My letter, 26 years later

Video description: TSW owner Trudy Suggs, a white woman with brown shoulder-length hair, is wearing a purple v-necked sweater that ties at the neckline.  She is seated in a corner with brown bookshelves on her right and a sea blue wall on her left.

One of my favorite teachers, Barbara Turner, found an October 1990 letter I wrote to Silent News, a newspaper I later served as editor of for two years. As I re-read the letter (found at the end of this article), I was struck by what I wrote back then, especially given that I was only 15 years old.

My letter to Silent News, October 1990In 1990, I was deep in the trenches of what was then a deeply emotional discussion taking place everywhere. I remember sitting down in frustration after reading a few articles in Silent News, and pecking away on my electric typewriter. My perspectives stemmed from what I saw on a day-in, day-out basis. Today, I have mixed feelings about what I wrote (especially some of my word choices), although I do staunchly believe, as I did 26 years ago, that “a student’s best educational setting can only be determined by the individual — the child.”

I’ve also come to understand so much more about the mainstreaming versus deaf school controversy, and I’ve watched the pendulum swing back and forth. I’ve recognized that one of the challenges is ensuring that each family has full awareness of all the consequences of either choice. Most importantly, I’ve become a mother to four deaf children.

Looking back, I realize now just how oppressive many of the teachers were towards us Deaf students, except for Ms. Turner, in terms of audism, linguicism, and the most basic of respect. To be fair, that was the norm back then and still is the norm at so many schools today. This oppressive attitude spilled over into our daily perspectives of ourselves; I’ve written extensively about how I struggled with my self-esteem and identity because of these teachers. It’s bittersweet to think of how Deaf students, including me, thought we were “lucky” to be mainstreamed when in reality, this was dysconscious audism at its finest. We simply were indoctrinated to believe that hearing was better.

With that said, I was so fortunate to have had access to a Deaf family, the Deaf community, publications like Silent News and Deaf Life, and most importantly, Deaf friends and role models. My classmates didn’t necessarily have this same access, except through the three deaf families at my school. After all, the nearest deaf school was about four to five hours away. The school we attended didn’t really expose us to deaf role models on a consistent basis, although we did have guest speakers and attended a very few events with deaf students from other schools.

Let’s take a quick look at some of what I wrote.

“Some deaf students, in my opinion, will perform at their best abilities in mainstreamed settings, such as I do.”

Actually, I sucked at school. I was never a great student, and I never felt as if I was academically or even personally smart. I would struggle in class, trying to understand why I couldn’t follow along. I had to put up with teachers’ scorn, because they had higher expectations of me given that my papers said I was gifted and had skipped two grades at another public school. Today I realize I struggled because the interpreters weren’t qualified for the most part, and I didn’t have direct communication access. I had attended a deaf school for a year, but it wasn’t the best option at the time; also, my mother got remarried and we relocated to the Chicago area. Even though I was one of those students who participated in a million extracurricular activities and had a lot of hearing friends and even a hearing boyfriend, I never felt as if I really fit in. In between classes and after school, I would always run to my deaf friends and drink up every minute with them.

If I could do it all over again, I would probably have requested better interpreters, or perhaps homeschooling — or found a way to go to a deaf school again. Even with the best interpreters, the access still would not be equivalent to the access at deaf schools.

“I think all the controversy over whether to mainstream or to put a child in a residential school is overly absurd. . .

But I think it is totally ridiculous that people battle endlessly . . . Come on, let’s stop whining about this issue and concentrate on other things such as bringing deaf awareness into the hearing world and promoting deaf rights.”

Yikes. “Absurd,” “ridiculous,” and “whining” aren’t words I’d use nowadays. The controversy, which persists to this day especially in light of so many deaf schools closing, is a very serious topic — especially given the dramatic increase in solitary mainstreaming of deaf children. Even so, I thought, and still believe, that this controversy is putting the horse before the cart. The more pressing issue is ensuring that every child has access in the form of sign language along with whatever other communication mode(s) are accessible, and that every family has full information and is fully educated and aware of the importance of cultural and linguistic access in all aspects of the child’s life. Only when this has been achieved can we focus on educational options.

“Going back to my statement that a child can succeed in a setting that he feels most comfortable in, I can say that I know of many people who are thought of as role models today that come from both types of school. . .I do have a lot of hearing peers. So do a lot of the other deaf students in my school. But those deaf students and I socialize with deaf people outside of school — which counteracts with the often-found misconception that students who are mainstreamed are not proud of their deafness, do not socialize with other deaf people, and are sheltered from the deaf world.”

I still agree, but I also recognize that even with the oppression students at my school faced, we still had access to resources that are not available to many deaf mainstreamed students, such as direct instruction in ASL, Deaf-centric extracurricular activities, and even books and publications about ASL and Deaf people. Unfortunately, it’s even more of a fact today that so many mainstreamed students do not have access to or awareness of the Deaf community.

My high school also had a critical mass of deaf students — about 80 — as opposed to only 5 or 10 students. This was imperative, because it enabled us to have our own sub-groups, our own culture, and even our own vocabulary (just ask me how we signed “fump” or “gross”). The most important thing is that we developed a network among ourselves, and through the deaf families and extracurricular activities at school found other deaf people. Even so, this critical mass is nothing like the one I see at my children’s school nowadays, and I now fully realize just how much I missed out on.

“And I also know that residential schools are very remarkable in producing people that achieve so much for the deaf world. This does not need to be even said because it is almost a granted fact.”

Unfortunately, we do have to say this, because residential — or rather, Deaf schools — have gotten such a bad rap especially in the past 50 years. We need to go back to basics, and recognize that many people’s ideas of what deaf schools offer are often outdated and rooted in the outdated concept of “institutionalization.” Many Deaf schools offer a variety of programs and services, including audiology and spoken language, and offer comprehensive education. It’s also imperative to recognize that most of the community leaders in our storied Deaf history came from deaf schools, and that many community leaders also come from deaf schools. For example, the receptionist at the White House, Leah Katz-Hernandez, attended a deaf school. Claudia Gordon, a White House lawyer, attended a deaf school. Nyle DiMarco, the hottest star to hit Hollywood, graduated from a deaf school. The recent chair of the FCC disability office, who left the position a few weeks ago, Greg Hlibok, also comes from a deaf school. The list goes on and on.

Nowadays, that demographic may be changing — through no fault of our own. With mainstreaming forced upon more deaf students as a result of an increased reliance on technology, the closing of Deaf schools, dissemination of naccurate information, and a general lack of resources in many parts of the country, more and more community leaders will come from mainstreamed settings. Some of them have or will become successful leaders if they have tremendous resources and support at home; others will probably struggle with all the same issues of fitting in, self-esteem, language barriers, trying to do what others expect of them —on top of normal development challenges such as puberty and socialization. So it’s important for us to continue identifying successful people who have happily embraced the Deaf community and its culture, heritage, and language.

“If we could get more people to be aware of deafness and its glorious culture, then we could get parents to make the best and RIGHT decision about where to put their child for the best possible education. We do, after all, have to realize that each child is an individual and each has his own way of learning.”

Even as passionate as I am about the importance of Deaf schools and reviving the critical masses that once existed at every Deaf school, I still believe that each child has to have choices. If we could bring Deaf school numbers back to what exists at schools like Maryland, Texas, and Indiana, we’d have choices at each and every Deaf school instead of “resorting” to mainstreaming as a choice. By choices, I mean choices in educational methods, communication modes, services, courses, social circles, and so much more. Every child should have access to these choices without having to sacrifice full, complete, direct access to education and every aspect of school — especially socialization and world knowledge.

I will say this, though, as a final statement: many of my fellow Deaf students at Hinsdale South High School went on to have Deaf children. The majority of us, including me, have chosen to enroll our children at deaf schools. This alone speaks volumes.

Letter to Silent News Editor, October 1990

Dear Editor:

In response to all the letters about whether to put a deaf child in a mainstreamed setting or a residential setting, I would like to add some of my own comments, if I may.

I am a 15-year-old senior at Hinsdale South High School in Darien, Illinois. Yes, I am mainstreamed for all of my classes with the use of an interpreter, but I am also a former residential school student. So I can safely say I have an idea of what both worlds are like. And regardless of all the arguments I have absorbed about which school gives a student a higher reading/writing level, I strongly believe that a student’s best educational setting can only be determined by the individual — the child.

Some deaf students, in my opinion, will perform at their best abilities in mainstreamed settings, such as I do. Others will find mainstreamed settings too difficult or too easy and lean toward the residential school. I think all the controversy over whether to mainstream or to put a child in a residential school is overly absurd. If one scoffs at mainstreaming and says that deaf schools are the only way to go, or vice versa, then I believe that is a very subtle kind of discrimination. Who is one to say what another can do? This is a free country, and every one of us is an individual. I believe that a child can succeed anywhere he feels like he fits in the most.

My most vivid memory of leaving the residential school I attended was a staff member coming up to me and calling me a “traitor” to my face — simply because I was transferring to a public school with a program for deaf students. I will never forget the disgust and fury in his face as he spelled out that word to me. I was only 10 at the time. I think that’s exactly the type of picture that someone would NOT want a child to have.

Going back to my statement that a child can succeed in a setting that he feels most comfortable in, I can say that I know of many people who are thought of as role models today that come from both types of school. I come from a deaf family; so I know a lot of deaf adults who are very successful individuals and many of them come from public schools with a program for the deaf; and yet others tell me of their residential school experiences. I do not have an outstanding and superior level of speech — I firmly believe in the use of sign language, so do not think that I am a deaf person who marches around in life being oral. But I do have a lot of hearing peers. So do a lot of the other deaf students in my school. But those deaf students and I socialize with deaf people outside of school — which counteracts with the often-found misconception that students who are mainstreamed are not proud of their deafness, do not socialize with other deaf people, and are sheltered from the deaf world.

True, many mainstreamed people do need to be educated about the deaf world, but we are fortunate to have very many teachers at Hinsdale South who are knowledgeable about this. And there are students who have participated in all kinds of sports, such as soccer, basketball, baseball, and so on. And I am one of the editors of the school paper. And there are countless clubs that our deaf students have participated in. The program at Hinsdale South is living proof that NOT all mainstreaming programs are total failures.

And I also know that residential schools are very remarkable in producing people that achieve so much for the deaf world. This does not need to be even said because it is almost a granted fact.

But I think it is totally ridiculous that people battle endlessly about whether mainstreaming or residential schools are the best way to educate our deaf children. Come on, let’s stop whining about this issue and concentrate on other things such as bringing deaf awareness into the hearing world and promoting deaf rights. If we could get more people to be aware of deafness and its glorious culture, then we could get parents to make the best and RIGHT decision about where to put their child for the best possible education. We do, after all, have to realize that each child is an individual and each has his own way of learning.

Trudy Suggs
Westmont, IL

This article can not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed without the written consent of the author.

A Quick Look at Everyday Disempowerment of Deaf People

A page from NADmag's Spring 2016 issue showing my articleThis article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of NADmag; download a PDF version of the article.

Video description Trudy, a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, is wearing a navy blue shirt with a red, white, light blue, tan, and navy blue striped scarf. She is seated in the corner with brown bookshelves on her right and a sea blue wall on her left.

Image description: The article as it appeared in NADmag is shown on a yellow page with the headline in yellow text, and the body text in black. Nancy Rourke’s painting of DEAF DISEMPOWERMENT is shown, in her trademark red, yellow, blue, white, and black colors; a woman resembling Trudy is shown in black with a huge hole in her chest.

The Deaf community certainly has come a long way over the decades, even if the pendulum constantly swings from one side to the other in terms of education, discrimination, access, and equality. It is so important that we all are aware of the rights we hold as humans who are Deaf. That itself is a given; nobody would argue otherwise with us. Yet, we allow ourselves to put up with everyday disempowerment, especially for small, seemingly innocent situations. In order to reduce this, we need to first understand what disempowerment is.

Everyday Acts of Disempowerment
The word disempowerment has quite a simple definition for such a powerful concept: to take away power. When we think of disempowerment, we usually think of things like not being provided interpreting services, watching films or TV without captions, being told not to sign, having our lives decided or even dictated by people with no knowledge of ASL or Deaf culture, or seeing hearing actors in roles portraying Deaf people. Yet there are smaller, everyday acts that hold just as much capacity, if not more, to disempower us.

How many times have you logged onto Facebook or Twitter only to find that your (hearing) friends, parents, relatives or even spouses have posted videos that aren’t captioned? Then when you ask them for a transcript, they say, “Oh, darn, I never thought about that,” yet they do it time after time. Another example is when hearing parents speak about their deaf children in front of the children, yet the children don’t realize the conversation is about them.

Countless examples of everyday disempowerment happen in the workplace, of course. Meetings that aren’t interpreted, water cooler conversations where the Deaf person can’t participate, the annoyance factor (when a boss rolls his eyes at a request for an interpreter), being underestimated because you’re Deaf, the office dialogue that takes place over cubicle walls as you’re sitting at your station working; the list goes on and on. Sure, there are accommodations, but it’s just not the same as direct communication access.

How about if you’re writing down something at a fast-food restaurant or even a store—perhaps your order or a question—and the employee, as you’re writing, starts working with another customer? This tells not just you, but also other people, that you’re not worth the wait. Maybe you’re talking with someone who knows that signing and speaking at the same time is combining two separate languages, making it difficult for you to easily access this information. Yet you know if you ask that person to turn off his/her voice or remove his/her speech privilege, that person might be offended. So you end up simply saying nothing as you struggle.

These are minor acts of disempowerment that we’ve become so accustomed to, and we usually don’t do much about them because it’s just not worth the battle. The cycle then continues, because by just accepting these incidents, we are in essence telling the other people that they can continue doing this, even though it’s really not okay.

Disempowerment Through ASL
Teaching ASL is another example of everyday disempowerment that many have come to accept as the status quo. There are thousands of ASL teachers in the nation. How many are deaf? No real statistics exist on this yet. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of certified Baby Sign Language instructors. How many are deaf? A very small percentage. Just go to the bookstore and take a look at all the baby signs books, or look up local baby sign language classes; the majority is taught by hearing people who aren’t necessarily fluent in ASL.

Are all the Deaf Studies and ASL programs in the nation run by Deaf people? No. How about agencies serving Deaf people, state commissions for Deaf people, and organizations focusing on things like baby signs? Are there more Deaf administrators than hearing in these positions? Probably not. How many deaf-run interpreting agencies can you name off the top of your head? What’s wrong with this picture?

A common response to why a deaf person isn’t at the helm of a program or agency working with deaf and hard of hearing people is, “We advertised the position and couldn’t find anyone qualified.” That certainly could be the case. Still, such situations have ripple effects: deaf people aren’t hired, and those outside of the deaf community, in turn, continue to have beliefs and perceptions shaped by hearing people. These hearing people then believe they can educate others about us, rather than bringing in appropriate Deaf community representatives.

If no qualified deaf person applies for a position, there needs to be a short-term and long-term remedy. One possible solution is to keep the position open for as long as possible until someone who is qualified and deaf is hired. Another potential solution is to have an interim director in place, hire someone who is definitely capable of doing the job, and train that person until she or he is ready to take the helm. Is that costly and cumbersome? Perhaps. Cost-beneficial and cost-effective in the long run? Absolutely.

Interpreters: An Imbalance
Interpreters have always been, and likely will always be, a great source of disempowerment. One challenge for many Deaf consumers is at medical appointments, when interpreters go into the hallway whenever the nurse or doctor leaves, instead of staying in the room with the Deaf patient. From an interpreter’s perspective, this is necessary given the many opportunities for ethical dilemmas. For instance, if the Deaf patient says something to the interpreter that is medically relevant, but doesn’t share this information with the doctor, is the interpreter bound to tell the doctor? Yet, is it really fair to keep the patient isolated in a room where there’s no visual access to all the sounds and conversations that a hearing patient could overhear? Many Deaf people say no.

Anita Buel, a Deaf community health worker (DCHW) in Minnesota, has an ongoing frustration. CHWs are certified, trained advocates who accompany patients in their own communities (in this case, the Deaf community) and provide advocacy, information, and clarification for patients who may feel overwhelmed by medical jargon, procedures, and the overall health system. DCHWs, however, are not certified deaf interpreters (CDI); they have as much of a need for interpreters as the Deaf patients. Buel says she gets frustrated when she knows interpreters are in the hallway waiting, and then they come into the room already deep in conversation with the doctor or nurse. This, to her, shows that if the patient already is at a disadvantage, because oftentimes interpreters build relationships with medical professionals and therefore aren’t always perceived as neutral parties. Interpreters, by doing this, also have a rapport established with the medical staff that patients often struggle to establish because of the three-way communication.

An Imbalance in Knowledge
Many people, both deaf and hearing, have appropriately lauded the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) for increasing its standards and professionalism among interpreters within the past few years. Yet there is one act of disempowerment throughout this progress that has been deeply, and easily, overlooked: the knowledge imbalance, which creates a major disadvantage for Deaf people.

The RID requires its interpreters to have bachelor’s degrees, among other criteria; this is a fantastic requirement because it ensures that interpreters are educated. Interpreters, to receive certification, must also have the necessary (even if minimal) training in all the aspects involved with interpreters. Yet, this creates a major imbalance in knowledge, and power. Think about it: do Deaf people have the same access to education as interpreters? No. Are Deaf individuals generally trained to work with interpreters, on advocating for interpreter quality, and on how the interpreting process ideally works? No, absolutely not. Deaf people have had to constantly educate each other on a grassroots level on how to deal with interpreting dilemmas.

Is there any training provided to Deaf people in elementary school through adulthood on how to work with interpreters in various settings, or on self-advocacy? Unfortunately, the answer is no once again. There is a deaf self-advocacy training curriculum available through the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers, but even this curriculum is limited in its contents and availability. On the flip side, sometimes Deaf people aren’t fully educated on the interpreter’s role. Those individuals might mistakenly claim interpreters are oppressive or not doing their jobs, when in reality they are doing exactly what their jobs require.

Keep in mind that most interpreters receive years of formal, professional training in everything from ASL to ethics to business practices. Interpreters are also tested on their knowledge and skills, and then maybe certified. Interpreters are given the knowledge that Deaf people so greatly need and deserve. When Deaf people do not receive this same knowledge, this has deep-seated repercussions.

Whether we like to admit it or not, interpreters have an incredible amount of jurisdiction over our access to people, interviews, medical appointments, education, phone calls, and pretty much everything else. This isn’t necessarily bad, as long as they use this power appropriately and without malice. But this so-called jurisdiction can create even further potential for conflict and division. On top of that, this power imbalance can become magnified in small towns where interpreters might, by default, rule the roost because everyone knows everyone. This has happened time after time, where Deaf people lose jobs, are rejected for jobs, are perceived as unintelligent, and so much more all because they had conflicts with interpreters.

Understand, Analyze, and Act
The NAD has fought for equality among Deaf people for more than a century, and has produced some of the most remarkable leaders in American history. Yet each and every leader within the NAD, both at the state and national level, is guaranteed to have at least three stories of disempowerment running the gamut of minor to major incidents.

In addition to educating ourselves, we need to learn how to come together to prevent or reduce disempowerment in any form or shape. It’s crucial that we recognize that disempowerment doesn’t always happen on purpose; it’s often by accident. Even so, that doesn’t mean it’s okay. As renowned vlogger and blogger Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey says, “It’s not about intent. It’s about impact.”

What can we do, as Deaf people, to help lessen disempowerment ranging from simple acts to in- depth, intentional acts? First, we must understand what disempowerment is, how it affects us, and why it affects us. Even the seemingly small acts of disempowerment that we’ve become so accustomed, almost immune to, have major impact on our everyday lives as Deaf people. It is crucial that we, as Deaf people, become fully educated on acts of disempowerment, the interpreting process, on our roles, on our legal rights, and on how to deal with conflict or oppression. This kind of education should start at the earliest stages of our lives as Deaf people, so that we go throughout life knowing what we’re supposed to do. This would help lessen so much of the disempowerment that takes place. It would also help reduce the ingrained frustration that often comes from encountering such disempowerment, because we would have the tools to take the next steps. We must also be careful to remember that if a deaf person expresses frustration, it doesn’t necessarily mean she or he is angry, divisive or separatist. Rather, take a look at the situation, and figure out how all parties have contributed to the situation.

By understanding the gravity of each situation, small or large, we can then come to analyze the steps leading up to that situation and what we can do next. By understanding all the parties involved and their perceptions, and by figuring out what resources we have, we can then determine steps of action. Finally, we can then act on the disempowerment through appropriate steps. We must always strive for access to the same education as our hearing allies (interpreters, parents, friends, and other supporters). By working to minimize disempowerment, we can then have access to equality, to communication, and most importantly, to being human.

The original disempowerment article can be found here.

Copyrighted material. This article can not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed without the express written consent of the author.

Deaf Life Magazine Person of the Month

How awesome. At the risk of tooting my own horn (does it make a difference if I don’t hear the horn?), I learned that I had been chosen as Deaf Life Magazine’s Person of the Month for May 2015. It’s a bit startling to open up a magazine and see your face spanning the entire page. When I showed my kids the magazine, their faces lit up and they said, “Mama’s in the newspaper!” Close enough.

P.S. The earrings I wear in this photo I bought from Jasmine Garcia-Freeland of All That Jazz. Check her work out!

An email from sComm

My hosting company sent me this earlier today.

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Beyond Face Value

I was a latecomer to Facebook. I created an account in 2007, but didn’t really use it until 2009. I had just given birth to my third child, who had a rough start and I was often up late worrying about him. To pass time in the wee hours, I spent hours poring through people’s Facebook pages and photographs.

Over time, Facebook became a key social media tool for my company. When one of my presentations went viral on the Internet, I started getting hundreds of friend requests from people I had never heard of. I decided to create a public page, so that people could follow my work if they wanted to—and I didn’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings by not accepting their friend requests.

I’m not going to repeat what many others have written about how Facebook took up their time, took them away from their children, and so on. Even so, the temptation to check the latest statuses was strong, and I started to see how Facebook really ate up time I could use for other things.

At that time, I lived in a small town. Everyone used Facebook to communicate, and this had its drawbacks: people would air conflicts online and use pictures or posts against each other both online and in person. Several times, I posted blanket statements that weren’t directed at any single person, and was quickly accused of talking about specific people in town. After repeated incidents of rumors running amok because of something I posted online, I didn’t feel good about Facebook anymore. I also didn’t like how the privacy settings weren’t really private. My husband, who has no interest in Facebook, suggested that I close my account. I agreed, and in early October, I started unfriending people in preparation for the account deactivation, reasoning that if I whittled down my friends list to zero, I could then be more selective once I reactivated my account someday.

The response was astounding. In late October, I had just presented a workshop in New York City, and was at LaGuardia Airport waiting to board my flight home. While waiting, I posted a message explaining that I was planning to deactivate my account, but people could find me on my other accounts. A few minutes later, I got a furious message from someone who lived in the same town, very upset I had unfriended him. His over-the-top email told of how I was unwelcome in some of the local Facebook groups, and that I wasn’t liked in town at all.

I burst into tears reading his message. People sitting next to me looked at me, startled at this sudden reaction. I was blown away by his email, and how it was so personal when my actions were not directed at anyone in particular—rather, it was an attempt to safeguard my family’s privacy. I posted another message, clarifying that I was shutting down my account and that it was nothing personal against anyone. After all, if people really wanted to stay updated on my doings, they could view my photos on Instagram, follow me on Twitter, “like” my public page, and visit my websites.

Since then, it’s been a marvelous experience, albeit a bit of a sociological experiment. I’ve received quite a few messages asking if I was okay and why I had shut down my Facebook account. The interesting thing was that these messages came about several months after deactivation. I also got a couple of messages from friends who were upset with me for allegedly blocking them. Once I explained that I had simply closed my account, they were virtually red-faced, apologizing for jumping to conclusions. It fascinated me that they were quick to assume instead of learning the facts first. I also found my family excluded from many local events, mainly because people forgot I wasn’t on Facebook anymore and didn’t have access to their invitations.

Still, something interesting started to happen. I started getting messages from friends who genuinely wanted to know how I was. They asked how my children were. They asked about my work. I was thrilled, because now I could have a meaningful email or even video conversation with them instead of quick soundbites here and there. I felt comforted that they took time out to check in on me, that I actually meant something to them.

Will I ever go back on Facebook? Sure, although technically, I never left—I still have my professional pages. When I do reactivate my account, I’m certainly going to be a lot more selective in who I allow in on my friends list. I don’t like being overwhelmed by messages coming at me from all directions, as if I were at a party saying hi in passing to 50 people and having in-depth conversations with none. I much prefer building, and nurturing, relationships with people, even if I don’t know them that well.

And that is the takeaway, for me, from this whole experience: that we all need to start reaching out to each other outside of social media. It’s so easy to feel like a social media minion, one of thousands and even millions of people on Facebook. Today, send an email or text to someone (or even call), and ask how that person is. It doesn’t have to be a long message; simply a, “Hey, how you doing?” will go a long way.

Copyrighted material, used by permission. This article can not be copied, reproduced, or redistributed without the written consent of the author.

Questions emerge about Deaf News Today and its owner

During the 2013 Deaflympics held in Sofia, Bulgaria, last July, the USA Deaf Sports Federation (USADSF) began receiving reports alleging Deaf News Today (DNT) was plagiarizing articles, photographs and tweets from the USADSF media team. The team, comprised of volunteer writers, editors, photographers and videographers, posted materials on Facebook, Twitter, and the USADSF website. DNT initially reposted the materials, but didn’t directly link to the USADSF website. Rather, DNT pointed all visitors to its own website. It was only after the reader clicked on another link at the DNT website that the original source was revealed.

The DNT website is a no-frills news aggregator blog site featuring articles from news sources around the world, and boasts over 1 million page views and 12,000 Twitter followers.

The person behind Deaf News Today

By clicking on the “About” link, visitors learn that Stephen Goforth runs the website:

DNT (Deaf New Today) provides clear and concise news coverage about deaf-related issues. Former CNN anchor and current journalism professor Stephen Goforth started the site more than a decade ago. We are committed to follow [sic] the highest standards of journalism. The goal is to bring you objective news reports. We do not take sides, but try to present all the facts we have in our possession and let the readers decide for themselves. DNT avoids sources that are not authoritative and issues corrections whenever necessary (though this is a rarity).  If you do not see a story on DNT, it might be that the information has not been verified or the information does not rise to the level of reportable news. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to write us at DeafNewsToday@gmail.com.  And thank you for visiting! We hope you are better informed and empowered by what you find here.

plnu faculty profileGoforth appears to have an impressive background, according to the Point Loma Nazarene University’s Department of Literature, Journalism and Modern Languages faculty page:

Stephen Goforth teaches multimedia journalism, news writing, reporting, and digital newsgathering. In order to help students better grasp the move toward digital communication, he authored a textbook titled Media Shift: Journalism in a Connected World. His website Media-Shift.com helps students and professionals stay abreast of changes and trends taking place in new media. He stepped into teaching after working more than seven years at CNN as a [sic] anchor, writer and producer, covering stories such as 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, sharing in the network’s Peabody Awards for Hurricane Katrina coverage and the tsunami disaster in South Asia.  Stephen maintains several news sites including ChristianNewsReport.com and DeafNewsToday.com, which is considered one of Deaf Culture’s most influential sources of information.  He launched his media career with his father, who owns three Christian-formatted radio stations in Mobile, Alabama.  Stephen went on to earn his Masters Degree [sic] in Journalism [sic] from The American University in Washington, DC. While in the nation’s capital, he anchored radio network news for Salem Radio Network and worked in a variety of TV positions covering Congress and the federal courts. Stephen combines provocative videos, intense discussion and the latest research to encourage students toward critical thinking about the media and its influence on American society. [Note: A few days after this story was posted, this biography was updated at the Point Loma website.]

According to the Peabody website, the George Foster Peabody Awards are the world’s oldest awards for media that recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious service by broadcasters, cable and eklybcasters, producing organizations, and individuals. To confirm the two Peabody Awards Goforth claims to have shared in, an email was sent to Peabody Awards Collection Archivist Mary L. Miller. She stated in a Nov. 4th email that CNN “did not win a Peabody for coverage of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.” In fact, CNN has never received any Peabody awards for any tsunami event coverage; it is unclear how Goforth can share in an award that doesn’t exist.

goforth about meHowever, for CNN’s Hurricane Katrina Peabody Award, Miller explained, “When a program or series wins a Peabody Award, everyone who contributed to its creation does share in the award.” According to Miller, CNN submitted at least 12 programs and Goforth’s name is not on any of the entry forms. This could mean one of two things: Goforth’s role was so minor that it did not warrant a mention on the entry form, or he was not involved in any way.

Except for several self-promotional websites, including one at about.me/stephengoforth, Goforth has no published articles anywhere on the Internet aside from his “Media Shift” book. Almost all of the websites mentioning Goforth are either his own, or operated by his colleagues; Goforth has several blog sites, mostly Christian-focused or technology-focused.

There apparently also are no published works at the two universities at which he is known to have taught: the University of Mississippi and Point Loma Nazarene University. Efforts to verify his statement that he was a regional CNN news anchor and producer and an Associated Press editor were unsuccessful, although it was confirmed that he attended The American University and taught at the University of Mississippi. The College of Arts and Sciences Dean at Point Loma Nazarene University, Kathryn McConnell, also confirmed Goforth’s present employment at the university.

At Point Loma Nazarene University, for the Fall 2013 semester, Goforth teaches a yearbook workshop, television news writing, and media ethics and law. He is slated to teach two introductory journalism classes along with a college composition class and a yearbook workshop during the Spring 2014 semester.

Transparency: Goforth’s connection to the Deaf community

Goforth cites his website as “one of Deaf Culture’s [sic] most influential sources of information,” yet he seems to lack a direct connection to the Deaf community. While that may seem insignificant to the average reader, this is of paramount importance within the Deaf community.As is true for many other cultures, transparency is key in the Deaf community.  In the 1995 book, “Journey into the DEAF-WORLD” by Harlan Lane, Robert Hoffmeister, and Ben Bahan, the authors explain:

When members of the DEAF–WORLD meet, they introduce themselves and their companions. . . They give capsule life histories so that each can see how the others are connected to the DEAF– WORLD network. For unlike other cultures, Deaf culture is not associated with a single place, a “native land”; rather, it is a culture based on relationships among people for whom a number of places and associations may provide common ground. (p. 5)

Benjamin Bahan, Ph.D., a professor of Deaf studies at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., said, “Since Deaf culture is based on relationship-building, it often becomes necessary for one – especially if hearing – to explain how he or she gets to be involved in the deaf community. One also typically has to explain what role he or she has in the community: member, teacher, interpreter, visitor and so on.”

Although Goforth has declined to explain his involvement, an April 23, 2007 post at The Weekly Standard (link no longer available) offers a possible connection, referring to the 2006 Gallaudet protests:

“AS A JOURNALIST WORKING at CNN with friends who attended Gallaudet, I became aware of a lack of reputable information about the school and about Deaf Culture [sic]. That led me to start a website focused on news related to the deaf (deafnewstoday.com). Having closely followed the protests at Gallaudet, I was impressed with Charlotte Allen’s analysis. While some of it misplaces emphasis and elevates radical opinions to an undeserved level of importance, she nevertheless provides an excellent review and well-stated summary of the identity issues facing the deaf community.

STEPHEN GOFORTH
 Atlanta, Ga.”

Goforth was emailed on Aug. 5 and again on Aug. 11 about his background and his involvement with the Deaf community. He  responded on Aug. 16 with,  “I appreciate your reaching out and interest in the website, as well as sharing your background with me, but will decline the offer because making myself the center of attention would take the focus off of the news stories. To that end, if you see an inaccuracy in a story or have a story idea, please let me know.”

Goforth, whose DNT email address has the alias of “Neal Down,” did not respond to further requests. Even so, he apparently continues to advocate for the Deaf community. On Oct. 3, an uncaptioned video – which since has had captions added – was posted on the Voice of America website. Goforth left a comment:

by: Stephen Goforth from: San Diego
October 03, 2013 4:55 PM
Captions on the video would be good for your deaf readers–especially since the story is focused on the deaf community.

Stephen Goforth

Interestingly, Goforth’s video at his own blog promoting his “Media Shift” book isn’t captioned, unless automatic captioning is turned on. However, automatic captions, such as those used in his video, are notoriously of poor quality. Videos on his other websites also aren’t captioned.

Not in it for the money

It is curious, then, why Goforth, a hearing person with seemingly no, or very limited, connection to the deaf community, wants to, as he described in an email, “try to help people know what’s going on in the deaf community because there is [sic] not a lot of places you can go to find stories.”

Lest anyone think he’s in this for the money, he was quick to clarify in an email to a deaf-focused media outlet, “By the way, I have never sold an ad on the site, I have never gotten a donation from it (despite the button on the site that allows donations) and have only get [sic] a few dollars every six months or so from third party Google ads. Implying that I’m trying to make money. . .is kind of laughable.”

dnt ad pricesIn addition to the Google ads, Goforth sells advertising space on the DNT website, as shown in this graphic taken from the DNT site on Aug. 19. Banner ads are available from $150 to $350 per month. The website also has a PayPal donation button. The information he reposts is freely and readily available through news feeds.

Furthermore, the DNT domain was purchased on Feb. 16, 2005, and the website only has articles dating back to 2007. There seems to be no clear evidence that DNT began in 2001 as Goforth claims. If the DNT website was indeed created in 2001, his claim that “there is [sic] not a lot of places you can go to find stories” is hardly accurate. In 2001, there were numerous publications specializing in deaf news, including Silent News, a community newspaper, and USA-L, an email news aggregator run by the late Phil Moos. There also were several other email news aggregators as far back as the 1990s.

site originationEven if 2005 is DNT’s actual start date as shown in his domain registration, there were multiple news outlets in 2005, including SIGNews, another community newspaper.

The Deaflympics coverage

When the USADSF media team, on location at the Deaflympics in Bulgaria, learned that their hard work was being reposted by DNT without direct credit, they were understandably unhappy. They were, after all, working on a volunteer basis.

DNT was taking USADSF content – articles and photographs – from the USADSF Facebook page and re-posting them on the DNT Facebook page and website.  Instead of just “sharing” the information – by making a single click on the SHARE button on the USADSF Facebook page, DNT was copying/pasting the photographs and contents onto the DNT Facebook page. The links didn’t point to the USADSF website; rather, they pointed back to the DNT website. It was only after arriving at the DNT website that a link to the USADSF site was seen. By one USADSF media team member’s account, there were at least 48 instances of taken information from both the USADSF Facebook page and USADSF website, all with no direct link to the USADSF website.

DNT1 DNT2 DNT3 DNT4 DNT5 DNT6 DNT7

A similar pattern was followed with the USADSF Twitter feed. Instead of simply retweeting USADSF’s posts – where USADSF would be clearly identified as the original source – DNT duplicated the message in its own account with direct links to the DNT site. Again, it was only when a visitor clicked through to the DNT site, and then clicked again on yet another link, that the original USADSF source finally appeared.

This was at best misleading, and at worst, plagiarism and copyright violation. When confronted by USADSF, Goforth claimed that since USADSF was a non-profit entity, he was in fact helping them by using their “promotional materials.” In numerous emails with the media team, Goforth – whose emails seemed condescending at times – responded that he had done nothing wrong. He also stated that he had contacted USADSF prior to the Deaflympics to ask where he could find their news updates. USADSF responded to his inquiry and said that the information would be on the USADSF website, Facebook page and Twitter account. There was no further communication until USADSF contacted him during the Deaflympics.  Additionally, USADSF never gave Goforth explicit or implicit permission to copy and paste the articles and photos to his own sites.

Goforth also wrote, “I created the site and maintained it for a decade to try to help people know what’s going on in the deaf community because there is [sic] not a lot of places you can go to find stories. I suppose it would make you feel better if you could dismiss this as some sort of financial scheme. But it seems to be mostly my misunderstanding your purposes. And my experiences simply don’t line up with what you believe is typical.  However, since my goal was to help and not hurt, I’ve taken everything down about Deaflympics and will avoid the subject in the future.”

Some may argue that since Goforth did have a link, albeit buried, on his website to USADSF’s original content, he was not violating copyright. While clicking “share” on Facebook is allowed as a sharing technique (covered by Facebook’s terms of usage, and supported by the fact that “shares” on Facebook lead back to the original source), any copying and pasting onto individual Facebook pages or external sites is a copyright violation. Copyright law is something that a journalism professor teaching media ethics and law would likely be familiar with and discuss in class.

bisondancenov9Articles, photographs and videos from some of the larger “mainstream” media sources, such as ESPN, are credited clearly on the DNT website. Yet Goforth, a media ethics and law professor, continues to repost content from other sources at DNT, without clear attribution to the original source. For example, on Nov. 9, DNT posted a video of “The Bison Dance.” Even after one clicks on the video, it is not clear who originally created this video. It is only when one goes directly to the YouTube site that the original source is identified: Gallaudet University’s athletics department.

Current status

Numerous emails from various individuals to Point Loma Nazarene University’s dean and provost have gone mostly unanswered. As of press time, DNT has 12,906 followers on Twitter, 3,721 likes on Facebook, and 1,250,243 page views on the DNT website.

– Robert Weinstock, Bill Millios, Tara Schupner Congdon, and Rosa Ramirez contributed to this article.

curlicue_sm

My thoughts on the DNT story

 

I had never heard of Deaf News Today (DNT) until the 2013 Deaflympics. Although I have no affiliation with the USADSF media team, I was perplexed anyone would do this to USADSF, so I went to check the DNT website out. I figured this was simply a case of misguided hearing people trying to either help and/or profit from deaf people. Now, especially with the claim of receiving the Peabody Award for the tsunami coverage proven false, I’m left with even more questions:

  1. Privacy concerns aside, why is Goforth so resistant to talking about his cultural ties to the deaf community?
  2. Why is he running Deaf News Today if he’s not in it for the money as he says? Altruism?
  3. Why are there so many discrepancies between his claims about who he is, what he’s done, and what is verifiable?
  4. Why does DNT claim to have been around since 2001, when the evidence shows Deaf News Today has been registered only since 2005?
  5. Why is a professor of journalism violating the very principles he is presumably teaching?
  6. Why are there no articles or videos by Goforth anywhere online from his time with CNN and Associated Press?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I don’t know why Goforth isn’t being accountable or transparent. It’s not for lack of opportunity; I have offered him at least two opportunities to tell his side. I’m hoping there is a simple explanation to all this. Joining, or at least allying with, a community should come with an inherent respect for that community’s traditions and cultural norms. I continue to invite Goforth to offer an explanation for the discrepancies in his biographies and on the DNT website.

Why Not For Kids, Too?

rallyThis article originally appeared at i711.com.

An Alton Telegraph (Illinois) article reads in part:

Springfield, Ill. (AP) – About 100 deaf citizens carried placards and used their hands to talk at a silent rally in the State Capitol aimed at supporting legislation that would affect the deaf.

The demonstrators came from all over the state to…testify before an Illinois House committee and meet with Gov. James R. Thompson.

The Human Resources committee then voted 18 to 1 in favor of a proposal to provide communication devices for the deaf in at least one emergency facility in communities with more than 10,000 residents.

I don’t quite remember my first rally, but I do remember Mom sitting me down and talking with me about how we could make our home safer in the event of a fire or other emergencies. Back then, we were too poor to own a TTY, so we had to rely on alternate methods. The next day, a group of deaf people gathered to make signs and flyers; I colored the fireman’s hat on my sign a bright red. Then we went to the state capitol. I remember meeting with Governor Thompson in his office and being in awe of how tall and friendly he was. I was only three years old; Mom was 25. The rally and governor’s meeting were crucial lessons for me.

Today, nearly 30 years later, I continue to believe in the value of children participating in peaceful rallies and demonstrations. As a result of that early exposure – and many other rallies or demonstrations – I developed a lifelong interest in advocacy. I stay active with both state-level and national-level associations serving deaf people not because it’s a “cool” thing to do, but because it’s the only way we can ensure our rights.

There was recently some discussion recently among bloggers and vloggers about whether children should be involved in demonstrations or protests. This dialogue emerged from an incident during the A.G. Bell conference in Virginia last July. A group of people, including an A.G. Bell member, passed out flyers at the conference site promoting the teaching of sign language to deaf babies. The Marriott hotel manager, Jenny Botero, was captured on video trying to take flyers away from one of the people. Botero also grabbed paper from a frightened deaf eight-year-old daughter of a deaf woman, though this wasn’t captured on video. The girl’s mother was understandably furious. One blogger questioned the mother’s judgment and integrity in having her daughter participate, yet never once questioned Botero’s integrity. Regardless of the circumstances, no adult should ever try to intimidate an eight-year-old – or any child – into doing anything to further a cause.

When I read the blogger’s article and people’s comments agreeing that children shouldn’t be involved in events like this, I was saddened. The deaf community is now beginning to associate the word “protest” – or other forms of activism – as aggressive, dangerous and harmful. And this association has serious consequences.

I certainly don’t support dangerous tactics, regardless of results. Not all activism include dramatic events like what sometimes happened during the Gallaudet protests or even the civil rights movement of the 1960s. I should, however, point out that many of the children who were involved with the Deaf President Now protest are now adults, even parents, who have become even more cognizant of the importance of advocating for issues important to them. Many of them have become outstanding community leaders in individual ways. I was 13 when DPN happened, and the protest certainly left its mark on me. It didn’t teach me that we had to resort to violent methods. The protest taught me that deaf people like me were just like anyone else who deserved equal respect and access, and that we could play smart in order to get what we wanted, or rather, needed. It’s still that simple today.

So, to bring the kids or not? Again, it’s simple: the parent has the responsibility of gauging the safety level of each event, whether a rally, demonstration or a protest. The parent also has a responsibility in developing a safety plan should things go terribly wrong – whether at the hands of the protestors or the police or management. And the parent also has the right to decide if a child should be involved or not. Let’s be real: there’s a degree of risk in everything we do, from carrying signs at an event to riding a car (anyone want to compare the likelihood of dying in a car accident to being hurt during a demonstration?).

Besides, any responsible parent would do what my mother did: sit with the children, talk about the issues at hand in as neutral and factual a manner as possible, and then explain why the event is taking place. Then the parent could ask if the children want to be involved or not. Safety should always be a priority, but so should education and awareness.

Even though my first rally was three decades ago, I find myself advocating for the same issues we did back then, which was pre-Americans with Disabilities Act, pre-captioning, pre-Internet, and pre-everything: equality. And if it takes another 30 years of peaceful demonstrations and rallies to achieve equality, so be it. Our children should not face inequality at any time, so what better way to educate them than to include them?

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Sharing Our Good News – The Right Way

This article originally appeared at i711.com.

As I sat in a hotel room a few weeks ago, I saw a commercial for Aleve, which is used primarily to ease arthritis pain. Interpreter Andrea Heisler of Tempe, Ariz., signed and spoke onscreen. The written transcript for this commercial on Aleve’s Web site reads:

“Andrea Heisler: I facilitate communication between two people who can’t normally communicate. A few years ago I started having joint pain in my wrist and in my elbow. I would avoid certain signs, like ‘last night’ would hurt my wrist.

I took some Aleve. That really took away my joint pain. Aleve helped me keep working.”

However, the words actually spoken are:

“My name is Andrea Heisler, and this is my story.

I facilitate communication between two people who can’t normally communicate. I started having joint pain in my wrist. I would avoid certain signs, like ‘last night’ would hurt my wrist.

I took some Aleve. I could actually move my wrist. The one cool thing about my job is that everyone is always happy to see me. Aleve worked great.”

My first reaction was about the choice to speak while signing. Her signing was choppy because she chose to try and use two languages at once; I became fixated on lipreading the unsigned words. Had there been a voice-over or even captions, Heisler could have done a better job with her signing.

But what bothered me more was this particular part of the commercial: “…between two people who can’t normally communicate.” (Emphasis mine.)

What is normal communication? Who decides what is “normal”? In my house, people who speak aren’t normal, given that we’re all deaf. In your house, it might be people who don’t speak Spanish. In another household, it might be people who don’t speak English. Did Heisler say this because, regardless of all the advances deaf people have made, we’re still viewed as abnormal communicators?

In search of possible answers, I conducted an informal poll; readers of my columns know that my polls are hardly scientific. Still, the responses give me a good idea of what people across the country — deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people from all walks of life — think. The majority agreed that it was a wonderful step that Aleve had taken in being inclusive and reaching out to ASL users. After all, the more exposure ASL gets, the more the language becomes accepted among non-users.

With that said, almost all of the people I surveyed also agreed that the words, “can’t normally communicate” was a biased and inappropriate comment, no matter how the sentence was presented. Even if it’s just semantics, commercials have a powerful effect upon viewers. People who watch this advertisement will subconsciously register that interpreters work with people who “can’t normally communicate.”

When I contacted Heisler, her response was, “I visited i711.com and have to reconsider consenting to an interview. I am unable to contribute comments that would appear as content designed to attract people to a competing relay provider. In addition, due to my contract with Bayer, I would need official word from the marketing agent before providing comment.”

Fine. I e-mailed Aleve through its Web site, and got a response from the public relations agency handling Aleve’s “Good News” campaign. “Andrea came to us through market research that was being conducted in the Phoenix area,” Rebecca Zeitler of HealthSTAR Public Relations said in an e-mail. “We were searching for people with arthritis and joint pain to talk about their experience. Andrea answered that ‘call’ if you will and it was through interviews and the submission of her story that we selected her for the ad campaign.”

Zeitler also responded to my inquiry of whether Aleve or Heisler had written the script, writing, “The words [Heisler] uses in the commercial are her own.”

I then sent e-mail to Heisler asking for the reasoning behind the “cannot normally communicate” line. She didn’t respond before this article went to print.

I was disappointed to learn that the script had been written by Heisler herself. Here’s why. Companies are usually quick to capitalize upon the “deaf” or “ASL” angle, thinking it’s a fun, innovative approach. In doing so, their ignorance often emerges — which is understandable (but not excusable). However, that wasn’t the case with this commercial. Many of my friends in the Phoenix area say Heisler is one of the best interpreters around; I believe that, given my friends’ high standards. And that’s why Heisler’s choice of words disappoints me so much.

The bottom line is, when someone chooses to do a commercial, that person inevitably becomes a spokesperson for the community s/he portrays, like it or not. That’s where the right attitude comes in — especially as an interpreter facilitating communication.

It’s too bad that Heisler chose to portray her career in an overly altruistic sense. Heisler, who is certified with the Registry of Interpreters of the Deaf, could have used better wording, such as “I facilitate communication between two people who use different languages,” or something along these lines. I think this commercial was a cute idea, but it could have — and should have — been more positive.

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Hi, I’m H.I.XXX Deaf.

This article appeared at i711.com.                                                                                                                

I think it’s a never-ending struggle.

I’m, of course, talking about the persistent use of “hearing impaired” and other related terms. Tom Willard, a writer who is also Deaf, published an amusing article in August 1993 about how Deaf people are portrayed in the media. He wrote that journalists have a tendency to use the same words in stories about deaf or hard of hearing people (i.e., “silent” or “through an interpreter”), and that they also tend to write as if “deafness” is something to be overcome. 12 years later, his article continues to ring true.

Someone recently sent me a real estate ad that upset some people. The ad said:
HEARING IMPAIRED? [Agent’s name deleted for privacy] now has hearing impaired agents to work with your needs.

I decided to fax this agent in case she wasn’t aware about the inappropriateness of using “hearing impaired,” and included a print out of the National Association of the Deaf’s comments on correct terminology (available at www.nad.org/site/pp.asp?c=foINKQMBF&b=103786) I appreciated her attempt at reaching out to deaf and hard of hearing people, though.

The faxed response said (all typos are hers), “Hello, Thank you for your informative fax. I hire hearing impaired agents and secretaries. They are the Ones that set up the ad for me. You might want to educate whom ever wrote you this letter. May God Bless you today!”

I replied that that this “letter” was actually an article from the NAD website, and that I was preparing to write a column about the use of ‘hearing impaired’ in general. I got a second fax, apparently from one of her agents, saying:

PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU ADD THIS TO YOUR ARTICLE AS WELL. THANK GOD FOR A COMPANY THAT HAS A TTY FOR REAL ESTATE. My name is [deleted] and I work for [name deleted]. I instructed [name deleted] to use the Words hearing impaired and tty numbers. We are most thankful to have a real estate firm that Cares about our needs. I am proud to be working for [agency] and we want our hearing impaired friends to Contact us via our tty or stop by our office any time. God Bless You All.

Hmm. This is an intriguing matter. Even with Deaf people’s complaints about the labels pasted on our foreheads by society, we’re shot in the feet (often unintentionally) by people who have hearing losses but prefer to identify themselves as “hearing impaired.” Maybe they aren’t educated on the history behind the use of ‘hearing impaired’, or maybe they choose to use those words.

I completely understand, and respect, how the majority of people with hearing losses do not identify with the Deaf community. I also have no problem with people who identify themselves as ‘hearing impaired’ – it is their choice, after all. Still, shouldn’t my identity be respected? Each time someone insists on calling me hearing impaired, it’s a slap in my face. And ironically, most of the slaps in my face come from individuals who have hearing losses themselves or from families of deaf people.

This has nothing to do with whether if they identify with the Deaf community, the hard of hearing community, the late-deafened community, the DeafBlind community or the hearing world; it’s about respect. Maybe it’s just semantics, but terminology has a huge role in how one’s self-respect is revealed. Words also reveal how far a group has come – especially a cultural minority like the Deaf community.

In school, I called myself “H.I.” simply because the teachers at where I was mainstreamed told me “deaf” wasn’t a good thing to be. I look back on those days with disbelief. How could I have allowed hearing people, who could barely sign, dictate my cultural identity? Would they have done that to a hearing kid from a different culture?

For us to be able to call ourselves Deaf without backlash is a major step forward, and enables us to reclaim our history, identity, and opportunities. How I identify myself really should be respected by everyone, deaf or hearing. Just because people don’t identify with Deaf culture doesn’t mean they can speak for us, or us for them. Why is it even an “us versus them” mentality, anyway? Shouldn’t we all mutually respect each other regardless of label and identity?

Perhaps this mutual respect is so difficult to achieve because people still do not accept the idea that there is a culture among Deaf people. Take the recent letter in the May 23 issue of People in response to a story about Marvin Miller’s plans for Laurent, S.D.:

Has activist Marvin Miller lost more than just his hearing in “Building a Town for the Deaf”? Through the miracle of the cochlear implant, my deaf child lives in the world of hearing. Deafness is not a culture but a disability. Miller gives new meaning to the expression “deaf and dumb.”_- Deborah Gideon, Pepper Pike, Ohio

Ouch.

Would this letter have been published had it contained racial or ethnic slurs? I think not. Yet the editors of People found it fit to publish, calling us “deaf and dumb.” It would have been equally hurtful had the writer said “hearing impaired” for me, because it represents so much more than just an insult for me.

So, yeah, it’s a never-ending struggle. The bottom line here is that even if people call me hearing impaired, I am Deaf.

UPDATE: The real estate agency mentioned in the above article quickly changed the wording to ‘deaf’ as soon as they learned the implications and history of using ‘hearing impaired.’ Kudos to them!

People has also sent me e-mail saying they will be printing an apology in the next issue.

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ON HAND: Two Worlds Apart

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

At Deaf Way Illinois in Chicago two weekends ago, I watched TWO WORLDS APART, a short movie produced and directed by Bernard Bragg.

The movie is about a respected leader in the deaf community, Robert Wilder (Bragg), who is confronted by his former classmate’s son Ken Cook, Jr. (Matt Ellis). Cook, harboring resentment against Wilder for not “helping” Cook’s dad succeed in life, submits a proposal for Wilder’s approval. However, Wilder turns him down. Cook is enraged, and tells Wilder that he has some information that will destroy Wilder’s reputation. There’s a shocking secret revealed at the very end.

Although I desperately want to give away the ending of the movie because it’ll help make my point, I won’t.

I was fascinated by how different educational and family backgrounds brought about different reactions to the movie. When Wilder’s secret was revealed, those who grew up within the Deaf community–especially those who used to attend deaf clubs–gasped in shock. Even I sat there wide-eyed, thinking, “What a sick, sick man!” But those from mainstreamed settings thought, “Okay, so what?” They just didn’t understand the impact of this nasty secret, even after I explained my perspectives.

I believe this absolutely stems from different experiences within the deaf community. I grew up in deaf clubs–I’m probably part of the last generation that saw what the “real” deaf clubs were like. I remember watching how people would identify the “good” and “bad” leaders of Deaf clubs. Bad: “Tend pocket money, strong lie-lie, dirty business, think big-head.” Good: “Good work, involve deaf many years. Good.”

Anyone who has seen or read TALES FROM A CLUBROOM will get a wonderful insight into the various characters that often make up deaf clubs–not the deaf clubs of today (gatherings at bars), but the “real” deaf clubs of yesterday.

Even though TWO WORLDS APART wasn’t about deaf clubs, it made me think of the labels that we so quickly put on people–and how often we can be wrong. . . It doesn’t matter what type of background we come from–deaf, mainstreamed, oral, whatever–we should always be wary of people who claim to be something they’re not. Especially those who lead lives of deception like Robert Wilder.

___________________________

I finally identified at least one more deaf person working at captioning agencies. Special thanks must go to David Pierce for helping me in my search. But this convinces me even further that deaf people are sorely underrepresented at these agencies. It doesn’t matter if closed captioning benefits hearing people in addition to deaf people; these agencies should employ several deaf people at all levels, especially administration.

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