Pet Peeves: Common Misconceptions

I thought it would be good to take a light-hearted (kinda) approach to deafness. There are a few pet peeves that I have with hearing people and how they interact with d/Deaf/HOH people.

DISCLAIMER: this is based on my experiences, so take it with a big grain of salt.

  • Communication Modes Does NOT Define Me – I use ASL interpreters most of the time in classes, but this fact leads people to make strange (to me, at least) conclusions about me. They seem to think that I can’t hear ANYTHING and I am completely mute (as in unable to speak). I can communicate fairly well through listening and speaking if I am in a quiet environment. People are shocked when I communicate well in an intimate environment. Of course, the root of my annoyance is the fact that hearing people do not realize that not all d/Deaf/HOH people are alike. This misconception could be the further thing from the truth. I remember there was a HOH girl in my high school – she didn’t need very many accommodations, but I needed a sign language interpreter. Different people have different abilities in terms of speaking, lip-reading, hearing and listening. Hearing people also have different abilities in terms of listening and speaking, so why should d/Deaf/HOH people be any different?
  • Obsession About Music – “Can you hear music?” is one of the most common questions that I hear. Since I do have a cochlear implant, I can hear music. Appreciate it? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of d/Deaf folks that I know love music. I’m the odd duck here. Music is actually kind of annoying for me – it makes it harder for me to hear what a person is saying if music is blaring in the background. What annoys me about this question is not so much the question itself, but the implication. It may just be me, but I feel like many people consider my inability to hear/appreciate music greatly reduces my quality of life. Just because I can’t appreciate music doesn’t mean my life isn’t equally rich and vibrant as the next hearing person. Sure, music seems to be awesome, but I can relax and ‘be happy’ just by looking at beautiful pantings or reading wonderfully-crafted books. Relaxation and bliss can be found in other places than music.
  • Deafness as a Taboo – Since most of the annoying things people do stem from ignorance, it peeves me that people seem to be deathly afraid to ask me question about deafness (question above excepted). Most people have no clue how d/Deaf folks function in life, and that leads to some sad assumptions. If people were more brave and asked questions, maybe we would not have as many inane stereotypes lingering around. (I’m looking at you, deaf-people-can’t-drive stereotype). Perhaps they would realize that d/Deafness is not necessarily devastating.
  • All-or-Nothing Mentality – I’ve found that others have held me to impossible standards because of my deafness. This seems especially true in professional situations. I feel like I must be the best of the best to achieve what an average hearing peer does. If I am not the best of the best, then I’m written off. This mentality probably stems from cost-benefit analysis – hiring a person with a costly disability is not “worth it” unless the said person is the best. That kind of mentality is destructive – it leaves no room for variance and imposes impossible expectations on people with disabilities.
  • Heroic Meme – I know that I am pretty awesome (sarcasm), but I am not this awesome. It can be a bit uncomfortable when people cite my achievements as miraculous. I have been very lucky to get as far as I have, but that does not make me heroic – it just makes me a genetically endowed hard worker. We all are people, and we try our best to get through the live that we have, nothing more.

Is the ADA “Worth It”? Hell, Yes.

I stumbled upon a blog post in the New York Times that claims that the ADA, by making it costlier to see patients with disabilities (specifically, deaf patients who need interpreters), will result in fewer and fewer doctors accepting patients with disabilities. The author specifically noted that Medicare only reimburses 15-25% of the interpreter fees. Basically, since the doctor is not ‘profiting’ off the deaf patient, the author assumes that the doctor will (and is able to) refuse to treat the patient. Upon these tenuous assumptions, the author asserts that the ADA has the unintended consequence of encouraging discrimination. The author is implicitly telling us that the ADA is not worth its cost.

Another thing that I found the comments quite fascinating. I practically had to shield my eyes from the vim and vitriol that the commenters spewed. Some asserted that the deaf patient should have been placated by communication via writing. If “these” deaf folks are not satisfied with writing, these commenters said that the patient should pay for his or her own interpreter. Others merely derided the ADA as expensive and useless. The underlying assertion of many conmenters is that providing interpreters for a deaf patient is unreasonable if the doctor does not profit per every visit. Of course, there was some useless prattle about what a burden people with disabilities are on society and blah, blah. On the other hand, there are some quite good comments who repeat some points that I am going to make.

First, the author assumes that the doctor may and will reject a deaf patient because of the costliness of the patient. Let me remind the author about two things: the Hippocratic oath and the ADA. Medical ethics recognize that doctors fulfill a public service. There’s a reason why the medical profession is so heavily regulated in comparison with, say, retail. Doctors provide an essential service for society – health care. One line of the modern Hippocratic oath applies: “[w]hatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice…” Of course, the oath is not legally binding, but the oath outlines appropriate professional conduct. Denying access to a patient because of his or her status (deaf or otherwise disabled) should never be condoned or encouraged.

The author also assumes that the ADA allows a doctor to refuse service to deaf patient. Hello, Title III? Has the author even read the ADA? I think not. Title III prohibits all public accommodations (that’s you doctors) from denying access to people with disabilities (that’s you, deaf patients) unless it is an undue burden (not so much here). If a doctor tries to refuse service to d/Deaf patient because of his or her disability, that doctor is begging to be sued. Doctors may come up with contrived excuses. Such a practice, however, will inevitably lead to a near-total absence of medical service for d/Deaf patients. If all doctors (assuming, of course, they are big bad doctors who ignore their ethical duties) somehow got around the ADA and refused service to all deaf patients. No medical service! Why should d/Deaf folks bother with insurance then? Why should society bother funding Medicaid for d/Deaf folks then? Regardless of your stance towards health reform, most of us can agree that if we pay insurance (either ourselves or via taxes), we should get some degree of health care. In the infamous words of Homer Simpson, D’oh!

There’s also the argument that it is unreasonable for the doctor to shoulder the cost of interpreters. Such an argument assumes that the doctor should be able to profit from every single patient on every single visit. Um, no. Most doctors have more than one patient, and unless he or she has a disproportionate number of deaf patients, his or her practice should make an overall profit based on the rest of the patients. So, what’s the problem? The doctor can’t make an extra few hundred dollars? Cry me a river. If the doctor has a high number of d/Deaf patients (as in certain Rochester or Washington DC metro areas) then it would behoove him or her to staff a qualified interpreter. Doctors see people with medical problems, and guess what? People with disabilities can have medical problems too!

Many commenters argue that deaf patients should ‘mitigate’ the costs by communicating via notes or hiring their own interpreters. Putting the ADA aside, forcing d/Deaf patients to bear the costs (effort and/or monetary) is a terrible policy. First, it is not effective to communicate solely via written notes. Notes cannot capture the repartee, complexity and rapidity that spoken/signed language can . Second, we live in a society where discrimination based on disability is rampant – in employment, public accommodations and social context. Should society force an underemployed d/Deaf person to bear the financial costs of social discrimination? I would hope that we have evolved past that mindset.

The comments to this article rubbed me the wrong way. It seems to me that the current recession, the worst since the Great Depression, has brought out an ugly side of humanity. People’s total lack of compassion. I have been seeing more and more criticism of socially progressive policies such as affirmative action and inclusion of people with disabilities into mainstream society. A lot of the criticism is based on the me-me-me policy. If society (or doctor or school, or whatever) spends a bit of money accommodating a person with disability, then it takes away money from able-bodied persons. How these people stomp and yell about this injustice. These who label people with disabilities money-siphoners assume that non-disabled people somehow have a ‘moral right’ to society’s resources, and people with disabilities don’t. The dearth of compassion unnerves me – true inclusion seems impossible with that kind of mindset. Spare me the Darwinist argument. We, as a civilization, are supposed to evolve past the rough-and-tumble life of the jungle. The unfortunate thing is that people with disabilities are a lot more accommodating of people without disabilities than the other way around.

To sum it up, the ADA should not be used as an excuse to discriminate. The ADA does establish an effective barrier against discrimination, in terms of medical service. The real problem is that people refuse to accept accommodations as a social duty that we all bear.


Deaf Role Models – Wherefore Art Thou?

I’ll be short and sweet today. I have a ridiculous amount of work for clinic and everything else. (I promise to talk about my clinic, but there is so much to talk about that I don’t even know where to begin).

I was thinking to myself the other day – who was my role model growing up? Were there any d/Deaf/HOH folks who motivated me to get to where I am today? Trust me, I know my success thus far has been a mixture of a lot of sweat and a dash of luck. 

I know I do not get personal very often, but please tolerate my nostalgia. I did have some typical role models such as my parents. Not to say that my parents are not amazing people – they are – but they are hearing. As much as they tried to provide me with every opportunity in life, even if it meant that they lost out on their own opportunities, they could never quite show me how to be a successful Deaf woman. How could they? As sympathetic they could be, they couldn’t experience life the way that I experience it. My parents were one of the main factors in my success – they worked tirelessly to make sure i had services growing up and worked with me outside of class to ensure that I was actively learning. Hey, I ended up reading at 3 year old, so they must have done something right.

My parents aside, I had an unlikely role model – a Deaf mail sorter. You may be scratching your head right now – a postal worker? But he was one of the most remarkable men I’ve ever known. He was a good bit older than me. When I was six, he was well into his forties, but he took time to talk to me (signing!) with me. I still remember how we would chat away and he would tell me all about his job and his experiences growing up Deaf. He was one of the smartest men I’ve ever met – he could figure out the best way to do anything in a second. He always knew how to present his ideas in a clear and straightfoward manner – a talent that many lawyers, despite all of their schoolin’, have yet to acquire. 

Looking back, I do wonder what he would have ended up doing if he was born 40 years later? He was such an intelligent man, it makes my heart ache that he was never able to fulfill his potential in a professional capacity. Of course, not everyone can be a doctor, engineer or laywer (I would pull my hair out if that was the case – they are annoying enough :)), but he could have been a lot more. His situation inspired me to be all I can be (sorry Army, I ripped you off) and remember that there is more at stake than just my future. Thee success of a few d/Deaf/HOH folks can set the stage for many others to succeed by their own rights. I learned that any d/Deaf/HOH person can be smart, regardless of the “deaf and dumb” stereotypes out there and that is such an valuable thing for a child to learn.  

Basically, go out and interact! You never know who you will inspire.

Question? It’s An Answer.

Questions, questions and few answers. Welcome to the life of a lawyer.

This semester, I am participating in a clinic where we serve indigent clients. (The idea of representing a real and live person is absolutely frightening though). My clinical experience has shown itself to be an incredible and unparalleled learning experience. One of the key lessons that I learned (and am still learning) is the importance of questioning

You may think that the act of questioning is solely confined to depositions or client interviews, situations where you are actively trying to get information from someone else. Not true. A competent laywer must question everything she does, sees or learns about. You must constantly question your next move – is this truly necessary? Does this action serve the clients’ objectives?  if you don’t, you may veer off-course and end up wasting your and your client’s time. Also, you must question everything you disclose – is this confidential? Did my client approve? Most of all, you must question your assumptions – you know the saying, when you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME. Just imagine, doing that in a professional and legal setting, where the stakes are high – ouch. 

Most law students (including me) are loath to question – we think it makes us look incompetent and dumb. In fact, it’s a sign of truly competent and intelligent lawyering. You need to know all of the facts and underlying assumptions to get the right answer. 

Now, you may be asking yourself, how is this relevant to me as a d/Deaf/HOH person and a non-lawyer? Well, it is. 

One thing I find to be very disturbing about some of us d/Deaf/HOH folks is the reluctance to question hearing people.  Of course, this is fairly common among any population, but I fear that d/Deaf/HOH people suffer the most from the consequences. If you don’t question the doctor about his or her diagnosis because “its just too difficult to communicate” – it’s your life. If it is a legal proceeding, if you do not question why you are not getting the necessary accommodations – the consequences could be grave. 

There’s something uniquely repressive about being d/Deaf/HOH – people have a tendency to give us limited information. You know that famous phrase, “oh never-mind,” after you ask a question –  that I’m sure more than a few of you have heard. The “never-mind” phrase is one of the most toxic phrases anyone can tell a d/Deaf/HOH person. It discourages that person from questioning, from getting answers and encourages complacency. By making us feel that we are being “difficult” for asking questions, these never-minders makes the act of questioning a negative thing, which is the furthest thing from the truth. Also, it puts the hearing person into the coveted position of an information-holder, establishing an aura of superiority. One of the saddest phrases I’ve ever heard a d/Deaf person say was, “you’re hearing, you know everything!” (Obviously, not to me, ha!). Just because some hearing people withhold information (usually out of convenience, frustration and neglect), doesn’t make them any better (or more well informed) than any of us. 

If d/Deaf/HOH people questioned more, pushed more, maybe, just maybe, people would rethink their assumptions and discriminatory attitudes towards d/Deaf/HOH folks. If you ask why you are not getting the necessary accommodations, you may discover that some people have misguided assumptions. Once we get these assumptions out in the open, then we can counter them. For example, many people’s insnict is to equate the inability or difficulty in verbal communication with inability to think or reason. That assumption is, at best, misguided and , at worst, discriminatory. Once people realize they are assuming this and this assumption is wrong…maybe it will be easier for a d/Deaf/HOH person to succeed at whatever she wants to do. 

So being a compentent lawyer is not so different from being a successful d/Deaf/HOH person. 

Questions? 🙂

Pregnancy and Disability – Are They Anything Alike?

Technically, no. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not include pregnancy as a disability because of its temporary nature. However, the seminal preganancy discrimination statute, Preganancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which amended Title VII in 1978, does require similar treatment of  disabled and pregnant workers. For accommodation pruposes, pregnancy and disability are treated similarly. Check out the statue:

 … the term “because of sex” or “on the basis of sex” include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes… as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work. §701(k)

The bolded section basically means that the employer MUST treat pregnant and disabled workers similarly regarding accommodations and any other employment benefits. The statute also makes the employer focus on the ability or inability to work for both pregnant and disabled employees, not their individual characteristics. Now, some people interpret this as equating pregnant women and disabled workers, and they find that offensive because pregnancy should be treated as a miracle of life-giving, not a disability. Although I do understand their perspective of pregnancy as an unique event and a singularly feminine occurrence, but I must differ.

Completely dissociating pregnancy from disability is a bad idea for two reasons: (1) risk of a revival of the “gilded cage”; and (2) it ultimately stigmatizes people with disabilities.

Throughout history, women have been discriminated aganist again and again because of their supposedly delicate and motherly nature (i.e. put into a gilded cage – had a life of relative luxury but no freedom). Males would fixate on women’s role as a child-bearer to justify the separate-sphere paradigm  that has made it so difficult for women to succeed. By shifting the focus from women’s ability or inability to work, the statute would be allowing the employer to consider women’s characteristic as child-bearers and mothers. Of course, that into itself is not a lie – women do bear children and are mothers. However, permitting employers to think about women’s femininity rather than ability to work will lead to a slide back into the “gilded cage” way of thinking – oh mothers are so pure, they should never be exposed to the world’s horrible and terrible things. Their place is in the home. Allowing women to be separated from disabled workers, for accommodation purposes, would be akin to allowing the old-fashioned meme of women-as-domestic-child-bearers-only to flourish. The reason why employment discrimination law exists is to prevent discriminatory stereotypes from entering employer’s decision-making, and focusing on ability or inability to do the job is a way to further that goal. 

Also, differentiating pregnant women from disabled workers ultimately stigmatizes the disabled workers by putting them in a separate and lesser category. Much of the advances in reducing discrimination based on disability (that includes you Deafies!), has come from focusing on the ability to do the job. The basic premise of Title I of the ADA, which deals with employment, is that if, with reasonable accommodations, an employee can do the job, s/he cannot be discriminated against because of disability. (The definition of reasonable accommodation is a whole ‘nother conversation). By putting pregnant women in a different category, we would undermine all of the ADA’s accomplishments in the last 19 years by saying, oh it’s not about ability to do the job, it is about the characteristic of the person doing the job.  In order for discrimination based on disability to disappear, we must shift our thinking to focus on the ABILITY to do the job, NOT the disability itself. Exempting pregnant women from this paradigm makes disabled people different, seperate, and ultimately, inferior. I would hope that we have learned our lesson from Plessy

N.B. For my more-regular readers, this post may seem to be very uncharacteristic – I am trying to discuss more legal issues pertaining to people with disabilities, as I think it’s a neat field of law. Hopefully you find these legal topics as interesting as I do.

Look Ma, A Deaf Person is On TV!

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All right, I have a confession – if there’s a deaf character on a show, I will watch the show, no matter how bad it is. Now that we got that dirty little secret out of the way…

A comment on this blog raised an interesting question (perhaps unwittingly) – how does the increased exposure of d/Deaf folks on TV impact life for us regular-non-movie-star-d/Deafies? How about the impact on professional d/Deaf/HOH folks?There is (or has been) d/Deaf characters or people on the Amazing Race, Survivor, Law and Order, some cheesy Hallmark movies and Target/Pepsi commercials. However, most  of the portrayals focused on ASL-using Deaf folks. 

One could say that increased exposure to ASL is beneficial for all d/Deaf/HOH folks as it demystifies deafness. (Yes, we are normal people who really really want to be on TV and do outrageous things on TV for money 🙂 ). But does it? I feel like deafness, whatever its form, manifests itself in such various forms and people deal with it in such different ways, that no one portrayal can capture the essence of an entire community. Of course, that’s true for all minorities – no one person can be an example that encapsulates an entire community. However, I feel like this problem is more acute with the d/Deaf community.

For some moronic reason, most people (without experience with the d/Deaf/HOH community) cannot grasp the concept that we use many many forms of communication – ASL, oral, PSE, SEE, Cued, whatever. Also, they fail to realize that lip-reading is talent, not a skill you can necessarily acquire, and an inaccurate way to understand speech. (thanks again Hollywood!) As much as I love using ASL, I still think its unfair to portray mostly ASL-using Deaf persons who may or may not speak. If I had a nickel for the number of times that people thought that I cannot hear or speak at all because I use ASL, I could retire and pay off my law school loans! I do understand why the entertainment industry does it – it’s very visually appealing and easily identifiable as “Deaf.” Hollywood is Hollywood – the land of visual imagery. 

Many d/Deaf characters get pushed into the “inspirational” and “heroic” mold – oh my god! s/he can do that even though s/he is deaf! Omigod! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for an inspirational story, but let’s face it, there is a lot more to any d/Deaf/HOH individual than his or her supposed disability. I wouldn’t like if I was only known because I am a “Deaf” law student, but I would rather be known as a law student who is Deaf. Of course, I doubt the actors or reality TV constestants control how they are protrayed on television, but it shows me that Hollywood is sorely out of touch. It is not insprational or heroic for us d/Deaf/HOH folks to proceed with our regular lives, it’s life.

As an aspiring professional, I wonder if I am going to be stuck with the inspirational/heroic meme all my life. It makes me sad that, despite the technology advances that has made it much easier to be hearing-impaired professional in today’s world, we are not overcoming the if-I-am-disabled-and-I-function-pretty-much-like-everyone-else, I get stuck with this kind of meme. It would be wonderful if people could see our personality and individuality first. I would much rather be seen as a lawyer-to-be first, than Deaf first (although, sometimes I’m not sure which one has worse public perception…).

Of course, I can’t complain too much, it’s not a horrible meme – it’s better than the old deaf-people-can’t-do-anything-and-they-are-also-mentally-disabled meme (i.e. the whole deaf-and-dumb thing). I am just not entirely sure if the advantages (increased visibility and awareness) of having more and more d/Deaf people on TV outweighs the disadvantages (getting stuck with a patronizing meme). I would be much happier if they portrayed a more varied group of d/Deaf/HOH people so at least people would not get the wrong idea about how varied our communication styles are.

Update!

Good things come to those who update and improve themselves, right? Well, apply the concept to my blog – I added some neat features

  • photos – I added some photographs to this site to spice it up. Who says that law has to be boring? Well, it can be, but that doesn’t mean that my blog must be boring!
  • email – Now you can contact me directly at deaflaw@gmail.com. Just remember, nothing that i say constitutes legal advice (sorry, had to give that disclaimer). Plus, you really really don’t want advice from a law student.  However, I’m more than happy to talk to you about law school, life or the forsaken test, the LSATs. 
  • RSS Feed – now you can subscribe to my blog via RSS Feed, sorry it took me so long to set that up. I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world. 
  • Miscellaneous – there are some other neat widgets such as “top posts.”

Also, feel free to give me any feedback about post content, website design, etc. You can either comment on this blog or email me directly.

Stayed tuned…