Blogging Against Disablism
In the UK there are 1 in 7 people who we call 'disabled'. Likewise, there are 1 in 7 people in the UK who are deaf, partially deaf, deafened or hearing impaired. BSL (British sign-language users) take the label 'Deaf' with a big D - either to indicate that they use sign-language, and also to indicate that they are immersed in the deaf community or are proud of their deafness. Depending on how political you want to get, people who use the word 'deaf' with a little d usually consider themselves oral - perhaps they know a little sign language but for the most part they are oral and don't always associate themselves with the deaf community.
As for myself, I feel that these labels are unnecessary because they still create gaps between a group that should feel pride in their culture and language (BSL). However, if you were getting technical, my deafness is described as 'Profound' and I suppose I label myself as deaf with the little d. I know quite a lot of sign language and feel that I want to learn more, especially since I may be working closely with deaf people and organizations some day.
I recently went to the DeafDay at CityLit in Covent Garden. It was really interesting and reminded me of how noisy and animated deaf people are when they get together, especially when signing. I think it's a misperception that deaf people are quiet and isolated and don't know 'how' to talk. I loathe the 'deaf and dumb' stereotype that still permeates our culture. It's so important that people get past this whole 'disabled' thing and accept that there are people all over the world who are different and have interesting stories to tell. Our culture is saturated with the ethos that we need to be 'able-bodied' to fully take part in society. It's a medical and social barrier that we have to face - that people may be patronising or think we cannot 'do' something.
My own experiences of discrimination and 'disablism' are numerous. My boyfriend once told me that someone had said to him that 'it must be hard' to be with a deaf person. Well excuse me - it is these kind of comments that really piss me off about our society. Why should I be pitied? I'm an intelligent, strong person and if I wasn't deaf I don't think I would be the person I am today. It's this 'pity' thing that really gets me annoyed. It makes me feel as though I need to 'prove' myself to people - why should I? I've already passed my A Levels, nearly finished my degree and I'm a fairly happy person who wants to get out into society and change attitudes towards deafness, disability and women.
I miss things about people perhaps that other people can see since they can hear. But I observe people and their body language, the way they talk and act and I think I pick up alot that way about people. I prefer it when people look at me when I am talking just as I need to look at them to lipread. I may come across as quiet but there is alot going on in my brain - I do alot of thinking.
I like to watch the world go by when I'm sitting in a cafe. I think observing people's behaviour towards you shows you things that you can't pick up by talking. People often don't address me directly if they want to talk to me - they either ask my boyfriend, Mum or someone else there. I think this is disrespectful and assumes that I am dependent on everyone else. I'm not. I'm really like my independence when I am at University, and do everything for myself.
I wouldn't say that I'm an expert on everything to do with deafness and disability. But for me, people's ignorance and ideas about disability still affect my life and present me with a host of difficulties. I know that there are a lot of deaf people out there facing even worse problems than I do at the moment because of a lack of understanding and tolerance in our society.
I think for deaf people, since deafness is often hidden, this creates even more problems. I sometimes still lack the confidence to ask people things, for directions or asking for drinks at a cafe or bar - because I am afraid of being misunderstood - not because I can't talk but because my voice can be slightly quiet as in noisy places my hearing aids amplify all background noises and therefore I cannot hear my voice. I also think my voice gets tense when I'm nervous!
The point is - life is different for people with different degrees of hearing whether they lipread, sign or still have quite a lot of hearing left. I think everyone should be considered as individuals and not be labelled so as to 'categorise' them. Everyone has their different experiences, and instead of ignoring them, maybe we can learn more about our world and it's negatives and positives and change them.