Category Archives: Deaf Culture

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? 🙂

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!)

What About Gender?

Ay, sorry for my blogging neglect – things have been pretty busy for me in the non-virtual world 

It’s odd – it is only now that I think about my gender in relation with my deafness. Law is a relatively male-dominated field. I would say that my law school is approximately 60% male and 40% women, and all of you know that this is not exactly representative of our population. In fact, in the office that I am working in right now, is very male-dominated.

As a woman, I have to wonder, how does my gender affect how my professional peers perceive my deafness? Sometimes I think my gender makes my deafness even more of a liability because it’s a double-whammy of perceived weakness. Deaf and a female – ay!

Then again I haven’t been the perfect symbol of feminism. Ever since I was a child, I always identified more with boys and men, rejecting traditionally feminine roles. I have a little theory about that – a large majority of deaf children in my area were male, so most of my friends growing up were males. I took to their rough-housing and expletive-laced speech like fish to water. During primary school, I was the girl who played basketball, rejected makeup and the “girly” gossip. Sometimes I think my implicit rejection of traditional feminine patterns (hey, calculus was my favorite class in high school!) has a lot to do with my current course in life. Law, with its  poor work-life balance commonplace in large law firms, doesn’t always provide a welcome place for women.

In the end, my tomboyish nature has benefited me in the legal world. I can get along just fine with my male colleagues, joking and drinking the day away with them. To be honest, I think I would have suffered more in a more female-dominated workplace. I remember most of discriminatory acts (not all, of course) directed towards me originated from females. Female teachers would be the ones who complained about having me in their classes. My female classmates would be the ones who made snarky remarks.

In the end, maybe being deaf and in a male-dominated industry isn’t such a bad thing if you can swim with the sharks. Admittedly, this is a very limited viewpoint, and might have more to do with my personality than my gender. I would love to hear other opinions on this issue. 

Cultural Barriers?

One interesting thing that I’ve noticed about myself and other law students is our cultural differences. I won’t pretend that I have fully immersed myself in the Deaf community (how could I have done so? I grew up in a mainstream educational environment and went to a hearing university), but I have adopted some of the patterns that we see in Deaf people.

One thing I love and hate about the Deaf culture is its propensity for bluntness. It can be slightly uncomfortable when someone says “oh my goodness, you lost soooooooooooo much weight! You were sure fat before!” One part of me always cringes because in the “hearing world,” that is a big no-no and it’s difficult to respond politely. At the same time, it’s refreshing to get rid of the fakeness and euphemisms that defines “polite society.”

The legal world is something different. It’s not just the professionalism, but it is the uber-formal atmosphere. After all, this profession revels in formality: one has to follow specific court procedures, to adopt specific writing structures and use obscure language. Moreover, once you get into the ranks of elite law schools and/or firms, you go out to fancy restaurants.  The average “BIGLAW” associate earns $160,000 dollars a year in a firm in a major market (usually New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Chicago or Los Angeles). That kind of money opens up a huge stratum of society that may not have been available to you before.

This has proved to be one of the more daunting parts of law school for me. Of course, this is not exclusively due to my involvement in the Deaf Culture – it also has to do with the fact that I do not come from an upper-class family and the town that I grew up in isn’t exactly urbane. However, I find myself at a loss of words when my peers talk about going to Aspen for a skiing vacation, going out to dinner at a five-star restort and being able to shop at the most expensive stores. This kind of cultural schism engenders a stange feeling inside of me – the feeling of not quite belonging. Of course a person could say, so what? Money isn’t a big part of being a cultured person or even a good lawyer. That is true, but the issue before us today is how one’s culture background can affect one’s success in the legal profession.

People like me who are part of a minority cultures do suffer from one major disadvantage that is usually invisible – the lack of connections. I do not want to overuse the buzz word, “network,” but networking has shown itself to be an important part of the professional world. Both of my parents are in the educational profession and their interaction with the world of law is quite minimal (as they are law-abiding citizens). This is in stark contrast with many of my peers whose parent or family friends are partners at law firms. These people can ask for references from these family friends, while many minority members who are more like me, cannot do that.

In such a connection-heavy profession, any kind of assistance can be invaluable for a lawyer, no matter where s/he works: at the state attorney’s office, a small law firm or a large corporate law firm. Also, it can be a lonely world, especially for a d/Deaf lawyer, because not that many of our peers understand our life or professional experiences. Most connections are made on the basis of similarities. That is why you hear stories about a person giving an individual a job because s/he went to the same undergraduate institution or grew up in the same town. That is the way that the world works, like it or not and the d/Deaf and hard of hearing individual usually struggles in this respect. This is why I think having a more cohesive and unified support system for d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing lawyers would be a major step into a future of increased inclusiveness. However, as long as this group remains split along the cultural lines, I do not see this happening. This split is quite shortsighted and will only hurt the growth of the d/Deaf and hard of hearing lawyer population.

Labels, Schmlabels

Hello again! It has been a long while. My excuse (and it is a damn good one too) is that I have been consumed by the monster(s) that we call Law School Finals and the writing competition. It wasn’t pretty, but I finished everything, and now I can return to my blogging.

This topic has come up a few times and many people seem to have strong feelings about it – my decision to use the d/Deaf label. One may ask why I choose such a clunky way to refer to one community (deaf)? Yes, we can all be under the illusion that we are a single and unified community, unified by our common hearing loss. However, I feel like this ideation of ‘deafness’ does not face reality. What most of us in the d/Deaf community consider ‘d’eaf are people who generally exclusively use spoken and written English language and have minimal contact with the ‘D’eaf (i.e. signing) community. The ‘D’eaf community is, by default, the community full of people who use ASL in their everyday lives. Of course, such categorizations are rarely neat and tidy. Hell, I’m a living example to that. I use ASL often, but not quite everyday. I use spoken English everyday and for about everything, but I wouldn’t call it my exclusive form of communication. However, despite the fact that the labels do not always fit everyone, categorization serves an important purpose: to reach general conclusions.

Now, the million-dollar question is: what kind of purpose does splitting the deaf community into two serve? I’ve thought long and hard about this and reached one conclusion (perhaps not the only one of the day) that these two groups face different struggles in the legal world that should be addressed separately. For example, ‘D’eaf lawyers seem to have even more difficulties finding a job than ‘d’eaf lawyers do – perhaps it is because of the latent discrimination against people who do not use speech or the chronic difficulties of ASL-based education. Moreover, ‘D’eaf students must deal with receiving appropriate interpreters for law school and their jobs (a gigantic feat unto itself).  On the other hand, ‘d’eaf lawyers must deal with misconceptions about their disability – you would be surprised how many people assume that, just because one can speak clearly, that one can hear well. Also, ‘d’eaf lawyers must deal with receiving their own form of accommodations, and oftentimes, law school is the first place where they truly needed classroom accommodations.

Also, categorizations serve an useful way for us to understand the world. The human mind must divide, compare and contrast in order to reach any useful conclusions. It is futile to think that calling everyone who has a hearing loss, ‘deaf,’ will help us in our quest to improve access to legal employment for d/Deaf persons. Also, I think the Deaf community is such a vibrant and interesting community and should be recognized separately, but equal to, the greater community that ‘d’eaf people are involved in. 

The Future Deaf Lawyers

I’ve discussed the roots of the expanding pool of the d/Deaf lawyer (for better or worse). Now, the next logical step is to look at what the future Deaf lawyers will look like. This is just my educated guess from my experiences with Deaf Culture, current trends in law schools and law itself.

Fortunately, law is slowly opening its doors to people with disabilities. It’s just a crack, but it’s a start. There are quite a few d/Deaf lawyers at BigLaw Firms (for you non-lawyers out there, BigLaw firms are big corporate firms with more than 150 or 200 attorneys). Also, there are numerous of d/Deaf lawyers in public interest, government and smaller law firms as well. These trends bode well for any d/Deaf person entering law school.

It’s given that there will be an steady increase of d/Deaf law students, hopefully an exponential rise . My hope is that the number of d/Deaf lawyers will reach critical mass and produce an organized professional association of our own. At my school, the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and the Latino American Law Student Association (LALSA) are incredible networking tools. The members help each other get prestigious firms, clerkships, government or public interest jobs. These minority groups represent a real voice pushing for inclusion in the mostly-white-and-affluent law firm world. I must admit, I am a bit envious of their networking power and ability to convince prestigious employers to consider other factors other than grades and the school’s name. 

Now, the question is, where is our voice? There have been efforts to establish official professional groups for Deaf and hard of hearing lawyers (I’m not sure what its name was, so I apologize in advance). However, the effort fell apart because of the internal split in the deaf community along ASL/oral/CI lines. Unfortunately, the internal turmoil in the deaf community has (perhaps irreparably) fragmented the d/Deaf lawyers. We cannot advocate for an industry-wide change in how employers view lawyers with disabilities without a strong group advocating for ourselves. An unified voice is much stronger than scattered individual voices.

Of course, there is the National Association of Law Students with Disabilities (http://nalswd.org/) which is a wonderful organization. However, I do think that d/Deaf lawyers face unusual resistance from employers. In such a communication-heavy profession, many employers feel leery about hiring a d/Deaf lawyer. We need a group that actually does understand d/Deaf people’s unique needs to be able to advocate for the idea that deafness can be seen as a strength, perhaps even a “diversity” factor, and not necessarily a crippling liability.

Also, I am curious about how Cochlear Implants (CIs) will affect the face of the typical d/Deaf lawyer. Honestly, I don’t see a problem with the impeding rise of lawyers with CIs. I can only hope that things will be easier for them than it has been for other d/Deaf lawyers thus far. However, the only concern I have with lawyers and CIs is diversity. From my own experiences (and trust me, I’ve met many people with CIs,) the most successful Deaf people with implants tend to come from affluent families.

The correlation between implant success and affluence shouldn’t be surprising. Affluent families are more likely to have insurance coverage that will provide funds for CI surgery and processors. Also, affluent families tend to have more time and resources to devote to their children, ensuring that they master the AVT approach. Of course, one can say, “same old, same old.” Perhaps that person is right – historically, law has been a white-shoe, predominantly white and affluent profession. However, that is changing today, and I’m glad about that. Moreover, people should try to change this aspect of law – after all, lawyers have an incredible power to change people’s lives. We need diverse viewpoints to implement this power in an equitable and understanding way.

Unfortunately, affluent families tend to be white Anglo-Saxons. I’m afraid that d/Deaf lawyer population will remain predominantly white. As a minority myself, I’m not entirely comfortable with that idea. I have to struggle whether to conform to the white and “hearing” culture or stay true to my heritage, as an double minority. Moreover, I don’t want my allegiances to conflict with each other (and they have before). I would love to see some progress in this area. I hope the rise in the d/Deaf lawyer population will cure this problem, but I’m not so sure it will. Perhaps I am asking too much, but I can always dream, can’t I?

The Advantages of Being Deaf

Apologies for my blog neglect! I have been mired in the world of brief-writing.

I’ve never been one of these people who bemoan the fact that I am Deaf. I figure that my life is pretty damn good, so I have no right to complain about it. However, I have noticed a few unexpected benefits of being Deaf in law school (perhaps even in law?) Of course, this is only from my experiences, as limited as they may be. Also, I do not mean to say that being d/Deaf does not suck sometimes. It can be frustrating at some points, but sometimes you do get rewarded. 

People tend to have two types of reactions when they meet me in law school: (1) respect or (2) utter disbelief. Thankfully, most people fall into the former category. I can say that I get more respect than a random guy who went to law school because his parents are lawyers and he didn’t know what else to do. I remember when I did my oral argument, the “judges” were impressed with how I handled such a verbal endeavor. Other law students and professors know what it takes to get into law school and most of them can’t help but respect what a d/Deaf person overcomes to get there. For the latter category, well…they will learn eventually. Of course, that does not make them any less annoying. 
 
Being d/Deaf in an overwhelmingly hearing profession makes you stand out. It makes you memorable. Of course, being unique can be good or bad. However, it is unlikely anyone will forget your name or confuse you with someone else. Honestly, how many d/Deaf lawyers do hearing  people meet in a lifetime? Unfortunately, it is not a lot. It is nice to be remembered and recognized, even though it invariably means that your entire school knows about you. 
 
EDIT: in order to clarify some confusion – I intended that the rhetorical question, “how many d/Deaf lawyers do people meet in a lifetime?” apply only to hearing people. The d/Deaf world is incredibly small and tight-knit, so many d/Deaf people have met d/Deaf lawyers (and live to tell the tale!)
 
This might sound like an odd advantage, but I like the fact that I am consistently underestimated. I think it’s much better to be underestimated than overestimated because you can prove them all wrong, dazzling them in the process. Of course, it hurts that you are underestimated because of your hearing, but in the end, it can help. What can I say, I would rather be the Red Sox than the Yankees in the 2004 World Series (or was it 2005?) Some of you might think that the fact that I am underestimated contradicts the respect I receive. That’s not necessarily true – you can still respect someone while underestimating them. 
 
As most Deaf kids, I had to deal with a lot of accommodation issues when I was growing up. That experience actually gave me the self-confidence to really self-advocate. I just take the skills that I developed for myself (advocacy) and parlay that into my profession – after all, lawyers are paid to advocate for their clients. 
 
This might be an unique observation of mine, but I find the Deaf community to be an argumentative lot. I do not mean to insult anyone but, I must admit, I do think Deaf people tend to argue things to death. Look at the CI/oral/ASL debate. The argumentative quality actually helped me because I learned how to defend any position that I want to defend. As a lawyer, you are paid for your argumentative skills. 
 
I must admit, even though I can speak well and carry on a conversation comfortably, the spoken word was never completely natural to me. For me, writing became an outlet where I was truly an equal with others. In a verbal conversation, I might mispronounce something or misunderstand a word. It’s different in the world of pen and paper. In the world of the written word, I am equal to my hearing peers. Fortunately, that world is also the lawyer’s world. 95% of what a lawyer does is written work, such as: drafting contracts, writing memos, motion briefs and appellate briefs. Luckily for me, I’m quite comfortable in that world and I know what it is like to have the written word as your best friend. It is not to say that I am (or any other d/Deaf lawyer) inept at oral advocacy. Since speaking is more of a cognitive task for me than it is for my hearing peers, I find that I think more about what I say before I say it. That is not a bad thing at all. Oftentimes, I come off as more articulate and prepared than my hearing peers because I actually think about what I say before I say it. 
 
Law school is full of neurotic overachievers who will have a nervous breakdown if they get a B or a C. I’m glad to say that being Deaf made me less susceptible to these emotional breakdowns. I know there are worse things out there. I also know there are people living much tougher lives. That knowledge helps me keep that emotional center that one needs to go through the pressure-cooker that they call law school. 
 
As I mentioned above, these are merely my observations and thoughts. Feel free to add onto my list and/or comment.