All posts by Ryan Seslow

About Ryan Seslow

Ryan Seslow is an artist, graphic designer & professor of Art & Design living and working in NYC. Working in a variety of mediums Seslow shows his work both on and off of the Internet. As a professor of art & design he is teaching various graduate and undergraduate courses simultaneously between 4 colleges in NYC.

Sudden Remote Teaching – Deaf/HoH

-Ryan

Here we are navigating our 5th week of remote / online classes here in NYC (and beyond of course) and adapting to our “new lives”. I can’t think of anything else to call it as of right now, so I’m going with this. I say this from the perspective of integration as I’m very much still in the: “I’m really perplexed about how we are even in the position that we are in” phase along with having adjusted to this new life and fulfilled so many new, mandated compliances to keep my courses going simultaneously. (That was a long sentence, too!) I originally started writing this post about 3 weeks ago. A lot has changed, which makes it seem harder to update, since I’ve made more progress than I thought I would. Or could.

Along with following all of the administrative protocols, attending endless Zoom meetings, making course updates, reformatting everything, and dealing with the staggering amount of e-mail and overall communication—and that’s just work stuff—not including connecting with family and friends. Whew!—I’m finally starting to reflect on things. Or… wait, is my ego reflecting on what it thinks it is reflecting on? Reflection invites in ALL of the emotions. And the feelings—both positive and negative. And there’s been quite a bit of the negative! Why am I reminded of past failures at a time like this? We humans like routines, they help us stay focused and structured. Uncertainty isn’t something we’re really good at, right? Wrong, we certainly adapt, and adapt quickly. I can see that as I edit this post!

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Here is a visual interpretation of me after the first 2 days of my 3-in-a-row-straight zoom meetings..

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the conversion to remote and online teaching in general. As I see it now, especially as a deaf/HoH professor who depends on “visual everything,” I have much more to organize than I thought. I teach simultaneously between 4 colleges here in NYC. I’m teaching 7 courses between all of these schools to 99.9% hearing people. As we know, the reality of “just switching to video chat classes” is NOT easy, even for a hearing person teaching hearing people. Especially if you’ve never done this before. Video chat platforms can actually work well for me if it’s a one-on-one situation, but add 5-15-24 people and access really changes.

Simply put, I need to see a face and mouth at all times to have access to a spoken conversation. Yes, I wear hearing aids but they are NOT magical devices that mean I can “hear” what normal hearing people hear. I don’t, not even close… Because I’m deaf. My hearing loss is degenerative and has been decaying over time since birth. So these days, I only catch about 30% with hearing aids. The other 70% of the conversation is absorbed from lip reading, speech patterns, emotional rapport, facial expressions, and body language. When it comes to only seeing someone’s face, head, and shoulders on a flat monitor or screen, that 70% contextual part is naturally limited, and understanding speech becomes harder.

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When switching to “synchronous style” remote teaching formats using Zoom, Skype, Google Meet or Google Hangouts or another video-chat platform (I recently tested Microsoft Teams that DOES have a live, real-time captioning feature. I much prefer this over the others and will be switching to this. You do need to download the desktop application and have access to the business or education licensing, though), things can get really challenging, especially with a sea of small icon-like faces as the number of people increase in the chat session. Three of my classes have 20-plus students in them. As I mentioned, one-on-one video chat works well for me, but add several others to the chat, and, well, the faces get smaller, and visual access decreases. I need to adapt to this by using a text-chat feature to support the visuals. This can be done and I have been making several adaptations as time has passed. However, typing out the conversation slows down the process, and others in the virtual classroom may become a little impatient. “Please be compassionate, please be patient, please put yourself in the shoes of others and try to understand.” Hmm, this is tough, especially if I’m your first Deaf professor. Believe me, I know I am. We are learning together in this experience, in real-crazy-time. Things will be tweaked as we go along. We can’t be selfish and expect communication to function as it would in the normal classroom. It’s just not the same thing

Aside from what I said above, accessibility has a context that expands and extends far beyond myself; it is collective and contextual. I can share my own experiences here but my experiences obviously relate to my life experiences as a whole—and that includes all of my students. I care about them deeply and protect them fiercely. They come first, always have, and I am fully responsible for making the choice to teach and work where I do. What does accessibility look like on my students’ end? My students have their own issues, struggles and problems. Some have no access to the internet, no access to a computer, laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet. Which means no access to certain software applications. Some do not have a physical space to sit and be present in a video chat class as their living space is shared with parents, siblings, and other relatives who are also home, and in some cases working from home. Many have lost their jobs altogether. Some are living with multiple family members who are sick, whether with Covid-19 or other pre-existing conditions. This all happens simultaneously. But what we don’t really talk about, when we discuss how wonderful all of these new adaptations are, are the emotional and psychological aspects of this entire situation. Do we have enough contrast yet to fully understand the current and continuing impact of the last 5 weeks? No way.

I have adopted the mantra of Compassion, Patience, Understanding, Accessibility, Adaptability, Inclusion, Helpfulness, and Humility. We can do this together both inside and outside academia. Fellow students, faculty, and colleagues, both those with accessibility needs and those who need help working with folks with accessibility needs, let’s pull together and contribute our resources and knowledge to help each other. Blogs like this one and other social media have a huge reach and can be used to share useful perspectives and resources.

It is also crucial that we communicate honestly with our colleagues, students and administration. I AM Guilty of this in the past myself! I have and continue to reach out to my people. All of my students already know that that I am deaf/HoH. I was upfront with them from Day One of our semester. I explained my communication needs and stated that I always need to see a face, lips, and body language to follow verbal conversations. If not, then we need to type, write, text, or make written communication happen. The application of a speech-to-text application like Cardzilla (that I love! iOs  Android) or another form of text/type/visual communication also helps! Of course, content management system (CMS) platforms like WordPress websites are also super effective, and I have built a website for every class that I teach! No, not Blackboard or Canvas. I build my own websites for my courses so that I have full autonomy of the admin aspects of communication and access and so much more.

The combination of Zoom and the CMS platforms have allowed for a relatively smooth integration for me. As I mentioned above I will integrate MS Teams this week over Zoom. Zoom allows for simultaneous Video, Audio, and Text Chat, so for me and my students, this is crucial! I can see a face to speech read and then ask for additional text follow up via text in the chat box. Plus, if turn the audio on my computer speaker up, in my case to Very High, I can place my iPhone next to it and have the Cardzilla app transcribe the audio to text. It is a hack, but it works, and I am grateful for that. My students have been super patient and seriously awesome at this point! Accessibility is EVERYTHING! Especially in this very NEW situation we find ourselves in.

Aside from teaching and hacking accessibility and expanding my awareness of how amazing our collective human potentials are, how are you all coping with the isolation, and order to stay home? I’m focusing on self-care. Making healthy meals and setting a cozy and loving environment in my space. I’m also making a lot of new art, I mean A LOT!

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Communication is EVERYTHING so please be mindful and specific about what you NEED.

Much Love to all!

The more I missed, the more I made

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-Ryan

I am overcoming a lot of my fears by directly putting myself in positions where I have to talk about how hearing loss and being deaf has affected my life. As a college professor (yep, for 14.5 years now) my job requires me to be in front of a lot of people each and every day. I have been trying to be more direct with my students and colleagues, and tell them how I feel and what I need from them. My honesty about who I am and what I am missing makes getting to mutual feelings of compassion and empathy a little easier. This mutual empathy helps both parties make the emotional connection that I feel is necessary in education.

Often, I have to ask people to repeat themselves, or to speak more slowly, or loudly. I often incorrectly answer questions and everyone laughs or looks at me with a priceless look of confusion. These things also make me laugh as shared misunderstandings create connections and remind me to take myself lighter. That connection is where I begin to know someone, because they would now know me as I am. I need to be more honest and forward about why. It is my responsibility to make people aware of what and how much I am missing. It is natural to seek deeper meaning out of yourself and examine how that applies to the world around you. We grow through such self-discovery as we interpret ourselves in relationship to our time here on this planet. I have, however, learned the hard way that it can slip away all too fast if we hide from ourselves. Hiding only seems to perpetuate more hiding. I often wonder how many other people with severe hearing loss and deafness are out there hiding from their deafness as I used to do?

Dealing with this process of healing and facing my fears (it’s an ongoing process), I recently had an epiphany about my work as an artist. Possibly you are already familiar with my work, but if not, I have been a high-volume output kind of artist for my whole life. My style is to make many things At Once. Volume and production, productions in volumes and accumulation. What a great metaphor, and right under my nose! By connecting my hearing limitations to the question, “Why do I make so much stuff?” or “Why have I put the emphasis on physical output and high volume of works produced?” I suddenly get it. My work habits are all about filling in the fear of how much I have been missing and have missed in this world.

Overcompensation.

I missed a lot beginning in early childhood; and as I grew older, the more I was not hearing the more art I would make. Production and Volume = Missing. The funny part is, most of the art that I make and have made is not dark or representative of my frustration. I do not try to communicate unhappiness, but I do see a huge common thread of a lack of meaning in my work before I became more aware of the impact of my deafness. Subsequently, the context of my art has changed and this plays a huge role in the kind of work that I greatly need and want to produce. The best is really yet to come.

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The animations in this post continue to explore the soundless looping GIF format. These pieces begin as digital image fractures and manipulations. They are re-composed and organized as new imagery and content. How does that process play a role in communication? Missing 5-8 words in any sentence can have a profound effect on how one may respond, comprehend or take away from an interaction. What does this look like when that actual missing fragment(s) take place? Repetition is used to display the distortions and metaphors for how this experience may be interpreted visually. If you are a hearing person viewing these animations you may be “missing” the usual audio aspect to the videos you see, watch, and hear each day.

This post is slighted edited from the original on Ryan Seslow’s blog  where you can see more of his art.