Communicating Across Cultures

by Suzanne Kamata

When I learned a little over twenty-one years ago that my daughter was deaf and had cerebral palsy, I was worried about how I would communicate with her. For one thing, we were (and still are) living in Japan. It was hard enough for me, as an American, to communicate with my Japanese mother-in-law and my daughter’s teachers. Hardly anyone around me spoke English. I struggled to learn Japanese Sign Language through Japanese. Meanwhile, I used the internet to connect with other mothers of kids with disabilities and to access information in my native language.

Although I gave up on my dream of raising completely bilingual (English/Japanese) children, I managed to find ways to communicate with my daughter. In addition to sign language, we sometimes wrote words or drew pictures for each other. Then we got smartphones. Gradually, we had access to amazing apps that would allow us to exchange ideas in ways that were hitherto unimaginable.

Now an adult, my daughter is living in another city, thanks to the wonders of technology, we can still stay in touch. We chat in sign language via webcam, express our feelings with emojis, and have even started working on a joint project. Little by little, I have been sending my daughter the text of a picture-book-in-progress about a wheelchair user like herself. She uses an app to translate my English words into Japanese, then creates illustration by drawing on her smartphone screen. I can’t wait to find out what advancements and enhancements will occur in the next few years.

Lilia character holding her head as her brother takes a joy ride in her wheelchair.

Suzanne Kamata is an American living in Japan, and an associate professor at Naruto University of Education. She is the author of several books including Squeaky Wheels: Travels with My Daughter by Train, Plane, Metro, Tuk-tuk and Wheelchair (Wyatt-Mackenzie, 2019)

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