iSkye Silverweb has been Deaf since birth. Her first language is American Sign Language (ASL), but she is fluent in English and somewhat so in Spanish. She relies heavily on text to communicate in Second Life.
From the time she was five years old, iSkye had a hearing aid which bolstered her residual hearing. This allowed her to hear music and some speech, and she learned to speak with a lot of intensive speech therapy. However, in adulthood she suddenly lost her hearing, to the point that her hearing aid became useless. As a result, she is now completely deaf.
Art is not iSkye's profession, but it has been her saving grace. Writing, drawing, and 3D creation have brought her through many difficult moments, and allowed her a voice in visual form. That creative expression is perfectly on display at her build in Ethnographia, entitled “Muffled Sounds of Summer.” As she recently explained when showing her display to the Ethnographia community on August 15, 2016, the design is an attempt to illustrate what it was like to be a deaf child at a family function.
The build features a larger-than-life picnic table with a little girl who sits under it reading a book. It represents an autobiography based on a memory of iSkye's from when she was a child. At family summer picnics, she could be seen with at least one book close at hand, usually sitting under a tree or somewhere near the adults, reading. She could not understand the conversations of the adults; often it was just background noise mixed in with radio sounds and occasional shouts of kids playing their games. When visiting her build, be sure to use your camera and look up. You might even fly up onto the picnic table. Look for the captions that appear and fade, which symbolizes what she could hear. These animated captions wonderfully represent what “hearing” was like for her.
On the picnic table sits a radio emitting musical notes that float and fade into the sky. iSkye explained, “I could feel the vibrations of the music on those wood floors so I loved to dance with others there… it's really about that invisible wall that you experience when you don't hear well.” Another perspective you can gain from wandering through her build comes from discovering a mouse under the table. She noted “that was kind of one of the details you notice when you're a little kid on the ground… mice, ants. I sat under a tree and watched a whole colony of ants doing their usual foraging and bringing home food after a long trek. You notice more things on a different level because you're not so busy listening and talking. I had fun putting bread crumbs out for the ants. They were amazing, picking up these HUGE crumb pieces and carrying them off home, and while I enjoyed those experiences, I couldn't really share them with anyone else. They were too busy doing their social things like baseball, grownup chatting, etc.
While you may find yourself feeling rather small as you explore iSkye’s build, that is not by accident! She said “there was always a bit of the attitude that the things I had to say, or share, were not as significant or something. I'd get the facial expression equivalent of a pat on the head... anyone know what I mean? A sort of patronizing, 'very nice, dear' that just made me go even quieter. I dove deeper into my books. At least I wasn't missing any conversations in those!”
Another subtle feature of the build is that each of the people is in silhouette. iSkye explains that she designed it that way because “they were sort of less real to me than the ants and mice and my books...” She is also quick to add, “I hope nobody got the sense I was having a pity party—just this made clear the invisibleness of not hearing well.”
iSkye is certainly not invisible in Second Life. She has been a volunteer leader with Virtual Ability (her home community), and has been also been actively involved with BURN2 and Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education. Thank you, iSkye, for being a part of the Ethnographia community as well!