Blogging Against... um... Deafism?

It stands to reason that when I need to really be getting on with my uni work, all of a sudden a serious post leaps into my mind and I find myself compelled to bash it out. I am aware that I have missed the official day for blogging against disablism, but this post has come about in reaction to those posts blogging against disablism in my blogroll. You see, few, if any, of them mentioned deafness. This seems to be a problem with my blogroll, as rummaging through the mother-post, I did find some posts of relevance, here, here and here. (I will have to consider calling a blogroll repair company to get this fixed.)

I have found myself wondering if perhaps many people in the Deaf community are correct in their assertion that deafness is not a disability. I have always thought of it this way when considering my mother’s deafness: deafness is a communications disability. Since we judge a person by the way they communicate with us, this explains the enormous amount of discrimination and rudeness that deaf people have to deal with every day. Difficulty communicating is confused with stupidity or rudeness. But thinking about it more, I realise that this is incorrect. Deaf people communicate fine - in sign language, by lip-reading, by textphone, by text message, over the Internet.

The problem stems from the fact that hearing people do not know how to and are often not actually willing to communicate with deaf people. For the record, my mother doesn’t know sign language - she lost her hearing in her forties and found adult sign language classes to be completely biased towards hearing people - but a lack of sign language among hearing people is not the extent of the problem. Complete ignorance of how to communicate by voice to a deaf person is rife - on being told that a deaf person needs to lip-read, people will still shout, talk quickly, turn away from them, chew gum, and when the deaf person cannot understand what is being said, often the hearing person will react as if this is the deaf person’s fault.

Some of the stories my mother has told me about the way she is treated have made my blood boil. I pride myself on being a hugely laid-back individual, but I know that if I was ever around while someone was treating my mum this way I would blow a gasket. In a shop I would demand to speak to the manager and then try to get the employee fired on the spot (I guess I am a typical son in this respect: "don't be dissin' my mom"). If some employees treated all hearing people the way they treat deaf people, they would get fired on the spot. Of course, if I am around when my mum is speaking to someone, I am able to smooth out the communication difficulties and even if I am able to see mild prejudice, it rarely meets the disgusting level it might when I am not there. (Although I think the fact that my presence makes a difference still speaks volumes about the discrimination occurring).

Discrimination is, naturally, institutional and not just limited to individuals. You have probably seen textphone numbers on adverts, bank letters and bills and thought, “What a lovely company!” Except nine times out of ten, my mum will find that the textphone will not be answered, it will be engaged, it will not be answered and then will be engaged (ie. it is taken off the hook after ringing the first time) or the number given will be incorrect. Typetalk is a service where an operator will play the go-between for a deaf person on a textphone and a hearing person on a voice phone. Except no-one has heard of it. People will hang up while typetalk is being explained to them because they cannot be bothered or they think that it is a prank or marketing call. And don’t use typetalk to call any big businesses: it is extremely difficult for the operator-deaf person pair to ‘press 3 now’. Not to mention that many shops, through their reliance on PAs and their constant piped in music can make things very difficult for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Even on the Internet, discrimination against deaf people is rife. Videos are almost never subtitled. Podcast transcripts are the exception, not the rule. Once, when logging onto her banking site to manage her finances, my mother was given a voice phone number and told to call her bank as soon as possible. Many eBay auctions require a paypal account and in order to activate a paypal account one must receive an automated phone call and write down a series of numbers. Discrimination against deaf people is everywhere, and I curse this fact myself every time I want to go hunt down some shop assistant and rip their ears off and every time I have to make an urgent phone call on behalf of my mother and every time I see someone looking at her as if their inability to communicate properly with her is somehow her fault.

But is deafness a disability, as most hearing people assume it is, or, as many deaf people feel, is deafness actually a culture which is discriminated against? My mother has a firm opinion on this count. She feels that being unable to hear music or birdsong is reason enough to consider it a disability, although this feeling obviously arises from having been born hearing. There is also a safety aspect. If you are hearing, imagine how you’d feel if you knew that someone could break into your house at night and walk right into your room and you wouldn’t even know it. Next time you are out and about, keep track of how much you use your hearing when moving - whether it’s crossing the road when you can hear no cars or dodging out of someone’s way without even seeing them coming. I am going to argue that deafness is a disability, since it makes some things impossible and some things difficult. But I am also going to argue that deafness is actually a rather mild disability. And here’s where I think my point really comes to the fore: deafness is only so serious a disability in so far as it is so thoroughly discriminated against. In this respect I think that blogging against discrimination against deaf people is extremely important. Most of the problems with being deaf actually stem from direct discrimination.

Finally, let me leave you with a thought. A lot of the “blogging against disablism” posts I have read that were written by non-disabled people had an air of superiority to them. "Of course, I would never discriminate against people in wheelchairs or blind people or people with mental disabilities." Let me tell you something: if you have ever said ‘excuse me’ to a person and then assumed that they are rude when they don’t get out of your way, if you have ever assumed that someone who has difficulty understanding what you are saying is stupid, then you have been prejudiced. If you do not know how to speak to a deaf person, if you have ever been impatient or annoyed or rude with a person because it has taken extra time to communicate with them, if you post audio content to your site without subtitles or a transcript, if the easiest way to communicate with your business is by voice phone, then you are discriminating. There are a million other ways and I know that I have myself been guilty of some of them. I suspect that many people who have blogged against disablism have too.


Disillusioned kid said...

Brilliant post!

Your musings on whether deafness is a "disability" generalise. Disability is a particularly large umbrella which encompasses deafness, blindness, autism, dyslexia, dwarfism, serious injury and a plethora of other conditions. The question must then arise if anything actually links these conditions beyond the category to which they have been assigned.

One of my friends argues that autism should be seen not as a disability, but as a gift. Dyslexia meanwhile might impede your ability to read and write, but many sufferers may be able to overcome this and go about their life with few of their friends and family being aware.

I'm not sure if this point is going anywhere, but it is ironic that the disability rights movement might be just as divided as its Marxist, environmental, animal-rights and anarchist counterparts. One hopes, however, that these divisions can be overcome as awareness of the multitude discriminations affecting those with disabilities increases.

Disillusioned kid said...

On a related note, somebody seems to have told Blogger about the difficulties that word verification thingy posed for the visually impaired and dyslexic. Tremble before the creepy number reading voices activated by clicking on the wheelchair icon.

ae said...

Pacian, well said. Lots to chew on here, and I especially take the point about the casual rudeness to a person who may not have heard us. So often the problem rests w/ the "abled."

As for Typetalk, etc., that's unforgivable.

Jemima said...

But, an argumentative soul might suggest, are people who have encounted what we might describe as socially sanctioned 'disabilities' exempt from assuming a non-hearer of rudeness etc etc. ? And I never had a call from PayPal.

I'm sticking with my initial assertion. We're all impaired. We're all biased.

Pacian said...

And I never had a call from PayPal.

On looking into it myself, I see that it's not compulsory for everyone. See here.

I'm sticking with my initial assertion. We're all impaired. We're all biased.

I have to say that I'm faintly embarrassed by my post. I stand by the content, but the tone and structure leave a lot to be desired. Basically, I agree with your assertion. I’m arguing that we all discriminate against disabled people. And I think that deafness is an impairment which is very easy to discriminate against. By pointing out the ways that I know people do this I was hoping to argue against complacency from anyone who thinks that they’re somehow immune from being disablist.

Instead I think I ended up with a slightly antagonistic-sounding rant. Ah well. :)

Jemima said...

Of course I'm immune because I'm perfect!

la la la

Diddums said...

A powerful rant, one I enjoyed. I have gone through much the same that your mother has - although born deaf, I still feel the way she does; that it's a disability. I was one of the BADD posters - hearing loss related; bit rambly. Got stuff to do now, but will read the rest of your blog when I get back. So glad I Googled!

ke`chara{BP} said...

thanks - great post!!! (found you via Aw Diddums who left a note on my blog saying they'd found me via you.. ).. thanks for the link!


ke`chara{BP} said...

p.s. with regards to the word verification thing: blogger have the right idea, but what do the deaf & dyslexic do?

Pacian said...

Diddums: thank you. I think your own BADD post is rather more eloquent than my own.

and keth: thanks as well. Although I think that I'm the one who benefits by linking to you. ;)

blogger have the right idea, but what do the deaf & dyslexic do?

Actually there is something else they could do to help dyslexic people, although I have no idea how effective it would be against spam bots. Elsewhere I've seen a system where you're shown a picture and have to click on the button that corresponds to it. There'd still need to be an option for the sight impaired, of course, but it would be perfect for the dyslexic. Not to mention easier for the rest of us too.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your post and it gave me hope for the other hearing people. Your insight is pretty much on point with the thinking and attitude of the deaf people.

I am Deaf myself, with a capital "D." It basically mean I identify myself as culturally deaf in case you didn't know. I have been deaf since birth and I have a deaf family. For that, I consider myself extremely lucky since I grew up in an environment where there was total access to communicate. I can communicate with any member of my immediate family easily and normally. Of course, it's a lil bit different when it comes to the aunts, grandparents, cousins although my mother's parents, now deceased, were deaf and her sisters both are fluent signers since they grew up with it being their first language.

Ok, enough about me...the thing is, many people do not realize that deaf people do have a culture. Sure, we don't have our own food, unique clothes, etc. but we do have a language. There are customs and mannerisms that come along with the deaf culture as well. I actually find being Deaf a blessing...but I admit that I used to sort of struggle with it but aren't we all confused about the extent of our identities in our early years? But it is also a burden when it comes to people who are ignorant and unknowledgeable of the deaf culture, and it's my duty as a Deaf person to educate them.

You are right about the discrimination. I endure it in many forms everyday, big or small. It makes me angry and fustrated...I speak out now and stand up for myself and often for others. One of the reasons why I have to stand up for the other deaf people is that they are so passive about it...sometimes they don't even realize that they are being discriminated against...even when they do, they are too afraid to do anything about it. I used to be too afraid too, but not anymore. The deaf people are not bugs you can just step on and walk all over. It angers me when I see that happen.

Oh, I also wanted to mention that one of the biggest problems that really cripples us, the deaf population is education. You would be surprised at the stats of our test scores, the amount of people on welfare, etc. I'm lucky to have parents who fought for my education and who can provide for me and my sisters. It saddens me that the "Deaf and Dumb" attitude still exists today...ever since Aristotle coined the term. I cannot tell you how many times the teachers of the deaf, interpreters, other people who are supposed to be knowledgeable of the deaf culture underestimate us, take advantage and demean us. I find it funny that people relate hearing to intelligence when it's not the case at all. Hearing has no impact on intelligence...just the way you learn, that's all. Deaf people learn visually.

I will give you some stats to emphasize how sad the situation is...this is just ballpark...the average of the deaf population graduate from high school with a 3-4th grade reading level. 80% of the deaf population in the NATION are on welfare. It's all because of that negative attitude and lack of supportive parents, parents who don't want to learn signs and would prefer to find every which way to make their child "normal." What is normal anyways? It's sad and depressing that many deaf people I know can't communicate with their parents...not easily and fully like I do with mine. OK, I'm just rambling on and on here...it's just that we have sooo many strikes against us, especially now with the cochlear implant industries and the threat of eugenics. But I am thankful for the long way we have come from a time of no imterpreters, no TTY's, no videophones, etc. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go.

Btw, the "disabled vs. not" arguement is still pending. We all still talk about it...we actually don't like to call ourselves disabled but many find it hypocritical of us since we take advantage of the term for money, special services, etc. It's still undetermined what's really right and what's not. Another term we don't like, the Deaf people with capital D, is hearing-impaired. Anyways, I'm gonna shut up now. Hope you learned something from this...or not.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post Pacian, and i seen some of other blogs posts you made. its kinda cool,

I especially like when you made comments about that potentially to fire a staff on the spot IF the complaint came from them hearies!! is real, but its not 'plausible' or realistic to have it from deaf/Deaf people, that too really is not on. It is absurd, I agree it is deplorable when these discrete arbitrarily dismissal of such claims always take place. I certainly would hope in future and admittingly, we will need alot more energy and effort to challenge the legal areas and powers-that-be's on what should constiture as a legitimate complaints, and of course they will alway say it is a waste of resources and tax money, but I disagree, that is at that very point, we shouldn't back off in a relunctant agreement to "that it is a waste of time"
(but for now, realistically do so,to save your selve harm, but somehow we have to contrive a system to effetively handle this dismissal without incriminating ourselves.)

BOLLOCKS!!..from there we all have to stand up and say "enough" of this BS, it is not nonsense, it is unacceptable to condone the ignor of deaf people's discontents which was manifested in a form as complaint - it is real, it is not a frivilous humour. Now, these days women can now sue men for even a slightly sexual harrassment, im just saying look how far we have camme in term of how the ways civil relations have changed, and we can change this even more !