Look Ma, A Deaf Person is On TV!


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.


4 responses to “Look Ma, A Deaf Person is On TV!

  1. Interesting post. I also almost always will watch a show if there’s a deaf character. I don’t understand your use of the word “meme”–what do you mean by that?

  2. haha, you caught me trying to sound smarter than I am. 🙂 What I mean by meme is a bunch of cultural identities/attributes that a group of people will have. I guess I was trying to say that, because the show protrays d/Deaf people as heroic for doing quite normal things (as far as you can say that being on TV shows is normal..), people will identify any d/Deaf/HOH person as heroic just doing normal things, like going to school or getting a job.

    For example, some of my peer law students think I’m just-so-amazing-for-going-to-law-school but it’s not. It’s just a career choice, me gong to law school should not be much more amazing than them going to law school. Sure, I had to overcome obstacles, but that shouldn’t make me a hero or inspirational, it makes me a person.

    sorry I was unclear – blame it on my stupid desire to sound smart.

  3. Eh, I don’t know. I think you actually used that term correctly. Meme is basically something that gets repeated over again and again eventually becoming integrated within the culture. This occurs really often within Internet culture, although I can’t think of some examples in real life (beside heroic Deaf people). Example: Orly Owl, Rick Roll, Copypasta.

  4. Interesting that you mention the inspirational/heroic meme. That’s Hollywood for ya.

    In the bad old days, it was the deaf-and-dumb meme. *shrug*

    I’m like you, I’d rather have people see me for who I am and not just this deaf-something-or- other, isn’t she just amazing. Like years ago when my hearing mom called me and exclaimed, isn’t it amazing, Heather Whitestone just got crowned Miss America! Inwardly I just rolled my eyes and thot what a big deal.

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