A Secret for Succeeding?

I’m afraid that I don’t have the secret to succeeding, but I have made a few observations about successful d/Deaf people. There seems to be two kinds of successful d/Deaf lawyers: one that becomes a tireless advocate for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing issues, usually enveloping oneself in Deaf culture OR being a successful attorney. The former is great for people who want to pursue that goal and is somewhat easier to do, But what about the latter? It’s indisputable that it’s harder to succeed in the “hearing” world – there are more doubts, more skepticism and frankly, a LOT more ignorance.

One thing that I’ve observed is that it is crucial to understand the hearing world and their attitude towards deafness. I do understand the instinct to reject the hearing world as “oppressive,” “discriminatory,” and “audistic.” Honestly, I HATE the word audism – it implies a conscious intent to demote deaf people, and most of the time this is not true. Most hearing people have never met a deaf person before and their only frame of reference is TV, books and their imagination. Of course they will think that deafness is a huge burden, so would you if you lost your sight suddenly. Of course, some people, even if they are educated about deaf culture/ways of life, still discriminate against deaf people. They are bigots and shortsighted fools. It is dangerous to compare racism and audism because to a vast majority of people, you cannot compare a disability to race.

The prickly attitude about “audistic” hearing people will only get in your way if you aspire to professional success in a hearing-dominated field (like law). These sentiments will alienate your co-workers and bosses, and frankly, you become a difficult person to work with. What most people want is a competent co-worker/employee who WORKS WELL with others. If you harbor insidious feelings of hatred and resentment towards everyone else, how nice can you be? The hearing world values propriety, politeness and above all, conformity.

I’m not saying these values that I listed above are necessarily “good,” but that’s reality. To beat the game, you must play the game. If you want to see more fellow d/Deaf people become successful, they will have to conform to some degree to the hearing customs. For example, I know it’s not normal to expect people to form instant bonds with me like we do in the Deaf culture. I accept that, because otherwise, I would be perpetually disappointed and I would be “weird.”

Hopefully a story will illustrate my point. A few days ago, I asked a co-worker to tell me where to drop off some paperwork. He insisted on leading me to this place and proceeded to tell the human resources officer that “she can read lips really well.” Did I want to strangle him? Hell, yes. Did I make a snarky remark? No, I just smiled and said, “thank you very much for your help, I’ll be fine on my own next time.” There’s an old adage that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

One does not need a cochlear implant or hearing aids or other fancy technologies to understand how to succeed. One must relate to the hearing world, particularly in a personality-centric field like law. These are your peers, like it or not and they have a lot of power until the day that you rise through the ranks and seize that power for yourself.


4 responses to “A Secret for Succeeding?

  1. Pingback: » A Secret for Succeeding?

  2. What you write is so true. I also hate the word audism. I’ts a put down word, and also very negative. Most people are simply ignorant about deafness, not mean spirited about it. Yet the audist word sounds like heairng people are out to get them, push them down, etc.. Not true.


  3. Your points are excellent and the philosophy a workable one for the employment arena.

    However, if you are going to protect deaf peoples’ rights as a lawyer, you need to recognize audism in its various degrees and faces. It is there, from the equivalent of redneck-style racism to the unintentional paternalism of the professional who knows little of deaf people except for the few they have met.

    For the young professional without direct experience of audism, it is hard to recognize and it is helpful to rely on older deaf people who have been through all kinds of employment and contacts with the hearing community for examples and to discuss.

    Audism can be unintentional, but it is never benign.

  4. Regarding your comment that audism “implies a conscious intent to demote deaf people,” I strongly disagree. I think when you look at minority populations and the way institutions, privilege, and assumption favor the majority, it is something that can take examination and study to understand and see what is happening. So it is not necessarily a conscious intent at all, and that is part of what makes racism (or audism) particularly insidious and hard to eradicate. If that makes sense–I’m not sure I said it very clearly!

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