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? 🙂

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3 responses to “Question? It’s An Answer.

  1. Interesting post that bought up many interesting and valid points.

    Another thing that I notice when I’m signing with my hearing friends (who at most have three years worth of experience with ASL), there is a tendency for me to switch role, meaning me saying never-mind as opposed to the hearing saying that. Usually this occurs when I’m signing and the hearing doesn’t show the body cues that shows that they understand what is being signed. If that occurs, I become frustrated with both my and hearing’s lack of mastery over ASL. (Being the only Deaf at an university is hell on your signing skills.)

    Or sometimes, I would ask something then the hearing would give me an answer that’s completely irreverent, showing that hearing didn’t understand what I was asking. Now, when that occurs, I struggle with myself. Does the misunderstanding come from my lack of mastery over ASL or the hearing’s lack of?

    Now, if I’m using an interpreter, I generally don’t have those problems with hearing people. They never say “never-mind” to me or assume that I’m ignorant, etc. Generally, most of the problems stem from when trying to talk/sign to the hearing person straightly due to their (or Deaf’s) lack of mastery or understanding.

    I suppose it’s because most of us don’t want to take the time to ensure clear communication.

    I’m curious. Within the clinic, do you speak for yourself or use interpreters?

    • Sawyer,

      you do bring up an important point – we all do it at one time of another. I know i’ve done the same thing. I tend to just try to get my hearing friends to speak, instead of watching them struggle to sign (it’s easier and faster for me to just lipread/kinda listen to them) but I kind of shoot myself in the foot there. I still prefer ASL for clear communication as listening is still not the “most perfect” mode of communication for me.

      And you’re right about the ASL skills. My skills have plummeted when I was at college and now at law school. Hopefully, when I start working in a place with more of a deaf community that I can relate to, I’ll get more involved. I need to keep up with the lingo!!

      Re: clinic. It has been a fasnicating experience, especially becuase I’m dealing with immigrants. Imagine, me with my accent and them with their accents. I can only imagine what they think of my accent :). But due to the accent/language situation, I do have ASL interpreters for every meeting and we have this complex method of communication – I will sign and speak at the same time and the interpreter will repeat my words. The reason why I do this is because ASL is just a bit too ungainly for the vocab-intensive conversations that comes up. Also, Im a bit wary of how interpreters can translate my signs appropriately, as words are so important in the legal context. If i had one regular interpreter that I used all the time and we were “attuned” to each other, I wouldn’t have a problem just signing, but this is not the case here (thank you interpreter shortage!) So I never know who I am going to get. But thanks for giving me an idea for a new blog entry!

  2. I just discovered your blog and I really love what you write. Please, please write more as you have time. 🙂

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