Discrimination in the D/HH community

I was asked if I perceived there to be discrimination between various groups of those with hearing loss. More specifically, did I see a difference in attitude between those who have hearing loss through either work or life experiences compared with those that are born deaf or hard of hearing?

My answer was yes, although the discrimination I saw and heard of didn’t necessarily fall along those lines. They had more to do with communication modality (if someone cued or spoke vs. using ASL), and additional disabilities like blindness or cognitive impairment.

For all the isolation and loneliness that so many d/hh people experienced growing up, you would think they’d be more inclusive than the mainstream hearing world. Turns out, they’re human just like the rest of us.

I can still remember the pain in her voice as Candace Lindow-Davies told us, through tears, about how badly her deaf-plus son wanted to fit in, to have friends at his residential school. “Deaf kids can be very cruel,” she said, and I nodded with complete understanding. Kids in general can be cruel, but combined with that characteristic Deaf bluntness… whether it’s cultural or neurological, we really don’t sugarcoat anything.

Moreover, I did some volunteer work with deaf-blind people in college, and I’ve heard some pretty sad stories of deaf-blind people being treated like lepers as soon as they started losing their vision– almost like the other d/hh people were afraid of “catching” the same thing.

Regarding communication modality, I’ve known of d/hh friends getting criticized for being “too English” when signing. While I haven’t really experienced anything worse than pointed disinterest in Cued Speech, I do know of cuers at Gallaudet and RIT who did not publicly share that fact about themselves because of the possible societal backlash. Nowadays, I think Gallaudet is more open-minded, but back in the 80’s and 90’s, especially during the Deaf President Now! movements, it probably wasn’t the best idea to advertise that you knew and used Cued Speech.

RIT, unfortunately, was not quite as progressive as Gallaudet; from what I gather, it is/was very much an ASL-only campus. It was not too long ago that a fellow cuer, Rachel, struggled with getting even captioning access to her classes. The way RIT had set it up was that, if you wanted captioning, you had to pick the one class section that offered it: all the others would provide only sign language interpretation. And forget about Cued Speech transliteration– in 2003, Nicole Dugan had to file a formal complaint against RIT after they failed to provide her with CLT services for two years. (In fact, Dugan had avoided becoming fluent in ASL for two years so that RIT would not be able to use that as a reason to continue using sign language interpreters instead– which I find absolutely shameful on RIT’s part.)

The long and short of it is that, yes, sadly discrimination within the d/hh community does happen. Quite often from those who most strongly claim to advocate for inclusion.

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