This really caught my attention tonight:
“Audism Free America (AFA), a grassroots Deaf activist organization, will stage a one-day protest rally on April 3rd 2009 in front of the Volta Bureau at 1537 35th St., NW in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area.
The purpose of the rally is to call attention to the denial of linguistic and human rights of Deaf citizens and to highlight how the Volta Bureau/AG Bell Association has worked to perpetuate the denial of these rights.
The newly formed AFA organization serves to expose AUDISM–practices and attitudes based on the assumption that the behaving in the ways of those who speak and hear is best and desired. Audism manifests itself as stigma, bias, discrimination, and prejudice–in overt or covert ways–against Deaf culture, American Sign Language and Deaf people from all walks of life…” Read More…
First, I want to congratulate and wish a great action for Audism Free America. I will promptly begin researching to better understand the specific challenges AFA has with the procedures and actions of AG Bell in advocating for the deaf community.
I did not grow up in a community that addressed audism, the societal behavior that discriminates based ones hearing ability . One of three deaf people I’ve ever met was Linda Bove from Sesame Street when I was five years old. Linda portrayed the longest running deaf actor in a television history on Sesame Street from 1971-2003 In educational resources and social justice inclined environments I am apart of, when the ever growing interconnected tangles of sexism, classism, racism, heterosexim, and ableism come up, how we intake information, learning differences and the bias and privileges enacted in society is not mentioned. Even when speaking about limitations of language and the needs for bilingual education programs for second language learners the needs of the deaf community is never mentioned. Recognizing my position of having full body mobility, sight and hearing, I can only go with my experience that society is set up to benefit people with these abilities. I don’t believe in the language of “handicapped” because it problematizes people and normalizes a fixed center of people.
I don’t know enough about the deaf community and how to be an ally. Until I saw this protest press release I honestly didn’t think about the full frame of linguistic birthrights – a phrase I emphasize because I realize how beautiful that is. We talk about freedom of speech but just exactly how fully do we support that in a variety of expressions?
I can so easily call out short comings of others who don’t stand as an ally for me when they hear homophobic, sexist or racist language and I admit like most of us I filter information to see how it affects where I am marginalized and where I have power and privilege, as I feel we all hold both simultaneously. I want to be more mindful with my own assumptions and notice bias when people assume default ability and language resources. A few years ago I saw an interesting documentary called Sound and Fury. It’s about one deaf family’s struggle over deciding if cochlear implants were a benefit to navigate both the deaf and hearing worlds or ultimately slow step towards assimilation. I’ve read that some people compare cochlear implants to getting any medically necessary device such as a pace maker or prosthetics. The difference that I can completely understand is that it can easily make the ability to hear as better rather than just different than non-hearing people. It was interesting and painful to see a family be split about how it might unite or separate them with various communities.The loss of culture and assimilation is so often talked about in regards to race, colonization, religious freedom and spoken language. I don’t want anyone to feel forced to be something else to make others comfortable so I certainly get what the Audism Free America group is standing for with AG Bell, though I don’t know enough about either to speak on it. I’m curious what discussions took place to negotiate and suggest alternatives before this action but really, go you! It’s hard to stand with a voice of dissent in your own community. I feel that way in the LGBT community.
So what does this have to do with peacebuilding? Well – it seems everything. Our work is based largely in communication. It occured to me that I have an incredible blur around assuming (so generally that I don’t even notice it) all victims of war and genocide are hearing people. That everyone in Gaza/Israel/Democratic Republic of the Congo can hear, has an an audio warning of the impeding violence. What if you are the only deaf person in your community that is going into a war? What if your access to learning/signing is limited because of a third party or social stigma? What if you are a deaf woman in prison who can sign/read lips but the system itself does not support you? Maybe I also assume all oppressive government regimes are hearing people? These are things to think about.
I realized I have been assuming that all UN peacekeepers or mediators or in Darfur can hear and see. How many abilities do I not even consider because my own privilege is so wrapped around everything? While at first it seems logical (or maybe this is still the problem that I say that? Please call me out if I am wrong…) that peacekeepers in conflict zones would be hearing people but suddenly these thoughts made me have 100 questions.
Are there deaf mediator teams dealing with local, international conflicts? Where is deaf activism today? How does audism play into how we facilitate our work as peacebuilders and are we, in our own practice, marginalizing others? What about deaf women’s rights? Feminisms is so often about voicing. How are deaf women addressing being seen? I wonder how the ability and right to be understood connects to the Declaration of Human Rights. I wonder so many things right now.
I don’t really have any answers. I just wanted to share that I was thinking about this all. Perhaps this also all sounds very ignorant and if so I am completely open to feedback. I just wanted to open a dialogue space. Of course I understand that deaf peope are completely capable of doing everything hearing people can do. I am more focusing here on how unknowledgable environments could drain and create conflicts on an deaf individual to bridge themselves to fix what the hearing don’t know. It would be great if as Americans we were all required to learn four or more languages for every quarter stage of our life but that”s another discussion.
Do you know what I love about that Sesame Street clip above? When she is done writing her letter she doesn’t say it would be easier for her to buy a hat if she could hear but rather “if the sales women knew how to sign.” Often times people feel that they have to pick up all the slack to make their difference go away for someone else and I love that even when addressing children it pointed to what we all must do to bridge what we don’t know and not just make all marginalized people teach everyone or blame themselves. In that very small way it said that often it’s the norms of the world that need to change and not you in your very special self and the wonderful way you came into it no matter your abilities.
As a hearing person I cannot claim to understand what the experience of a non-hearing person is but I imagine it takes great skill to handle all the human judgements, conflicts, issues we all have and then feel that the world is not set up to fully “hear” you. I’m wondering about the lives of deaf activists and intersectionality. Does the peacebuilding field address, advocate, voice, haveleadership from/advocating /support deaf communities? What does communication in every sense mean to us? How can hearing activists step up and be allies to deaf community and the rights of signing culture? How can we make sure we’re not marginalizing people, even with our good intentions?
Just thinking aloud. Please do join me. Comment or blog back. Let’s think together.
Check out the Audism Free America blog here