Category Archives: Miscellaneous

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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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? 🙂

Pregnancy and Disability – Are They Anything Alike?

Technically, no. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not include pregnancy as a disability because of its temporary nature. However, the seminal preganancy discrimination statute, Preganancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which amended Title VII in 1978, does require similar treatment of  disabled and pregnant workers. For accommodation pruposes, pregnancy and disability are treated similarly. Check out the statue:

 … the term “because of sex” or “on the basis of sex” include, but are not limited to, because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, and women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes… as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work. §701(k)

The bolded section basically means that the employer MUST treat pregnant and disabled workers similarly regarding accommodations and any other employment benefits. The statute also makes the employer focus on the ability or inability to work for both pregnant and disabled employees, not their individual characteristics. Now, some people interpret this as equating pregnant women and disabled workers, and they find that offensive because pregnancy should be treated as a miracle of life-giving, not a disability. Although I do understand their perspective of pregnancy as an unique event and a singularly feminine occurrence, but I must differ.

Completely dissociating pregnancy from disability is a bad idea for two reasons: (1) risk of a revival of the “gilded cage”; and (2) it ultimately stigmatizes people with disabilities.

Throughout history, women have been discriminated aganist again and again because of their supposedly delicate and motherly nature (i.e. put into a gilded cage – had a life of relative luxury but no freedom). Males would fixate on women’s role as a child-bearer to justify the separate-sphere paradigm  that has made it so difficult for women to succeed. By shifting the focus from women’s ability or inability to work, the statute would be allowing the employer to consider women’s characteristic as child-bearers and mothers. Of course, that into itself is not a lie – women do bear children and are mothers. However, permitting employers to think about women’s femininity rather than ability to work will lead to a slide back into the “gilded cage” way of thinking – oh mothers are so pure, they should never be exposed to the world’s horrible and terrible things. Their place is in the home. Allowing women to be separated from disabled workers, for accommodation purposes, would be akin to allowing the old-fashioned meme of women-as-domestic-child-bearers-only to flourish. The reason why employment discrimination law exists is to prevent discriminatory stereotypes from entering employer’s decision-making, and focusing on ability or inability to do the job is a way to further that goal. 

Also, differentiating pregnant women from disabled workers ultimately stigmatizes the disabled workers by putting them in a separate and lesser category. Much of the advances in reducing discrimination based on disability (that includes you Deafies!), has come from focusing on the ability to do the job. The basic premise of Title I of the ADA, which deals with employment, is that if, with reasonable accommodations, an employee can do the job, s/he cannot be discriminated against because of disability. (The definition of reasonable accommodation is a whole ‘nother conversation). By putting pregnant women in a different category, we would undermine all of the ADA’s accomplishments in the last 19 years by saying, oh it’s not about ability to do the job, it is about the characteristic of the person doing the job.  In order for discrimination based on disability to disappear, we must shift our thinking to focus on the ABILITY to do the job, NOT the disability itself. Exempting pregnant women from this paradigm makes disabled people different, seperate, and ultimately, inferior. I would hope that we have learned our lesson from Plessy

N.B. For my more-regular readers, this post may seem to be very uncharacteristic – I am trying to discuss more legal issues pertaining to people with disabilities, as I think it’s a neat field of law. Hopefully you find these legal topics as interesting as I do.

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.

Update!

Good things come to those who update and improve themselves, right? Well, apply the concept to my blog – I added some neat features

  • photos – I added some photographs to this site to spice it up. Who says that law has to be boring? Well, it can be, but that doesn’t mean that my blog must be boring!
  • email – Now you can contact me directly at deaflaw@gmail.com. Just remember, nothing that i say constitutes legal advice (sorry, had to give that disclaimer). Plus, you really really don’t want advice from a law student.  However, I’m more than happy to talk to you about law school, life or the forsaken test, the LSATs. 
  • RSS Feed – now you can subscribe to my blog via RSS Feed, sorry it took me so long to set that up. I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world. 
  • Miscellaneous – there are some other neat widgets such as “top posts.”

Also, feel free to give me any feedback about post content, website design, etc. You can either comment on this blog or email me directly.

Stayed tuned…

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

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.