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.

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