Category Archives: Deaf Community

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.
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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? 🙂

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.

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.

Epidemic of Anti-Intellectualism?

I’m a bit nervous treading into these waters, because what I am going to say is a bit controversial. However, it needs to be said and hopefully there will be some people listening out there. Like everything I say, feel free to take a grain of salt with my words. J

Some of you may wonder why I do not fully immerse myself in the Deaf culture. I grew up in it and my Deaf friends have given me the wonderful gift of perspective. In the Deaf culture, I can meet people from all backgrounds – deafness truly cuts across traditional dividers such as religion, race and socioeconomic classes.

Deaf culture can be wonderful; yet, I choose to only partake in the “Deafhood” occasionally. The reason for this seeming ambiguity is that I just cannot tolerate the rampant anti-intellectualism. You may ask, what is this anti-intellectualism she speaks of? The anti-intellectualism that I’ve seen is the rejection of academic achievement as “hearing-minded” (all of you signers will know what I mean) and the lack of motivation to attain good writing skills. In the Deaf culture, hearing-minded is anything but a compliment. The phrase, “hearing-minded” doesn’t just mean that one wants to be hearing, but also that one has adopted an superior stance, a “snootiness” prevalent in hearing people.

Hopefully my personal anecdote will illustrate the backwardness of the anti-intellectual trend. I remember when I was in my early years of high school, Even though I wasn’t the most diligent student, but I did well and I took honors classes. Whenever my Deaf friends saw me do my homework or reading, they would immediately start mocking me, calling me “hearing-minded.” Luckily, I’m not the sort to give into peer pressure, but if I was, my academic achievements could have crumbled – just to fit in.

Of course, this is not universal. However, I’ve met enough people with similar attitudes for me to see that this anti-intellectualism is pervasive. This trend is deeply troubling. First, it alienates our best and brightest to a point where they might submit to peer pressure and dumb themselves down. Deaf people need more representatives that succeed in the hearing world, not less.  Second, even if our brightest children resist the anti-intellectual culture, it only breeds animosity towards Deaf culture, which is exacerbated by the fact that they are our sterling ambassadors to the “smarty-pants” elite.

I do understand that not everyone is able to achieve academic success. However, this is not a license to belittle your more-successful peers. I’m of the mind that everyone has their own contribution to the world, and everyone must respect each other’s place in the world. Every life choice has its own inherent value.

Now, can we hold hands and let’s all get along? (Ha, I wish it could be that easy!)

Goodbye to DeafRead

It pains me to say this, but I am leaving DeafRead. I orginially joined Deafread hoping that I could present an unique point of view and encourage aspiring d/Deaf law students. However, these hopes become moot when DeafRead espouses a discriminatory and Deaf-centric policy by banning a certain blog.

I have posted about our need to UNITE in order to succeed (professionally, at least) and I cannot participate in an aggregator that thwarts this sentiment.

So, if you like this blog, please do bookmark me and say hi sometimes. I welcome everyone of all stripes, deaf, Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and many more. Hopefully there is enough supporters out there to make writing this blog worthwhile