Deafness is just another disability, right? A disability is just a wide term for any type of problem that sets someone apart from the masses. Everybody has their faults--stage fright, fear of deep water, relationship commitment issues, etc.--but disabilities limit essential faculties. By definition, they imply that the disabled are capable of less.
Of course, deaf people, like all disabled people, are able to live and work just as other people do, but that doesn't mean that they can live and work exactly like them. With certain help, though, they get by.
Here is where things start to branch out and instead of seeing the disabled as a single, large, unfortunate group, you start to see real individuals with actual problems, dreams, ambitions, loves, and much more.
All disabled people have their troubles. Of course, they do not define the disabled, only characterize them. Like someone with ordinary anxiety who must undergo breathing exercises before speaking up in class or giving a presentation at work, the disabled just need a little help to produce the same results as other people.
The best path to sympathizing and also accepting a disabled person is to distinguish their specific disability, understand their individual struggles, and relate to them as a person who, like you, has trouble doing regular human things sometimes. While the 2 latter steps occur as a personal task, something of a homework assignment for you to tackle with disabled friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, the former is actually quite easy. Just remember that being deaf, for example, is different from other disabilities.
First of all, deaf people are often not given sympathy. Because the blind and people with certain mental disorders are able to communicate clearly and someone in a wheelchair or crutches can place a coffee order just like anyone else, a human connection happens and opens a pathway for sympathy to occur. However, deaf people are met with frustrated sighs--which they cannot hear, but can definitely see and interpret--shrugs, and cold shoulders as people refuse to step out of their comfort zones to communicate with someone who cannot hear.
Second, deaf people do not face the same everyday dangers that other disabled individuals face. The paralyzed cannot bathe themselves and need help ingesting food, as choking is a huge hazard; many disabled people have trouble crossing the street or entering a building; and the blind should rarely be left alone in their homes. However, deaf people can take in and deal with most ordinary situations without significant risks. However, they should be careful around vehicle traffic because of their inability to hear sirens and horns honking. Of course, technology exists to minimize risks of harm for disabled people, like alarms for the deaf that expel light or vibrations and safety equipment that allows the blind to move through their homes without fall risks.
Third, a person who is deaf can "pass" for a non-disabled person. If you were to look at a crowd of people going about their own personal business in a public square, you would be able to identify those that have cerebral palsy or another movement-limiting disorder, are blind, or are in a wheelchair. However, you could not "see" that someone was deaf. This allows for a sense of normalcy and blending in.
Fourth, deaf people often have serious trouble finding employment. While employment discrimination against the disabled is technically illegal, plenty of employers get away with dismissive statements like, "Why would I hire someone who cannot answer a telephone?" or "They would be so hard to train if I can't speak to them!" Unlike the blind or those with disabled movements, deaf people are frequently unemployed and even homeless. While this certainly happens to people of all walks of life, the deaf are at significant risk of being ignored by employers, or really anyone who is held responsible for judging another person's capabilities with a business mindset.
While all individuals--deaf or hearing-capable, disabled or physically average--have problems that make everyday life hard, it is important to understand how exactly the person near you is struggling with their day. Is your loved one stressed? Is a deaf person at a restaurant facing discrimination? Everyone has struggles and everyone can use the help. Knowing what type of problems people routinely face and how they affect their everyday lives can help you step in to help them, or at least say hello and try to relate. Everyone would feel a little more capable and accepted if we made this a rule.
BIO: Heather Jensen is an Audiologist and Clinical Assistant Professor for Utah state University. She received her Doctorate of Audiology from Arizona School of Health Sciences in 2004. She has been an adviser for the student academy of audiology organization at USU for 11 years. Before coming to USU, she owned her own private practice, but decided she wanted to give back to the field of audiology by teaching students. When she's not working she spends time with her four children, she also enjoys doing hearing related humanitarian missions.
CULLED FROM DEAF EXPRESSION
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