348: The Heart of Audism
The worst kind of audism, to me, is when you explain to the other person your communication boundaries and they persistently ignore them. Perfect example? Ridor's story about his father:
The nurse saw me there and she asked me if I could interpret. I said “No! You can’t do that!” She asked me if I have a hearing sibling who can do that. I said, “Totally unethical. Get an interpreter!”
She went back to the desk and brought the Video Relay Interpreter (VRI). Mom and Dad was receptive to that but I was not satisfied. I explained to the nurse what if Dad needs to roll over and all that, the VRI is meaningless to use with!! Plus, the quality of speed on the VRI was eyesore.
Here, you can see Ridor and his family asserting they are Deaf and need an interpreter again and again. What is actually done? Instead of accepting people's statements and doing something about it, they continually try to provide cheap (for them) easy (for them) solutions. I like to use feminism as an example: women, for many years, verbally told men they didn't like being harrassed or molested. Like women, Deaf people consider inappropriate types of communication, harrassment. Like women, we are often disregarded - my mother, for example, knew I was Deaf at a young age, but doctors said she was just being a crazy mother. Listen to this account by a woman who'd just recently become Deaf, chronicled in Glickman and Gulati's "Mental Health Care of Deaf People:"
At 5 a.m., a young woman appeared, a Filipino psychiatry resident with a strong accent. Between my deafness, my mental state, and her accent, I couldn't understand her at all. I sobbed... When I said I could not understand her, she moved closer, until she was literally 'in my face.' I did not feel understood or cared for by her. Unbelievably, she said something about the possibility of 'fixing' my deafness with a cochlear implant, as if she were prepared to perform the surgery then and there. "Someone please help me," I thought. "I can't hear and I'm losing my mind!"
If Deafhood is a process, like any process, it must have steps. What are these steps? One step is learning to be comfortable with your communication boundaries. Many people who were categorized hard of hearing are trained to try to lipread and listen and figure out what the other person is saying. Nobody helps us figure out exactly what our needs are and how to articulate them without being embarrassed. We're taught to try to overcome these needs, just like many women are encouraged to get over it, swallow their pride, stay in our place. Not that teaching speech is necessarily bad: it's just rarely done in an empowering way.
Knowing your rights is an important part of knowing your communication boundaries, but you must know more than your rights, because sometimes the system won't be there to help you. You must know what you can do to protect yourself as a person and ensure your awareness no matter what. (It's true Deaf people are a little more paranoid than others. I remember reading the book War Boy, and hitting a scene where a friend of the main character comes into his home when the main character is in the shower. The MC of course is surprised and thinks: This is why I can never trust them.... or something to that effect.
Because it is communication at stake, and not sexuality or private places or skin color, this kind of oppression is difficult to understand for people not familiar with deaf peoples experiences. But suppose it had been a big burly man instead of the Filipino lady? Suppose a big man had approached a hearing woman and gotten into her face like that quote showed? There'd be a fight, no doubt about it. Yet the key element-behavior change based on difference, shown in the violation of personal space-is the same. Worse is when we, in that moment, try to explain what our boundaries really are-sometimes desperately so!-and They are so intent on finishing their job-or so convinced we Deaf idiots wouldn't understand anyway-and they steamroll on, bull in a china shop, breaking down our personal limits untill we frustratedly acquiesce to their direction. This is why so many Deaf people need to ensure there is clarity of communication in their relationships (and again why important to analyze yourself and find those boundaries so you can establish them!) Thus does Deafhood help prevent audism.
Looking at women's studies and disciplines from other cultural groups helps us understand how the dynamics of power play out; this is why I minored in Women's Studies all those years ago. Deafhood occupies the same place, in my head, as womanhood, and the process of growing into adulthood. (Like adulthood, there is no specific place to head - you don't become an adult and stop growing older! It's still a process of learning.)
My friend and roommate the Sparkly Spanker tells me about her friend, a Deaf woman who started off her relationship with her Hearing boyfriend by quickly setting up clear rules. He must learn ASL, must not do this and that, and also what is okay to do. As a result they've got a successful relationship. She knew her boundaries and needs, articulated them clearly to someone with no experience. He accepted her explanation of herself and did not try to impose his assumptions and expectations on her. I suspect at some point he may have done the same for her, to explain his own feelings.
Learning to assert your needs and, if applicable, your rights is another step. Some people are shy. Others don't wish to make a fuss. Still others have family they don't like to embarrass. We all throat-grip-swallow one way or another. Asserting needs in a positive way is really important, however. Deciding how you do that is up to you. Some people refuse to have meetings without an interpreter. Others explain their needs in a simple way the first time, but agree to go ahead and work. Some confront the other person every moment, engaging the other person totally until the light dawns-If you don't know your comfort levels you run the risk of being put, by ignorance or audism, into a difficult situation.
Interpreters ask when they begin jobs how you prefer your class, meeting, whatever, signed: ASL? PSE? SEE? We watch each other when we meet each other-consciously or not-and try to switch gears to meet the other person's Sign Language skills. What we often don't realize as Deaf people is that hearing people don't have the same habits as we do. Hearing people look for audio and bodylingual cues - how the head is tilted, etc. etc. When I went to England and I saw how British Deaf had different expressions for, for example, the sign for "surprise" it helped me realize that each cultural group has approved physical behaviors to communicate "yes I understand" and other such emotions. Hearing people have their own behaviors, also. When we look at someone's lips, we are trying to get information, to communicate - to a hearing person, this might look like a challenge or interruption. Being aware of these differences allows us to control them, to maintain our balance.
This is why this is the worst kind of "audism" (whether the term is liked or not, it's here; people have issues with the terms "feminism" and "racism" too.) Because it's part of the process of establishing your identity and place in the world, and when they ignore it, they ignore you. Hearing children are given every opportunity for self-expression; Deaf children, often, especially those born to hearing parents, are not. (More likely we are engaged in speaking drills.)
Teaching people about Deafhood as well as Deaf culture and Signed languages is another way to combat the effects of Audism. But this is the end of a long process, a process filled with steps, steps we often have to take together, as a community, before we realize how to go outside.