Thursday, May 31, 2012

Deaf Pride and Audism; One CODA's Take

Hello again to all of you out there. A lot less time has passed since my last post, which is a good thing, I think. Anyways, if you can wrap your head around it, this is going to be another post about Deaf people. I know. You're shocked, aren't you, Pepper?

Well, this one relates to a topic that has always been a big one in the Deaf community for as long as I can remember. This may take a roundabout path for me to explain this, and hopefully clearly, so here goes.

I often come to the conclusion that there are Deaf people who do not view themselves as disabled, and do everything they can to not portray themselves that way to the larger, hearing world. In my opinion, Deaf people are not what I consider to be disabled. A hearing loss has no effect on intelligence and therefore there is nothing that cannot be overcome. We can do this, we have the technology. Please do not mistake technology to mean hearing aids and cochlear implants. I mean things like video phones and flashing light doorbells, etc. These Deaf people are proud, hold down jobs, and fully provide for themselves. They show the outer world what they can do.

I also find that there are Deaf people who do not carry that same sense of pride. They willingly collect disability checks. Not for having a heart condition or broken limbs or anything, but for being deaf. This is the way that federal law looks at deaf people. These Deaf people feel no shame in taking the money and doing nothing for it.

There are also those who collect it even though they would rather be independent. The unemployment rate amond Deaf people is exponentially higher than the U.S. average for the entire populace. Audism has a large hand in that. There are also Deaf people who may have real disabilities and cannot work for those reasons, but are listed as disabled by the federal government in relation to their deafness.

I get to have the wonderful experience of seeing different sides of this. My father was almost never without a job. He held only two, in fact. One was at a woodmill for 20+ years. With that money, he was able to provide my family with a house, a decent vehicle, and enough money to be relatively stable. We definitely were not living paycheck to paycheck. Unfortunately, the mill burned to the ground and everyone was laid off. My father was out of work temporarily, and had to go through the humiliating experience of being turned down by other local mills becasue he was deaf and couldn't hear the machines, so how would he know if he was in danger? Ridiculous. He had all that previous experience and no accidents/injuries, no sick time used, and so on and so on. Even more embarrassing to him was having to swallow his pride to turn to a state program that found a job for him. So he became a butcher at a meat plant. The pay was ridiculously low, and we were barely above the poverty line. Never once did he complain about it in front of us. He just kept on working because he had to. We never complained either. It was a commendable sacrifice to make.

On the other hand, there is my mother. Here you have a woman whose experience as a Deaf person was far different. Society and family oppressed her so much that she believes herself to be incapable. She was lucky to have a handful of jobs over a short span of years, but overall those same issues got in the way everytime and she was let go from every position. She didn't want to be 'disabled', but she accepted it as her lot in life just the same. Let it be known that she has collected disability checks for most of her life and does so to get by, even now. To me, the real 'disability' is not her deafness. It's how Audism has affected her over the years, and possibly other issues as well not related to being deaf. In short, she is not willingly taking advantage of the system.

Those Deaf people who do take advantage of the system are my focus for this post. It's not even taking advantage of the system, it's being ok with showing the world that Deaf people are disabled and can't do this or that. For example, have you ever met a deaf person who pan-handled for money in the streets by offering hearing people a business sized card with the manual alphabet on one side, and a sob story on the other asking for a donation? It's a sore subject for Deaf people who are proud of themselves. This behavior of portraying oneself as disabled makes the rest of the community look bad. Especially when many of these Deaf people are doing so when they have everything they need, and are just doing so to make a few extra bucks. It's bad enough to play the welfare/disability system of the federal government, but at least i can see the logic for many of those Deaf people who make such a decision. I see it as a misdirected middle finger to the government for considering them disabled. However, begging for money on the streets isn't a middle finger at all. It's a flat-out admission that one believes themselves to be helpless. It hurts Deaf people for this to occur, and those who are proud generally stand firmly against it.

What's worse is that there are Deaf people who do this without any financial need at all. They just want some extra money. They have their own homes, jobs, vehicles, etc. If there are outstanding circumstances that force a person to need a few extra bucks, does it have to come to panhandling? You can't find a more affordable car? Perhaps sell your house and rent? Lower your monthly bills through credit counseling services? These are all things the rest of us do. There are so many other options out there.

There are those who believe that pride is a sin. Well, I'm not a religious person, and I believe that pride among Deaf people is necessary in the fight against Audism. If you have no pride, you tell your oppressors that they've won. It's unacceptable for that reason alone. Don't let Audism win.

I did not write this to offend Deaf people, though I know that some who read this probably will be. My concern is that some Deaf people make the struggle for the rest of the Deaf community harder than it has to be. Pride is not always bad. Sometimes you just have to show it.

Until next time,

R. M.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

One CODAs Opinion on Audism and Deaf Civil Rights

Hello everyone, it's been a long time since I have posted, and I apologize. As for updates, here it goes... the book is coming along a little bit slower in the last couple of weeks, but has not stalled out, I have a feeling things will pick up when I get my 3 week vacation from work. Most of that time I will be at camp, and I always focus better there. As for the GEBAs, I have completed all of my readings (8 ebooks in total), scored them, and sent them to the people at the GEBAs. They say the winners will be offically annoucned and awarded on August 18, in Santa Barbara, CA. Being the poor independent author that I am I will not be able to attend. But within days of that announcement, I will be posting 1 ebook review per week of those from the GEBAs. I am currently reading other ebooks which will be reviewed here upon my completing them.

Now that updates are out of the way, something happened this morning that really got me thinking. Can you guess what this could possibly be about? If you read my blog on a regular basis, I'm confident you have an idea.

This morning I learned a little bit about CEASD, the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf. They have recently held a conference to discuss something they call "IDEA - Child First". IDEA is the acronym for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (Can you see where I'm going already?) Here's is what their mission is with this endeavor;
"What: Child First is a national campaign to ensure that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) appropriately addresses the language, communication, and educational needs of deaf and hard of hearing children.
Who: Child First was developed and is being driven by national organizations that advocate for the educational rights of deaf and hard of hearing children.
Why: At the time IDEA (then the Education for All Handicapped Children Act) was passed in 1975, many children with disabilities were precluded from going to school, either by law or because schools were not equipped to teach them. IDEA changed that by requiring states, local school districts, and schools to provide them with an individualized education. The main principles include:
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP): A program tailored to the child that supports the child's progress in the general education curriculum. For deaf and hard of hearing children this includes consideration of language and communication.
  • Evaluation: A child's IEP is based on information gathered through an appropriate evaluation. The evaluation must be performed by qualified personnel.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): To the maximum extent appropriate students with disabilities are educated with students who are not disabled.
  • Procedural Safeguards: The student and his parents have certain rights that are protected by law, such as the right to be involved in developing the IEP and the right to be part of the team that decides placement.
In order to meet deaf and hard of hearing students' educational needs, programs must first address their language and communication needs. However, today implementation of IDEA pays little attention to this issue. Instead, IDEA implementation often focuses on the location where the child is being educated, rather than the supports and services available at that location to meet the needs of the child. Child First is attempting to shift the focus of IDEA back to the individual needs of the child. It is attempting to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing children's IEPs and educational placement facilitate full language and communication development, which will lead to greater educational success.
It is time to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing students across the United States experience the same kind of access to language development, social interaction, and academic opportunities experienced by their hearing peers."

This comes directly from their website, . After reading it, I could not agree more. The main idea of this is simple. According to IDEA, deaf children are disabled, and therefore must have an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) while enrolled in school. "Disabled" is a very tricky label to put upon a deaf child or deaf/Deaf people in general. Deaf people are not less intelligent than the rest of us, yet because of Audism, many people (including those with the power to make decisions) see them as just that, intellectually disabled. Talk about a good idea gone wrong for at least one group of individuals. This may be great for children who are in fact intellectually handicapped, as they are the population who do need such support. Do deaf children need this in the same way?

This is why I am happy to see an organization try to address this with the powers that be at the governmental level to try and bring about change. I just have one more question.... Is this the right place to start?

I ask this because I am looking at the overall problem of Audism in America. Audism typically starts affecting deaf children from birth. When diagnosed by a doctor, all sorts of referalls are made to medical professionals, like audiologists and cochlear implant specialists/surgeons, speech therapists, etc. Where are the referalls to successful Deaf adults who use ASL as their primary language, are successful people, so they may inform parents about the benefits of a deaf child having a Deaf identity, that said deaf child has a right to a langauge that is naturally and completely accessible from birth without the use or need of hearing technologies intended to promote development of spoken language (which, by the way, require endless hours of speech/audiological therapy in order to use at all, and still have the majority of deaf children fail to be successful at)? All that it would require is the parent/s and family to learn ASL. To me, that's a lot less time and stress invested in order to give a deaf child a better chance at being independently successful and well rounded. The problem is that acts of Audism committed by these medical professionals (not cultural professionals) often keep that information away from parents of deaf children. That is the root of the problem with Audism.

What CEASD is doing is also fighting Audism, but in my opinion, a "further down the branched out chain" of issues relating to deaf children. It seems as though that are taking issue with a symptom of the root problem, and not the root problem itself. Please don;t get me wrong. It's still a very positive venture and has merit. But couldn't their time be better spent to change the culture of Audism in America at its' very root? If change was made there, wouldnt it be far easier to affect change where they are focused now? My gut tells me yes.

Invited and attending that conference were the following groups: CEASD, NAD (National Association of the Deaf), DWU (Deaf Women United), NBDA (National Black Deaf Advocates), NADC (National Deaf Coalition), National Organization for Hispanic Individuals, DBC (Deaf Bilingual Coalition), Deafhood, DSC (Deaf Senior Citizens), ASDC (a parent group). I am not familiar with the reputaion for all of these groups, but reading that list seems pretty impressive. What I do know is that many members of the Deaf community are not happy with the NAD for what they perceive to be a lack of ambition to advocating for Deaf people, and many are also critical of the NAD's stance against gay marriage (seems to me that the NAD is not considering advocacy for ALL Deaf people, and thats a shame). From personal experience, I have found the DBC to be unresponsive to requests for help and advice in deaf educational needs, for whatever reason that may be.

Even more striking to me was that there was no mention of AFA (Audism Free America). As far as i can tell, that is an organization who is trying to fight Audsim at its root more often than not. Why were they not attending? Were they even invited? To me, it seems as though more organizations and people need to stand up and fight Audism at it's root. Instead of working within IDEA laws to create change, we need to change the laws, period. This was a long read to get back to the difference between physical disabilities and intellectual ones, but here we are. IDEA is proof that the government makes no distinction between the two. That is Audist in nature. That is at the root of the problem, as it effects everything down the road in deaf education. Why can't people and organizations start there? Did everyone give up, or are they all lost? If those who stand up and fight Audism would start there and with the medical profession (ie, the roots of the problem), we would have a better chance to affect change. Affecting change at the root of the problem would force the government to make distinctions, and therefore create a different perception of Deaf people in American society. It would happen overnight, but eventually the perception would shift. Right now, all we ever seem to do is butt heads and no one without the power is ever really heard because we don't go after the root of the problem.

As far as I'm concerned, this really comes down to a deaf child's civil rights. Deaf students were successful in 1988 with the "Deaf President Now" protests at Gallaudet University. Perhaps its time to raise the bar nationwide, and set an example for the world. Let's stop fighting for scraps from the table and instead fight for a seat at the table with everyone else. It's my opinion, and I hope more people feel the same way deep down inside.

R. M.