Afterthoughts on disempowerment

In light of the recent presentation (and article) I provided for Street Leverage, I’ve been thinking a lot about economic disempowerment and what we need to do first. I’ve been deluged with responses from people who are thrilled that I discussed deaf disempowerment and the challenges facing us. Yet many of them are searching for solutions, as am I.

To have a solution, we have to find the root of the problem, of course (gee, I sound like my high school teacher). So, back to economic disempowerment: one of the obstacles is that there are simply not enough qualified deaf people for all the jobs out there that have to do with the deaf community. There are certainly plenty of qualified deaf people; there are just not enough of them. So, do we first focus on producing qualified deaf people? Or do we first focus on making job opportunities more accessible and more centered on qualified deaf people? Chicken or egg first?

I have my opinions—and will share it in a later blog entry—but I invite your input. What do you think should happen first?  How do we ensure that deaf people are given equal opportunities to earn the necessary education, credentials and experience? How do we carry this over into the deaf education system, which we all know is horribly fragmented?

Related posts:


  1. I have to think how I put the RIGHT words. I have been so fortunately to work with Deaf, deaf, hoh, deaf-blind and hearing students at Chemeketa Community College more than 22 years. I just want to be a NORMAL equal, supportive, etc faculty. I do get except there are some few areas I have to remind them kindly. Like captions, etc on the website.
    Deaf education system is still seriously fragmented. Who runs k-12 education? We deaf people need to get the higher education.
    I will wait and read what others say
    I do know you, Trudy,,, I am impressed with your involvement with IDC (now called sacred circle)

  2. Both. I think it’s important to talk about “what kind of jobs do we need more people for?” then to recognize and consider qualified deaf people who have worked outside the deaf community when we are talking about improving qualifications. Education access isn’t the problem. Job access is the problem.
    Experience counts far more than your GPA once you’re a few years out of college. But what kind of experience? Does it have to be in the Deaf community. Here’s a second problem. A good job doesn’t always translate into living where there’s a good Deaf community, and it’s not always true that deaf community-related jobs are good-paying jobs, either. So there’s always a tradeoff between economic need and ethnic pride. People who have ambition and can take better paying jobs elsewhere, will.
    Once a qualified person is working in the mainstream world (i.e. not Deaf-related workplaces), he or she may have limited contact about work opportunities with the deaf, and is certainly falling far behind on Deaf workplace politics. If there are only a very few places in the deaf community where that person would be qualified to work, he could get blacklisted before he begins, too. Overqualified, maybe “think-hearing,” who knows what cultural diseases he learned in the outside world?
    That’s where Deaf professional organizations (science, engineering, social work, even education) could really help disseminate information on job opportunities, skills, frustrations, and successes. Give people a chance to contribute to the Deaf community and maintain a sense of Deaf pride while keeping their day job, and interest may be there. Not every Deaf person is crazy about organizations that have a primarily social focus.
    I myself am not interested in perpetuating paternalistic “gatekeeping” patterns that merely concentrate power in the hands of Deaf leaders instead of Hearing leaders. That can lead to the same dynamics as described in Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Rather, I support any and all means of spreading knowledge and community outside the Deaf education system. Youtube has been good for that (and it’s not Deaf owned. Shoot.), as is the internet in general, as well as deaf clubs, churches.
    It’s time to apply that to our greatest challenges ahead- which is having more qualified and able Deaf people in the world, regardless of what kind of career they want. This isn’t an issue that’s unique to the Deaf community.
    We can look around and see many minority communities are struggling with the same issue of economic need vs ethnic pride; what happens when they move away from their minority support network? What happens if they have mixed families and must juggle two cultures at home? How do they stay connected and rekindle themselves? We can learn from their various solutions, and we can also learn by networking with the Disabled professional community too if we don’t have enough Deaf professionals in a given field to set up a good network.

    Creativity comes from surrounding yourself with the right mix of people: people you know well and who may support you, and also strangers. People who have similar qualifications and who have very different ones. So the best thing we can do for each other as Deaf adults is to stimulate our creativity and problem-solving skills by sharing new information, experiences, and perspectives. That’s how we get ahead.

  3. This is a complex question, but there ARE solutions. I’ll tackle it in pieces:

    1) Other minority groups have been through this before – it’s a common problem in communities worldwide. Minorities have a tougher time finding jobs, educational opportunities are more limited, access to mainstream culture is challenging, and so on.

    2) The key to solving many problems is access to capital, which is a fancy term for seed money. When jobs aren’t available for minorities, then minorities need to create jobs themselves. This means starting businesses and training people in the minority community to aid in operating the business. This basically creates on-the-job vocational training programs, something like an apprenticeship.

    3) Capital ($) is a finite resource and those who have it don’t like to see it being wasted. Which means some care goes into choosing who gets access to it and who doesn’t. It’s not enough to have a great business idea. It’s essential to have a great business *plan* and competent people to execute the plan.

    4) Beyond access to capital, there are two other hurdles:

    A) Not everyone has the skills and more importantly, the temperament to operate a business. It’s a special skill set, and the pool of people who are capable of doing it in a minority community is small.

    B) Not everyone in the minority community is capable of being a dependable, capable employee. ALL businesses have some employee turnover, and if no qualified minority employees are available the moment the need for more people arises, the business is forced to hire outside the community to meet business needs. This dilutes the number of jobs available to the minority community. This dilemma becomes greater as a minority-owned business grows.

    Asian communities have long gotten around the capital access problem by forming family business networks (FBN). Basically family members and trusted people in the community pool money together by contributing a set amount each month, then take turns using the accumulated money to start or expand a business.

    For example, 12 members might contribute $100/month, creating a pot of $1200. In January, one member uses this to buy an advanced sewing machine to make and market clothes. In February, another member uses $1200 to fund an ad campaign to bring in more business. And so on. All members would struggle to save $1200, but by paying out just $25 weekly, they gain access to a fund that is large enough to help a business and create jobs.

    The deaf community can do this. One reason FBNs work is because members are chosen carefully and must approve each other’s plans for the money. There is a lot of peer pressure to be responsible and productive.

    All of this is to basically say that if we want to expand economic opportunities in the deaf community, we have to fund it, nurture it, and grow it ourselves. We have to think small scale and manage growth carefully. We have to bypass the broken deaf education system and train workers on the job or or find funding to cover training costs.

    The biggest hurdle, as I see it, as that the deaf community is thinly spread among many cities, so creating a critical mass of employees in one location is challenging. But it can be done – National Deaf Academy (NDA) did it in Mount Dora, FL. That is not a deaf-owned business, but they have employed several hundred deaf staff (and some deaf managers) over the years, and still have many deaf staff. If the jobs pay well enough, the employees will come.

  4. Padraic "Pod" Saich says:

    We, Deaf community, tired looking for any solution for years to get majority of the group’s main goal at last carry out, yet, failed over and over by caught up with obsolute thinking as being blind to see how to cut the chain reaction which is we, Deaf community, practicing audism upon hearing people who are not deaf enough to be part of ASL community. Once we cut that cycle of the chain reaction, equal rights will blossom all across the world for deaf baby to grow to level with hearing peer. Because only people are deaf enough to control ASL language is remind me of a way of what white did to black. ASL don’t belong to Deaf community as we American welcome all race and ethnic to learn and create with English-America language as to welcome hearing parents of deaf pupil, coda, and interpreters by change all title of Deaf entities into ASL entities.

  5. bob vizzini says:

    Not which… but where. For example in Iowa recently, there are qualified Deaf people for jobs related to the deaf, but they hired hearing people with limited communication skills. Even a few deaf people were part of the hiring committee. It is a recent occurance that I at first felt it was hearing people not giving deaf people a chance, but it is also the deaf giving in to hearing people.
    I am confidence there are some places or positions where not enough deaf are qualified. So sometimes it is the chicken, sometimes the egg, and sometimes both.

  6. Pearl S. Youth says:

    Some common problems in the past I noticed was that some hearing educational authorities of Deaf Education teaching training programs, tend to add some last minute unnecessary requirements like CBEST demanded by teachers’ certificate dept in California which most Born Deaf graduates failed and some of them struggled to pass barely after few attempts. That happened when the requirement of taking test on mastery in ASL as well as PIDGIN Sign English among all graduate students, was announced. I got a feeling that hearing educators wanted to keep hearing teachers and admit more hearing graduates to become teachers indirectly more rather than having Deaf graduates to become Spec Educ teachers, by adding CBEST requirement in order to get teacher’s certificate or license.

    I fel that if each state Dept of education change its law to allow Deaf educators to teach ASL to hearing kids at age of 10 and up, more hearing people would become more fluent signers as adults during their college years or fluently signing parents of future deaf child(ren) with healthy attitudes toward Deaf world…


  1. How Can the Deaf Community Build the Deaf Economy? : says:

    […] strength of the Deaf economy. Trudy Suggs also talked about economic disempowerment in her article “Afterthoughts on Disempowerment”, shortly after her popular presentation at a StreetLeverage – Live event in 2012, pointing […]

Speak Your Mind