Ep: 22 Kay Lam, 78, + My 5-yr-old, A New Friend Through Sign Language

asian guest podcast May 25, 2022
deaf person aging

Listen NOW


Do you ever wonder what life is like for someone in the deaf community especially as they age? In today’s episode you’ll get to meet Kay Lam, who is an Asian American, 78-year-old, who is now a source of courage for this mom and my little guy. Sign language brought us together and I am so thankful! This episode will be the first of a few where I feature Kay's story to inspire the hearing and deaf community. 

This month, we are also celebrating Asian American Heritage Month, the 1-year anniversary of this podcast and 11 years since I started blogging/writing about the older generation.

In today's episode:

  • Learn how sign language helped my son make a new friend.
  • Learn how Kay made Ben feel comfortable when we met with her (Listen at 5:34)
  • Hear how Kay has made friends in the last few years at Riderwood and stepped outside her comfort zone (Listen at 11:13) 

Full transcript below.

Resources mentioned:

Full transcript:

"I started to learn sign in college. The first year was very difficult because I didn't know any sign and I couldn't communicate much with my classmates and the professors...."

Several years ago I saw someone who was deaf in one of the running groups that I was in and I remember thinking, it would be really cool to learn sign language so I could communicate and have a full conversation with her.  I wanted to befriend her, but I didn’t know how.

Today’s episode is in lieu of Asian American Heritage Month. Our guest that I’m featuring today is and older Asian American woman who is also deaf. The is the first episode of several episodes  featuring Kay because there is so much to her story that needs to be told. I was inspired and encouraged tenfold by hearing her story. Today I want to share how an unexpected friendship came about through sign language. So you’ll definitely want to stick with us and listen in:

I’m Isabel Tom and this is The Value of Wrinkles podcast, Whatever age you’re at or consider yourself to be, maybe that’s young, youngish, midlife, older, or maybe you just call yourself old, there is value that you bring to this world. Your life story, your heritage, your aspirations, hobbies, and experiences mean you bring something to the table. Let’s explore how to love the older generation (and ourselves more). I cannot wait for spend some time with you.

Welcome to episode 22 of The Value of Wrinkles podcast. I’m celebrating a lot this month. It’s Asian American Heritage Month and I have come to appreciate my Asian heritage so much more in the past year or two. It’s my birthday. It’s also the 1 year anniversary of The Value of Wrinkles podcast. It’s the 11 year anniversary of when I started blogging about aging and the older generation too. So today’s episode is going to encompass the reason I keep writing and sharing and encouraging people to love and develop relationships with the older people in their lives.

I can’t really describe how encouraged, humbled, and honored I was to be able to meet Kay Lam. My mom became friends with her and I when I heard that she was both Asian American, a woman of faith, and a deaf, I knew I wanted to meet her sometime. The opportunity to interview her, however, came about however through my youngest son, Ben.

Since my kids were little, I’ve been intentionally trying to teach them to use their super power of being young to bless the older generation. When you say hi or wave to a Poh poh or Gong gong (which is the term in Cantonese that is used to refer to an elderly man or woman/grandparent figure), it blesses them so much. It makes them so happy. Happier than if I say hello them.

Now I have three kids and not every one of them is friendly or extroverted, so I gotta say, when I tell them that they can bless other Poh Pohs and Goong Gongs by saying “hi”, they don’t all do it.  Ben in particular is much more reserved than my other kids so he’s like uh huh. Not saying hi to strangers.

While Ben will typically not use his voice to say hi (or even wave) to the older friends we encounter… this year he showed me that he can make friends in his own way. So every week since the first week of preschool, Ben’s teachers have focused on one letter of the alphabet with his class. They do show and tell, practice writing the letters and I found out they even learn how to sign that letter in sign language. I was blown away when several weeks into school, Ben would consistently share which letter he learned how to sign. After 26 weeks he now has been come fluent in the ASL alphabet!

When I realized he loved sign language, I told him about my mom’s friend Kay and how maybe he could talk to her since he knew how to sign. “Maybe we can go meet her at poh poh’s,”  I had mentioned. And that led to him asking “when are we going to see Kay Poh poh?” He would repeated ask me on the way to school. And since he’s a shy guy, I knew I had jump on this.

So with my mom’s help, we set up a date to meet with Kay.

Now my Ben still was a little nervous to meet Kay. And I was a little too. But Kay Poh poh (which means Grandma Kay in Cantonese) is so smart. When we entered my mom’s place, she had a box of chocolates just for Ben. At 78, she got down and sat on the floor with us so Ben could show her what he knew.

I could see my son focused and beaming as he showed Kay Poh Poh how he could sign the alphabet. She signed along with him and that afternoon was just a day where my mom heart was just overflowing with gratitude.

The more we talked, the more I realized that I just came upon an amazing amazing women. First of all, Kay was born hard of hearing and so hearing has always been a struggle for her. By college age, she was deaf, but she did not learn sign language until she went to college. She came over to the U.S. only after passing the entrance exam to Galludet University, which is still the only university in the world I believe where all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students.

Kay: I wanted to go to college so I applied and fortunately I passed the entrance exam so I could come to the United States to study, but everyone in the college was using sign language. I knew nothing about sign language.

Kay: I started to learn sign in college. The first year was very difficult because I didn’t know any sign and I couldn’t communicate with my classmate and the professors and so the first year was the hardest year of my college life.

Me: Ben! She didn’t learn how to sign  until she was older than you. So he is learning sign, five year’s old

Kay: Good boy.

Me: Can you believe that? Kay did not learn how to sign until college. When Ben found out this.. the fact that he learned sign language at a younger age than Kay Poh Poh who sign language fluently now…I could see a smile peel across his face. Hearing Kay’s story gave him a dose of confidence. And courage.

Kay was so courageous. I think of people who learn how to bike and swim or play piano as adults. It takes courage to try new things. Especially when you’re older. For Kay, she moved to a new country, started university, met new people and learned sign language all at the same time. I can only imagine how hard it was. And how much courage and determination it required.

I hear people say “I’m too old for this..” often or “I can’t do that.” and when I hear Kay’s story, that’s a reminder to me that there is hope.  

Before we continue on with today’s episode, I want to make sure you know about my digital course which I created this year called Prepare to Care. It will help you figure out what to do with your aging parents/grandparents while they are still heatlhy. So if you notice signs of decline or they’re already declining, this course is still going to help you. What it will do is help you learn an approach that will support your aging parent in a respectful, yet effective way that is going to minimize overall stress for you and your family. It will equip you to start those conversations that are so daunting. And you’re going to receive simple instructions on how to complete an advance directive  using everyday language, so you understand. This is really going to give you access to content that will guide you all along the caring process as you care for someone in your life.

I want you to have it right now. It is available at an introductory rate of $89 and when you purchase this course you will have it for the lifetime of this course. So make sure you check it out HERE. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. My heart is really to build a stronger village around every older adult and make sure they know they are valued each and every day.

Kay is 78 now and while I don’t have time to share the entire interview with you today, I want to leave you with what Kay is doing NOW that encourages me. In her 70s she has tried some big new things that is proof that we are never too old to try new things. I want you to hear what Kay shared with me… Just a heads up..when I interviewed Kay I was using a voice-to-text app and typing to her, so you’ll hear a pause or some silence in this next clip. That’s just me typing a question to her. Listen to how she has stepped outside her comfort zone after moving into the retirement community she’s at:

“But after I moved to Riderwood, I realized I need to reach out to hearing people. I cannot stay in the deaf world all my life, so that’s why I started to explore to find voice-to-text app that will help me. So you started using voice to text app only…… Yes.. WOW!

Before I always use sign language with my friend and professors everyone.”

I’m not sure if you caught that, but Kay has done several things recently that inspire courage in me. She started making friends with hearing people just in the last few years. She has started to use her physical voice… which is beautiful to hear in this episode. She also started exploring new technology or voice-to-text apps so she can communicate and make friends outside of her circle. These are not small things.

That afternoon Ben and I spent with Kay was really special. In fact, Ben is still signing and excited to learn how to sign. The other day we saw Kay and I was trying to say hello. I couldn’t remember the letter “S” though and so I looked over at Ben and asked, “How do you sign “S” again?” With confidence, he held up his fist to show me the sign for “S”. And because of that, I could communicate better with Kay that day. 

In the car is when Ben and I chat the most. And Kay Poh Poh is one of the people we talk about and he remembers well.

Outro: That’s it for episode 22. I want thank you for listening to today’s episode and if you’re a loyal listener, thank you for following me and supporting me this first year of podcasting! If you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast would you do a favor by writing a short review for this podcast on whatever platform you use to listen to your podcasts? And would you share this with a friend who you think would enjoy this episode?

Thanks again and I’ll cannot wait to connect in episode 23.



Get Three Things Your Parents is Thinking...But May Never Tell You Now - It's FREE!