This question is widely debated by different groups and even Deaf people themselves.
First, let’s look at a few facts. Over 70% of deaf or hard of hearing Americans have received social security benefits because of their disability. Half of the total Deaf population in the United States were unemployed or part-time employed while receiving benefits. Some other data you might find interesting that the National Deaf Center [link: https://www.nationaldeafcenter.org/sites/default/files/Deaf%20Employment%20Report_final.pdf] put together are:
- 48% of deaf people were employed in 2014.
- Unemployment rates are similar for deaf and hearing people.
- A large percentage (47%) of deaf people are not in the labor force.
- Deaf people who work full-time report average annual earnings that are comparable to the general population.
- Educational attainment appears to narrow employment gaps.
- Employment experiences are not the same for all deaf people.
As a Deaf person, I don’t see myself as disabled. This is because I can drive, walk, hike, read, communicate, and enjoy my television shows. Sure, I can’t hear most sounds, but that doesn’t mean anything to me because I can do pretty much anything I want, thanks to technological advancements and accessibility laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. In an article in Psychology Today [link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-apes/201802/is-deafness-really-disability], the writer debates why Deaf people should be perceived as being disabled if they claim they’re part of a culture and linguistic minority. Many Deaf people have no desire to hear even if they are given the opportunity to — and therein lies the oxymoron.
However, discrimination against Deaf people is incredibly high, and ongoing, unfortunately. As the National Association of the Deaf writes on its website [link: https://www.nad.org/resources/justice/] (in regards to discriminatory practices in the justice system, a huge problem around the nation):
“Deaf and hard of hearing individuals face greater legal challenges due to communication barriers that are typically not recognized by lawyers, courts, or police. In encounters with the police, lack of communication may result in detention without the ability to call one’s lawyer. When a deaf or hard of hearing person is not able to communicate with a lawyer, there is no real representation. When a deaf or hard of hearing person does not understand what is going on in the courtroom, justice has not been served.”
Although I had received high evaluation marks at my 9-to-5 job, I decided to establish a company. It was in this job that I was reminded of the harsh reality: there are many, many people who will take advantage of Deaf people, and treat them poorly, even if they work for a Deaf person like me. This led me to close my company, and file a lawsuit. Although the lawsuit itself was nasty enough, I had to also educate my lawyer and others on my rights as a Deaf person. For example, my attorney never paid for an ASL interpreter during our meetings, so we had to write back and forth.
Another area that Deaf people face extreme discrimination in is employment, which I’ll discuss more in another article. But here’s a good article to read about that: Unemployment in the Deaf Community: Barriers, Recommendations and Benefits of Hiring Deaf Employees. [link: https://www.deafjobwizard.com/blog/unemployment-in-the-deaf-community-barriers-recommendations-and-benefits-of-hiring-deaf-employees].
So this is why Deaf people, despite seeing ourselves as a linguistic and cultural minority and not as “disabled,” have to fight for accessibility and disability laws to be in place. It’s because we are among the most misunderstood groups of people, and while we know fully well how “normal” we are, most people don’t see us that way — and treat us as if we are second-rate citizens unable to achieve anything. Laws, awareness, education, and open-mindness are what help us gain equal footing in this country, although we still have a long way to go.
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