Wednesday, June 22, 2011

STEREOTYPING: Do You Stereotype the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community?


ster·e·o·type /ˈsterēəˌtīp/ : Noun: A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

I’ve done it. Admit it, so have you. In fact, I’d have a hard time believing anyone who says that they've never once in their lifetime applied a stereotype to another person. It’s a sad, sad fact that that’s what happens all too often in the world. And, while I’ll honestly and sheepishly admit that I’ve stereotyped certain individuals, I can also honestly say that I’m ashamed. That makes everything all right. Right?

I preach and preach about not doing that very thing, and, yet, there I was on Father’s Day, at a restaurant filled to the brim with different people and groups to judge. And judge, I did. Shame on me.

Tables filled up with lazy people (heavyset and people who chew with their mouths open), racists (bald white guys with tattoos on their necks), and people who could no longer care for themselves (the elderly). Isn’t that just awful of me to write "out loud?"

Think about it. You see heavy people, bald people, tattooed people, people wearing culottes and hair bonnets, or people of different ethnicities. You see them and you immediate get a thought going through your brain. A thought that says, “I know these people. I know their type. These people are people who…(fill in the blank)." For most people, I would like to hope, it’s a passing thought that you don’t pay much attention to. But for some, maybe not.

Are you reading this and thinking, “Not me. I never stereotype people?” Hmmm. Well, if it’s true, you are definitely someone I’d like to be friends with. A person of character. A little delusional, maybe, but well-meaning.

But even though I find it hard to get out of my head (at the first moment), who am I to judge the judgers when I become upset by those who stereotype me?

I’m Deaf. People don’t usually really judge me before they find that out. That's because there's no way to tell I'm Deaf till I start signing. But once that’s discovered, watch out. All of a sudden I can’t drive, speak, make love, learn, laugh, comprehend, or interact. I was sent away for school where I learned how to use ASL and lean on others in this society. If I’m lucky, I can read at a 3rd grade reading level and learn to do manual labor. If the cards are in my favor, I will meet a hearing man who will take me under his arm and protect me from the confines of this world. Perhaps I will have children, but they will be cursed with deafness and amount to very little.

Sound like the ideas of anyone you know? I hope not, but it’s likely you think it does.

And then, maybe, by a long-shot, they’ll get to know me. A college-educated, published author with a keen sense of humor (I think I’m hilarious), who is only THE best driver on the road (don’t question this—just accept it). I speak as clearly as a hearing person (though I’m told some hearing people don’t speak so clearly), make love just fine (I would like to hope), learn quickly (E=MC2) and am able to function just fine in this “Hearing World” (I  HATE that term) we live in. I’m not a stereotype. I’m just me. And that should be enough for anyone.

So, as I sat judging at the restaurant and getting irritated at how many tables were staring at us, enjoying the hand show as we tried to enjoy our meal, I realized that I was wrong. I’m wrong to stereotype. Just as wrong as those who stereotype me.

The next time you see someone or witness part of a circumstance, ask yourself, how would you feel if the roles were reversed? Could that have been you? And if you reacted in a way perhaps too familiar, would that make you a stereotype?

The Bible talks about the splinter and the plank. If you don’t know what I mean, look it up. I have a splinter. That much I know. But it wasn’t till I was trying to leave the restaurant that I noticed that plank sticking out of my eye. It ain't easy walking through a swinging door with that thing. What? You say you don't have one? Hmmm.

So, tell me? Do you stereotype? Do you judge me or any of the million of people with hearing loss? If so, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love for you to come forth and leave a comment telling me just what I am and how I behave.  Because, I for one haven’t the faintest clue. It depends on my moods and feelings. In fact, I’m not quite myself today. Maybe I’m you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Imagine you’re working somewhere when a person from another country comes up to you for help—a country whose language you do not know. They can speak a few words of English, but you cannot speak their language. What would you do in order to communicate with them? Would you start making up gibberish while laughing at them? Would that be the professional or polite way to go? Of course not!

So, it really bothers me a great deal when I go into certain establishments and they do that to me.And, unfortunately, it happens a lot.

Last week, I entered the library to pick up some holds and look around a bit for relaxation. I took my time and enjoyed myself. But, like virtually all of my experiences out there among the hearing, it turned awry when I had to go to the desk to check my books out.

The woman took my books and started the process. Along with that, she decided, as most people do, to make small talk. I pointed to my ear and said, “I’m deaf.” She did the popular, “Oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I’m so sorry,” bit.

“It’s not your fault,” I usually retort. I was hoping to get out of there as quickly as possible. Why are so many hearing people sorry I’m deaf? Yes, I do know what they meant, but when you start to get that line every time you leave your house, it gets frustrating.

Then it happened.

I imagine I must be living in the 60’s and 70’s where the disco ball revolves flashes around the ceiling, because all of a sudden she started waving her arms and flashing her hands and laughing as she’s doing it.

Unfortunately, it happens a lot. Hearing people tend to think that, since they do not speak American Sign Language, the next best thing is to act like they do. They start to go into these…convulsions…slapping their arms about and laughing like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. And, I must say, it ticks me off.

If these people had lights attached to their arms and hands, they would get the same result as that Japanese cartoon many years ago that had a strobe light and sent many viewers into epileptic fits.

You know, if you don’t know how to converse in someone’s language, don’t resort to making fun of it. It might be that you’re trying to show them that you wish you knew how to use their language, but the result will always be the same.

Don’t mock us and we won’t mock you.