different is rarely ever a bad thing, yet some people use it as an excuse to
discriminate and shed a negative light over others. The Deaf community has been
discriminated against for hundreds of years and continues to be. They’re normal
human beings, just like everyone else, that are capable of doing just about
anything. The only thing that makes them different from others is the fact that
they can’t hear and speak another language. While deafness has historically
been viewed as a physical impairment associated with disabilities like cognitive,
and mobility impairments, the view of deafness as a culture has recently come
to light and does not consider it as a disability, but as a trait. These
beliefs constantly conflict each other making it difficult for the American
Deaf community to feel empowered and equal in a country that continues to have
attitudes of paternalism and audism towards them.
1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act was created as a civil rights law
that prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas
of public life. This included jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and
private places that are open to the public (“Americans with Disabilities Act”).
The purpose of this law was to make sure that anyone with a disability still
had the same rights and opportunities as any other person would.
this act in place, adults were protected from discrimination in the workplace
which included being hired, fired, receiving raises, how much their income was
going to be, etc. and gave them a greater opportunity to be able to function
normally in society. This law has become incredibly important and has made a
huge impact on the Deaf community because it provides a sense of hope for those
who seek employment. But as great as this law was for the Deaf community, it
only gave the hearing world more of a reason to consider the Deaf as disabled. At
times, they are still refused these accommodations due to the ignorance that
still exists. As Lydia Callis said, “Institutions should always be prepared for
whatever situation may come along and be able to cater to our diverse
population. Organizations who refuse to provide equal access as required by the
ADA not only earn themselves a bad reputation within the Deaf community, they
also potentially open themselves up to a discrimination lawsuit”.
Audism is one of the largest ways of discrimination towards
the Deaf community and since it doesn’t directly affect the hearing community,
it’s not discussed very often. It’s defined as discrimination that is based on
one’s ability, or lack of ability to hear. So basically, it’s the action of one
feeling superior based on another’s ability to hear or behave around a person
who can hear. A lot of people who aren’t deaf have never even heard of audism
or that such a thing even exists. However, it is very easily recognizable to
the Deaf community and sometimes may be seen as a threat to their culture
(Jones). One place that they encounter a lot of audism is in Deaf education and
other corporate institutions that deal with deafness. It’s believed that the
educators, administrators, and professionals within these organizations act in
a way that is meant to dominate the Deaf community (Jones). Not only do actions
like these offend the Deaf, they also make them feel like the institutions are
trying to oppress deaf culture.
thing that keeps this growing community strong is how important empowerment is
to them. Empowerment is the process of becoming confident and stronger in
controlling one’s life and claiming their rights. Since they are considered a
minority group, they only look up to and depend on a few people to lead and
guide the development of the community, and who other than the Deaf community
members themselves to facilitate their success. A couple of ways that these
leaders help spread this empowerment is by showing and teaching the youths of
the community the expectations they should have for themselves and the Deaf
community, and actions on how to achieve their goals (Jones). They communicate
using their native language, sign language, which is very important for daily
life and they contribute to the language development by helping those that
aren’t as exposed to the language which brings the community even closer
together. One important thing they do is to encourage each other to pursue
their passions and participate in the Deaf community through art, film,
festivals, deaf clubs, and many other things to show how Deaf people feel and
think about their culture (Jones). Being able to express themselves gives them
that feeling of equality everyone in America deserves.
One thing that is for certain, there are a couple of conflicts
that rise within the American Deaf Community of being both a distinct culture
and seen as a disabled group. Since Deafness was discovered, it has always been
seen as a disability. People see it as an impairment because not being able to
hear interferes with a person’s ability to respond to environmental cues, to
communicate verbally, and to enjoy mainstream things like listening to music.
Devices like cochlear implants, assistive listening devices, and hearing aids can
lessen the effects of deafness and in some ways, give Deafness a bad reputation.
People see the use of these items as a way to fix their hearing problems so that
they’re able to fit in with the hearing world. But recently in the past few decades,
there have been advocates of deafness that show more and more people why the Deaf-World
should be seen as a culture and why it’s no longer something that needs to be “fixed”
but rather accepted (Jones). Deaf culture is just like any other culture, they usually
behave similarly, share the same beliefs, and use the same language.
Although we live in a land that is supposed to be free and
equal, deaf citizens continue being oppressed by a lack of equal access. When
will society accept that Deaf people are capable of everything hearing people
can do except hear? Deaf citizens all around the world deserve equal
opportunity. Even though Deafness has been considered as a disability since it first
became discovered, it does not make anyone who is deaf any different than you. No
one should have to be labeled as disabled just because they’re different.