Deaf awareness is vital for the hearing community to recognize and learn about Deaf culture. Since September is National Deaf Awareness Month, we should take the time to learn how to be respectful of the importance of understanding all forms of communication.
Take the word “Deaf,” for example. Capitalizing the word Deaf helps to distinguish and unify those who identify as culturally Deaf, while changing the mainstream opinion or common misconceptions about Deaf people.
Those who identify as culturally Deaf do not use the term “disabled,” because of the connotation of “less than.” By removing labels imposed upon the Deaf community by hearing people and defining their own label, they are also removing any stigma that might be attached.
In the Deaf community you may also learn about “Deaf gain,” focusing on the things one gains in their deafness rather than focusing on their hearing loss.
Gallaudet, a university designed to be barrier-free for Deaf and hard of hearing students, defines audism as, “the notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears.” It is extremely pronounced in our society. Because of audism, the rights of Deaf individuals are regularly violated or ignored.
In 2014 Cheylla Silva, a Deaf woman with a high-risk pregnancy, sued a hospital that refused to provide her an in-person interpreter. This is not equality. Without an on-site interpreter available, a person who uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate cannot receive the same level of care as a hearing individual. In situations such as Silva’s, accurate communication can mean life or death.
Although many organizations boast diversity and multiculturalism, it is rare for organizations to provide sufficient cultural competency training for their staff. Even in places and situations where communication is critical, Deaf people are denied basic human rights.
Just last week, Madgiel Sanchez, a Deaf man, was shot and killed by an Oklahoma City police officer because he failed to follow the officer’s orders. The New York Times reported that neighbors who witnessed the event yelled to officers that Sanchez was Deaf and therefore unable to hear the commands, begging the officer not to shoot. Within a minute of arriving, the officer fired his gun multiple times, killing Sanchez while he stood on his front porch. This is just one example of the injustices the Deaf community faces. In this instance, being Deaf cost Sanchez his life.
It is imperative for public servants to be trained in Deaf awareness so they are able to interact with the Deaf community easily and safely.
ASL is a fully developed, natural language, which contains linguistic structures and processes that English does not. Unlike language systems where signs are invented for English words, ASL is a complete language with its own unique grammar, sentence structure and syntax. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) calls ASL the “backbone of the American Deaf culture.”
At Baylor, ASL is still not accepted as a language credit for many majors. This is a form of audism. When students are discouraged from learning ASL, we are taught that learning ASL is not as useful or beneficial to us as learning other languages. Until ASL and Deaf culture are as accepted and celebrated as every other language and culture, the Deaf community will continue to be marginalized.
As a Christian community at Baylor, we are called to spread the gospel. We should strive to spread the gospel to all communities, including the Deaf community. A study completed by Deaf Opportunity OutReach International (DOOR International) found that of the estimated 70 million Deaf people worldwide, less than 2 percent of them know Jesus Christ.
Quality of life suffers without equal access. Unemployment rates within the Deaf community are nearly double the average rate in America. Deaf people are more likely to experience a medical misdiagnosis or wrongful arrest due to the lack of ability to effectively communicate. When public servants are trained in recognizing signs, communication and equality can be ensured in these instances.
To those in the Deaf community, happy Deaf Awareness Month; we recognize you. To those in the hearing community, be aware of the Deaf community beyond this month. Fight against audism; learn about and appreciate the Deaf culture.
*The Associated Press Stylebook lowercases “deaf.” For the purposes of this editorial, we have chosen not to adhere to AP Style.