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.


  1. Of course we stereotype each other, and by design too. Go anywhere online and see Deaf,and deaf, and HI and..... these are labels WE have endorsed over the years, and even 'culture' so most mainstream haven't a clue who is what really, combine that with deafhood followers,yet another division, I suppose some would cal lit 'diversity' I wouldn't. 9 out of 10 blogs on promote the difference, so do I stereotype ? maybe I am just recognized what is... It started with the social model, then went to the political correct model, now we all throw in whatever is current labeling, and dodging the extremists.

  2. Have you read Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Blink'? One of the things he writes about is that we have an amazing ability to get an idea of what a person is like within a couple of seconds, sometimes within milliseconds, and this ability to rapidly judge someone can be literally life-saving. This is the biological drive behind stereotyping.
    But we can so easily get it wrong. The problem isn't so much our initial response (which is largely outside of our conscious control and can occur in milliseconds) - rather it's what we do afterwards. Do we continue to gather facts about the other person/people? Do we examine our assumptions? Are we prepared to change our initial impressions? That is what you did at the restaurant. This can be difficult as we all have selective thinking that ignores facts that don't fit our pre-conceived theories. The sad fact is that you're in the minority as most people never question their stereotypes. We need many more people like yourself Michele.

  3. AJWSmith, very insightful post! You've nipped it in the bud. (About stereotyping, I mean...not needing more people like me. LOL)

  4. Or should that be "nipped it in the butt?" I have no idea.

  5. I am currently at a silly beauty pageant thing for little girls and someone muttered under their breath "pervert" when one of the male pageant coordinators got up to talk. Probably many others were thinking the same thing. Oh yes, stereotyping and judgment happens everywhere we go. I was just wondering why anyone would want to be involved in this type of thing. It is so boring and silly. But I gotta support my neices, which they are finding out quickly that this is not their thing.


  6. (e, I've personally never understood baby pageants and the like, but to each his/her own. It's true though. I can think of a few stereotypes related to that kind of thing. Hope your nieces are able to stop when it stops being fun.

  7. Have I stereotype? Yes I have.But I do not judge a person by their race or ability or disability. I judge someone for who they are as a person.
    Do I judge you or others with hearing loss? No I do not. I see no reason to.You are normal and so are others with hearing loss.I hate those stupid stereotypes other hearing people say about Deaf and hard of hearing people. They are wrong and those people don't know anything.
    I love sign language and the deaf culture. Plus I have about 20 friends that are deaf and hard of hearing.I treat them like everyone else. People that say s**t about people with hearing loss should shut up and learn.