Discrimination and the Deaf Law Student

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I was looking over my blog posts and I realized that I may come off as sanguine about discrimination. I realized that my constant assertions that discrimination is from ignorance may make discrimination seem more benign. Not true. In fact, subconscious and implicit discrimination is the most insidious form there is. 

Don’t get me wrong – I experience discrimination in varying modes every single day. The clerk who looks at me funny because I didn’t hear something he or she said is discriminatory. The professor who never calls on me because he or she “doesn’t want to deal with it” is discriminatory. The law student who doubts that I can ever succeed at a job as tough as a lawyer is discriminatory. An employer who doubts that I can do the job just because I am Deaf is discriminatory.

So, you may wonder why I seem to deny the existence of audism – I don’t. I merely hate the word because it is so widely misunderstood by the hearing culture. As I mentioned in a previous post, audism is an implicit comparison to racism and that gets us nowhere wit the hearing community. For whatever reason, they feel that discrimination based on ability to hear is more justified than merely skin color because it is based on ability. The American idea of equality has so much to do with ability and meritocracy, and somehow, that twisted into the idea that anyone who needs assistance or accommodations are not truly equal. That idea is truly deluded because, as people frequently point out, if there were captions everywhere and everyone knew sign or some kind of visual communication method, D/deaf and HOH people would not be ‘disabled.’ Moreover, ability should refer to the ability to think, infer and, with others, get the job done. Individualism is so overrated in our society – why is it so bad to help each other overcome our personal limitations (we all have them, regardless of hearing)?

As twisted the idea of equality and meritocracy is in our society, the question is – how do we defeat that persistent idea that if we give a helping hand to someone, it’s unfair and oppressive. We haven’t been able to eradicate racism, sexism and other -isms in our society, so how do we confront audism (i am only using this word so people know what I mean)?

I don’t pretend to know the answer, and I’m not entirely sure my approach is the most effective one, but it fits my personality the best. Since discrimination based on ‘presumed inability’ is based on exactly that – the idea that we can’t. Hopefully, as more d/Deaf/HOH people show that they can, the they-can’t-do-that naysayers will be silenced by yes-they-can sayers as more people realize assistance is not a bad thing. 

Of course, like everything, this is easier said than done. In reality, due to the structure of the workplace, educational system, heck, the world, d/Deaf/HOH will need more “help” – i.e. assistance to overcome the structural barriers – but society needs to stop seeing this as a bad thing. When has help and assistance, when necessary, been bad? People without hearing impairments get help all the time, but it is just invisible (using sound to communicate helps them). Until we get rid of this macho-super-individual-I-never-need-help idea, I fear that discrimination “because of” disability will persist.

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3 responses to “Discrimination and the Deaf Law Student

  1. Glad to see that you’re blogging again.

    I disagree that ‘individualism is so overrated in our society’. Personally, I think it is independence that is overrated, not individualism.

    The -isms are less profound when compared to say… Thirty years ago. The process of eradicating -ism isn’t something that will be completed quickly. More rather, it will most likely take several decades.

    On positive news, I’ve noticed more Deaf (not deaf) people in media. In ‘Survivor’, ‘The Amazing Race,’ etc, and several commercials including Target and Pepsi. It seems that Deaf people are entering mainstream awareness. If you factor in the increasing popularity of ASL as classes, it is most probable that ‘audism’ will be occur less frequently as the generation that grew up with ASL classes and whatnots enter the workforce.

  2. Hey Sawyer,

    thanks for your kind words, it’s tough to get back to blogging after a long absence.

    You raise some quite important and interesting points. I agree with you regarding your comment about independence, but I do wonder if we can truly distinguish the two (individualism and independence) at least in the context of American society. Regardless of the term, I do think the emphasis on do-ti-on-your-own-forsaking-any-outside-help is harmful to any efforts to attain true equality (even for the other -isms).

    You’re right that things are improving for everyone. However, I am a bit discouraged when I see how much sexism and racism is still rampant in today’s society. Perhaps I am more cynical, but I do wonder how we will truly solve all of the problems. For example, women have made great bounds in education, but not in attaining top positions in companies, law firms and the like. That points to a perasive problem in our society.

    I am afraid someday that may happen to our d/Deaf/HOH brethren.

    Interesting comment aobut the media. However, what makes me nervous about this media focus on ‘D’eaf culture and ASL is that it doesn’t exactly account for how every hearing-impaired person lives his or her life. Also, I am not completely convinced that learning ASL translates to thinking that Deaf (and deaf/HOH) are perfectly capable of achieving high levels of professional success. For example, the fact that more people speak Spanish doesn’t mean that there will be more successful Hispanic people.

    but then again, I hope I am wrong and that I am a cynical prat. 🙂

  3. Yes, you’re correct, sexism and racism is still rampant in America’s society, however again, I have to point out how many women was in position of power thirty or more years ago. I’m led to believe that Europe is better in this aspect but don’t hold me on that.

    I wasn’t trying to say that more hearing people learning ASL will cause more successful Deaf people. I was attempting to say that more hearing people learning ASL will lead to those people allowing the successful Deaf people achieve higher positions. Although we might have a different definition of successful. To borrow your analogy, the more people that speaks Spanish (and leading to understanding of general Hispanic culture) will then lead them to being open to allowing Hispanic people get a foothold in their company/firm/whatever as opposed to rejecting them because they believe that Hispanic people have ‘x’ stereotype.

    Just IMHO.

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