we truly hold the key to ensuring the most effective access to information for all parties involved. Here is a excerpt from my article:

Are Hearing Interpreters Responsible to Pave the Way for Deaf Interpreters?

Deaf interpreters are marching up the road to take their place as equal and valued professionals alongside their hearing counterparts. As more Deaf interpreters are trained, become certified and collaborate with hearing teammates, it will inevitably alter our way of working. We can welcome this evolving development and cherish the new opportunities it brings or dig in our heels and resist.

[Click to view post in ASL]

Two Street Leverage posts have addressed the gathering momentum of this movement. In Deaf Interpreters in the Blind Spot of the Sign Language Interpreting Profession, Jennifer Kaika documents the increasing numbers of Deaf interpreters and challenges us to support Deaf interpreters as “a long-standing and lasting part [of our profession], present since the inception of RID.” In Deaf Interpreters: The State of Inclusion, Nigel Howard, a Deaf interpreter himself, urges us to truly realize a team approach by “working together toward a shared and collaborative target language interpretation that is an equivalent to the source language.”

Recently, when revising my book, Reading Between the Signs, for a new edition, I added a section on Deaf interpreters. With the book’s focus on the cultural aspects of our work, it struck me that the resistance some hearing interpreters seem to feel to this “new” development in our field, might be rooted in cultural values (more about this later). First, let’s confirm the fact that Deaf interpreters belong to a tradition with deep roots.

LONG TRADITION

Eileen Forestal, a Deaf interpreter who has been at the forefront of research and training, contributed a chapter to the new book, Deaf Interpreters at Work: International Insights. While awarding official certificates to Deaf interpreters may be a relatively recent development, Forestal writes that, “as long as Deaf people have existed, they have been translating and interpreting within the Deaf community.” It goes back to the residential schools, where “Deaf children, both in and out of the classroom, would frequently explain, rephrase, or clarify for each other the signed communication used by hearing teachers.” Once out of school, this supportive activity did not cease. “Deaf persons would interpret for each other to ensure full understanding of information being communicated, whether in classrooms, meetings, appointments, or letters and other written documents” (Forestal, 2014, 30).

MY EXPERIENCE

Researching the history of Deaf interpreters allowed me to look back at my own career and see it through different eyes. After discovering the Deaf World via theater in the mid 1970’s when I was an actress in Los Angeles, I found CSUN where I took all four(!) classes offered at the time: ASL 1 and 2 and Interpreting 1 and 2.

Clearly, I was not prepared to work as a sign language interpreter, but with encouragement from my Deaf theater friends, I cautiously began community interpreting. In hindsight, I recall that at several Social Security or VR appointments, the Deaf person I was supposed to meet brought a “Deaf friend.” And if my interpretations were not clear enough, the friend would succinctly convey the point, assuming the role of unofficial “Deaf interpreter.”

In the mid-1980’s, I got a full time job at a large TDD distribution center in downtown Los Angeles to handle the crush of new customers thrilled to get the latest communication devices. When walk-in customers arrived, my co-worker, a Deaf woman named Sue Lee, would greet them and demonstrate their choice of equipment. My job was to interpret the registration process between Deaf customers and the hearing phone company reps on-site. As LA is a city of immigrants, it often happened that the Deaf person and I needed some extra help going over the rules of the program. I’d ask Sue to join us and she would come up with a way to best convey the information. Once again, everyone benefitted from the skills of a “Deaf interpreter,” although we didn’t label it as such at the time.

After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, I continued community interpreting, but returned to CSUN in 1991 for a 6-week course in legal interpreting. Our class of two-dozen seasoned interpreters included 3 Deaf interpreters and we enjoyed figuring out how to best work together in the legal scenarios we practiced.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve specialized in legal interpreting and often team with Deaf interpreters (now CDIs). Most of my peak moments interpreting have occurred while collaborating with a Deaf interpreter to achieve the shared goal of optimal understanding. To me, it feels like dancing with the perfect partner. Having the benefit of teaming together repeatedly, we can often anticipate each other’s needs and intentions and seamlessly move as one.

For a new chapter in my book, I interviewed five very skilled Deaf interpreters with whom I have had the privilege and pleasure of working in court: Linda Bove, Daniel Langholtz, Priscilla Moyers, Ryan Shephard and Christopher Tester.

WHAT WE FOUND…

“Article originally appeared on www.streetleverage.com. Reprinted with permission of Street Leverage.”

For more information on Deaf Interpreters check out the Deaf Interpreter Institute: http://www.diinstitute.org

Announcing New Resources for Instructors – sample curriculum and PowerPoint

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Tom and Anna:

We want to make it easy for instructors to use our materials and have just added a new feature to Deaf Culture THAT: a RESOURCE page where we will be adding items to give you ideas and support in making the most of our books and  DVDs.

To start, Tom has contributed a Sample Curriculum for an entire semester of a Deaf Culture class, utilizing his textbook, Introduction to American Deaf Culture and our Workbook and DVD set, A SIGN OF RESPECT.  He outlines 15 weeks of reading and homework assignments for a complete Deaf Culture class.

Anna is offering a Power Point Presentation entitled, CULTURAL SENSITIVITY FOR ASL STUDENTS that she presented at a national ASLTA Conference. It suggests exercises from her READING BETWEEN THE SIGNS WORKBOOK  and our DVD, SEE WHAT I MEAN.

We plan to add more resources soon and would welcome your suggestions. If you have used any of our materials in a successful class experience, please let us know and we may feature your ideas.

Please check out our new RESOURCES FOR INSTRUCTORS page.

Reporting Bathroom Behavior – Is that really “Deaf Culture”?

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Tom:

These days on YouTube, you can find many attempts to explain differences between Deaf culture and hearing culture.  One good example is the work of  a CODA named Will (CODA8810).  He provides several episodes, which although exaggerated, illustrate how Deaf people can behave very differently from hearing people. One of his scenes depicts graphically the openness and the etiquette related to information sharing regarding what goes on in the bathroom. This kind of openness has long been the subject of debates among Deaf people as to the appropriateness of such disclosures.  You need to watch Will’s 3 short scenes on YouTube: to see for yourself. So, does this truly fit the definition of Deaf Culture?

As discussed in the book Introduction to American Deaf Culture, cultural behaviors can be categorized into three categories – explicit, implicit, and emblematic.  Some behaviors are explicitly regulated through laws or policies.  For example, the government determines the legal age for getting a driver’s license or drinking alcohol beverages.  The legal age for these actions varies from culture to culture.  Other behaviors are implicitly understood.  Rather than being regulated by laws or policies, they are generally accepted and practiced by the community members.  For example, tipping rules also vary from culture to culture.  Here in American restaurants, a tip of 15% to 20% of the bill is expected, but not mandated by law.  The final category is where behaviors are emblematic of the culture but not necessarily practiced by most members of the community.  For example, foul language is often used in American movies, giving an impression to people throughout the world that such behavior is typical of Americans.  While most Americans may not themselves swear as much as certain characters in movies, foul language has become emblematic of American culture.

In the case of Deaf culture, etiquette associated with information sharing about bathroom behavior or personal ailments has been long debated among Deaf people.  Letting others know where you are going when you leave the room is expected of Deaf people, even if the bathroom is your destination.  Adding a vivid description of what transpired in the bathroom is not.  Yet, it is not that unusual to be at the receiving end of a detailed description of a difficult bowel movement or colorful vomit.  This openness can be considered emblematic of Deaf culture…that is it is not customary or expected of Deaf people to be graphic, yet such descriptions are not that unusual within the Deaf community.  CODA Will makes  this point in his another YouTube presentation —  What do you think?

Cultural Detective Highlights Deaf Culture

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Anna:

Cultural Detective: Deaf Culture Value Lens

Cultural Detective: Deaf Culture Value Lens

Tom and I are proud to be among the distinguished authors in the Cultural Detective series, which provides online tools to develop intercultural sensitivity and includes over 50 culture-specific packages from Argentina to New Zealand. In Cultural Detective: Deaf Culture, a “Value Lens” illustrates the values important in Deaf Culture, including Collaboration, Shared Information, Straight Talk and Group Orientation. Then through several critical incident stories we see how a clash of value can lead to misunderstandings. Strategies for bridging these gaps are taught.

A recent post on Cultural Detective’s blog highlighted issues in Deaf Culture in the wake of the controversy about ASL interpreter Lydia Callis. Read the blog post here. What do you think about the post-Hurricane Sandy comedy shows poking fun at the expressive interpretation of Ms. Callis?

Artwork of 18 Deaf Artists featured in the new textbook

Tom:

Along with Nancy Rouke’s vibrant expressionist artwork on the cover of the new textbook, Introduction to American Deaf Culture, 17 other Deaf artists’ works are also prominently featured throughout the book.  They include:  Iris Aranda (Two People and a Hand), Chuck Baird (Tyger, Tyger), David Call (Awakening), Matt Daigle (That Deaf Guy:  Poop), Susan Dupor (The Family Dog), Maureen Klusza (The Greatest Irony), Leon Lim (Killing My Deafness), Tony “Mac” Gregor (A Tribute to ‘Fingershell’ painting by Chuck Baird), Betty Miller (Ameslan Prohibited), Warren Miller (Embrace), Mary Rappazzo (Celebrating Deaf Culture), Roy Ricci (Two Eyes), Shawn Richardson (Terp Remote Control), Ann Silver (A Century of Difference), Scott Upton (Butterfly), Mar Valdez (Set Me Free), and Larry Yanez (I Love You).  While some of these works are well known to the Deaf community, others are relatively new.   Each chapter begins with one of these art pieces, corresponding to the subject being discussed.

Oxford just posted on their website, Introduction to American Deaf Culture’s official page, with ordering information. It will be released October, 2012.