Conferences – Including the deaf academic

sign-language-translatorConferences, inclusion, communication support – these are all key words over on twitter at present. Not least because of the International Congress for the Education of Deaf People, where there was a spectacular fail to provide interpreters for deaf delegates, and even when interpreters were provided, they turned out to deliver less than stellar performances (I saw one figure of less than 20% of a talk being interpreted, which is terrible). But this, and other conferences (it is conference season, after all!) are opening up questions regarding conferences for deaf academics. [And by deaf academics, I mean academics who have a hearing loss, and who are academics in any subject, not academics in a field to do with the deaf.]

This is a long blog post, even by my standards, so I apologise in advance for that.

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abuse

StopTheAbuseA little break from your regular programming today…. I know that this blog is normally focused on all things deaf/student, but today I’m going to take a break from that, and discuss something that, unfortunately, many deaf people will experience in their lifetime in one form or another, whether students or not.

Abuse.

I’ve experienced two types of abuse in my life. I’m going to discuss both here, although there are many types of abuse and just because it’s not discussed here, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist at all and that I’m not validating your experience.

This post has largely been triggered by me reading a great (and highly recommended) blog written by Melissa Mostyn, I am a Deaf Survivor, over on Huffpost, where she discusses domestic abuse in deaf people, including the shocking (but not surprising) statistic that deaf women are twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse than hearing women.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse – that is, abuse between partners. The stereotype for this is males abusing females, although it is important to recognise that this is not always the case, that it can be women abusing men, or men abusing me, or women abusing women. Abuse can happen regardless of the audiological status of the particpants involved, although in this I’m tending to focus more on the abusee being deaf. In my case, my abuser, a previous partner, was hearing. He would use my hearing loss to his advantage. He would say horrible things behind my back, then when I turned to ask what he’d said, he would say something different, so smoothly, that friends would later tell me that they would doubt their own ears, that – in the beginning – they would convince themselves that they had misheard what he said. Later, they would compare notes, away from us both, and they began to realise what was going on. He would try to seperate me from anyone who he felt was a threat to his control of me. My family, for example. I distinctly remember me finding my old diary from when i was around 13, and showing him a part of it. His reaction was to say that my parents had been abusing me, from what I had written. His abuse of me was never violent. I was – I am – a strong woman and I would never have countenanced him laying into me, and I think he knew that. That’s a very clear line with me. You deliberately hit me, you’re out the door. That’s the stereotype, and in believing that stereotype, I was left vulnerable. His abuse of me was far more insidious. Telling lies, making me believe that people were bad for me when they were actually good, that they had said something that they had not. Isolating me, but only in such a way that it wasn’t clearly evident to me, getting rid of people who had become too close, or were too much of a threat to his control of me. Undermining my self-confidence, making me doubt myself – and all of this was made vastly easier by my deafness. When you’re deaf, you know that you hear things wrong. You know that you miss things. You know that you can’t hear on the phone. So you ask for help. The sheer nature of deafness and the problems with communication mean that you have to trust those around you – and sadly, sometimes, people take advantage of that trust, as they did with me.

What people also must remember is that the experience can be made worse for a deaf abusee in other ways as well. If they are a part of the deaf community, and their abuser is too, then there are problems inherent in telling the community about what’s going on – much like telling a family when abuse is going on, it upsets the people around you to think that someone that they love can do these things. In addition, deafness is isolating from the larger world. Avenues of help – so often primarily focused on the telephone – are limited for deaf people. Help that is available through sign language is rarer. Access to emergency help is slower – yes, you can text 999 but how much can you do that when someone is beating the life out of you?

If you feel that someone in your life is abusing you, then speak to someone about it. It doesn’t have to be the police. If you’re unsure, ask someone. A friend, a university counsellor, even religious figure you trust like a rabbi or a priest, or your doctor. if necessary, things will happen after that. That step though, that first step is the hardest. I know from experience – I ended up going to the police in my case – and walking into that station to tell the police officer what had been going on was the hardest thing I ever had to do. But when I did, they listened, they believed me. That was worth more to me, than when he was sent to prison. I realised that all the lies he had been telling me for years were not true, that I was not stupid or ugly. My healing began at that moment.

Abuse within Institutions

I’ve written before about the bullying I received at the hands of people I was at school with. I’ve always stopped short of calling it abuse. But I realised something yesterday. I was looking at facebook, I stumbled across the facebook account of someone I knew from those days who had many of that same group of people friended on facebook. I was stunned to see that many of them had the rainbow filters on. They were supporting the principle of gay marriage.

Much of my abuse was linked to things that had happened when I was trying to figure out my sexuality in my teenage years. What my sexuality is now is irrelevant and noone’s business anyway, so I’m not putting it down here. But to see these people who had made my teenager years a living hell on the basis of the label that THEY assigned me, regardless of whether it was one that I felt was right for me, made me very very angry. It is clear to me that what is happening is that the underlying beliefs haven’t changed, that what has changed is the public acceptabiilty of those beliefs. Like sheep, they follow the crowd, and now support for homosexuality is cool, they behave accordingly. They are, nothing more, nothing less, than a bunch of hypocrites. I want to call them out by name but…. like Melissa, I feel that saying what happened, that I am a Survivor is more important than outting them as the hypocrites they are.

My past isn’t so important at the moment. This is what is: by giving abuse in places like schools a different name – bullying – there is a tendency to see it as being lesser, somehow, than the imagery that springs to mind when the word abuse is used. Let me say this clearly: BULLYING IS ABUSE. The relationship is different, sure, and sometimes it is less pervasive than in, say, domestic abuse or sexual abuse, but the effects are not. Systematic, long-term bullying by a child or a group of children towards another child is abuse, plain and simple, and it is important that this is recognised so that the effects in the survivor can be dealt with. I suffered years of low self-confidence – I still do – and personal doubt because of what happened when I was a teenager and I am absolutely convinced that what I had been through as a teenager made it vastly easier for my ex-partner to abuse me as an adult.

If this is you, if you are a student reading this, and you feel that you are being bullied by other students, whether adult or not – TELL SOMEONE. Tell a teacher, a counsellor. If they don’t listen, tell someone else. Keep telling people until someone DOES listen. This shouldn’t happen to you, it is not a normal part of life, and has to stop. And no matter what, don’t listen, don’t believe what they’re saying to you. Make sure you get help in dealing with the effects of it all.

The long and short of it – no matter what, tell someone. get help. You can move past this. When I got the ex-partner out of my life, it took years to get past what had happened, to heal, but eventually I went back to university, and look where I am now. Someone who holds a first class degree, getting distinctions at Masters level, and working to start a PhD. Not bad for someone who used to think of herself as being “stupid”, because of what he’d said.

The help is out there – find it, use it. It will be tough – I don’t deny that, but it CAN be done. Things can be changed. If someone is making your life a misery – tell someone, get help, stop the abuse. And always remember that the fault is theirs, not yours, no matter what.

Exploring and re-evaluating my deaf identity

LabelYesterday, I suddenly realised something. The user name on my blog, DeafStudent, really is wrong. I’m not a deaf student.

I’m a student who happens to be deaf.

I know that some of you may be thinking, ‘big deal, so what?’, but its actually quite important. For me, my primary associative identity is the student part, not the deaf part. I’m a student, I’m aspiring to be someone in my field, a published author, a respected lecturer, I’m all of that. I have other identities too, other labels that society likes to slap on people – my gender, my skin colour, my sexuality, my marital status.

In all of that, being deaf is just another label for me. It represents what I struggle with, what I cannot do. It is very much a negative association, never a positive. I do what I do, achieve what I have, despite my deafness. It is a thing to be battled against. A war to be fought. And by the way, I’m not by any means suggesting it should be this way for everyone. Many people are very proud to be deaf, to champion Deaf culture and language – and more power to them. This blog post is about my thoughts, about my expression of my identity, and right now, I’m struggling to figure something out – when I get like this, I write. So bear with me.

I watched My Song yesterday, for the first time. It’s a wonderful, well acted & written, short drama from 2011 exploring deaf identity and language, portraying a teenage deaf girl, Ellen, learning BSL, making her first steps into the deaf world and the reactions – both negative and positive – to those steps, from the hearing people around her, to the deaf people she encounters. I’m really glad that the writer & director chose NOT to portray the deaf reaction as being all fluffybunny, welcoming and warm, because the deaf world certainly isn’t like that – it’s made up of people, just as the hearing world is, and some of those people are going to be welcoming and positive, and some will be negative and repudiatory. I’m not ashamed to say that the drama had me in tears and deeply moved me – I associated strongly with Ellen, and it stirred up a lot of stuff from when I was younger that I obviously still, 20 years later, have not successfully dealt with.

My story is long, and detailing it here is inappropriate but what has become very clear to me over the last twenty four hours is how much I felt the deaf world rejected me when I was much younger. I’ve always told myself – and others – that I decided not to be involved with the deaf community because I found it to be cliqueish, exclusive and bullying. These were all traits that I had met at school (yes, a deaf school) and I’ve always told myself I decided those traits had no room in my life any more, and I went my own way. So much is true, but what I’m now realising is that the deaf community rejected me just as much, back then. I effectively disappeared, and not one person cared to find out if I was okay, what had happened.

In short, for me, there was no Ben to chase after me to make sure I was okay.

Perhaps, given this, that it is no real surprise that I have rejected any deaf identity as much as I have, and instead, associated far more with other elements of myself. I see my deafness as something I should apologise for, apologise for the inconvenience of it. That’s something else that got stirred up from ‘My Song’, seeing Ellen being forced to’get used to’ the new man her mother is dating, instead of, as she plaintively says, ‘maybe he could get used to me!‘. There doesn’t seem to have been any attempt to tell the new guy what her needs are, to make it clear that she finds his accent difficult, that it’s not personal. Always, for Ellen, her deafness is the problem, the inconvenience, the issue that people have to deal with if they want to spend time with her. She so clearly sees that in the people around her, and their failure to take her need to communicate a different way, to explore a different identity, that I think exploring her deaf identity was bound to happen. That much was so familiar from my own life, and to a certain extent, still is. At uni, in other parts of my life, I spend time apologising for my needs, apologising for costing people more, apologising for being a problem, an inconvenience.

So what is the lesson in all this? That I should start to associate more with my deaf identity? Maybe. Going to uni has forced me to reassociate with sign language, at least. When I first got there, I was determined to use notetakers only, and electronic notetakers at that. It was one of my key support people – someone who is now a damned good friend as well – who gently pointed out that even the fastest typist wasn’t going to keep up with the speed of exchanges in seminars and that maybe I should consider sign language translation? I knew I couldn’t work with BSL (I have to work hard to translate BSL back into regular English, as it’s not my first language) and instead she worked with me to develop something suited to both my needs and the complexities of the subject I study, something close to SEE. So I have been growing closer to sign, once again, in the last couple of years.

Beyond that though… The last two weeks have been eye opening to me for one simple reason: I have not been wearing my hearing aid. At all. I used to wear two: difficulties in my right meant I had to stop wearing an aid in that ear and it seems now the only option I have for that ear is a CI. In the last two weeks, I’ve had a bad ear infection in the left, and wearing my aid has been impossible. This is probably the longest time I have gone without hearing aids since I was a small child. What has been incredibly surprising to me is how well I have actually coped without it. I miss moving through a world with sound, I miss hearing things around me, even simple things like my partner moving around downstairs – there’s a comfort in that, to know I’m not alone in the house. And certainly my (hearing) partner misses my hearing aid – misses the ease of communication that they have with me when the aid is in, and misses having long chats with me. I struggle more without it. I do recognise that. But I also cope an awful lot better without it than I thought I would.

Sure, some of that is due to the presence of my support team at uni. I assisted the University with a review, for example, last week, where external assessors came in and questioned a range of students as to their experience at the university and the particular department that we study in. I was one of those, there as a representative of my particular field, not as a disabled representative. There were two sessions for this and the Uni paid for me to have an interpreter for both, and as a result, I was able to fully engage with the process and support my department as much as I possibly could.

But at the same time, I also went through things alone, with no communication support. I took part in supporting the local election count last Thursday evening, moving ballot boxes. There was no question of me not doing it because of my deafness, and their only pause was to think about possible problems – the working environment meant that particular roles would have been more difficult for me, but I think if I had insisted on doing them the electoral staff would have supported me. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, talked to a huge range of people, and although I was conscious of my deafness, even more so because I had no aid, it’s almost like something shifted in me. Yes, the problem was my ears, but it’s not my fault. Yes, they have to take the time to deal with stuff they wouldn’t otherwise, but… as my father-in-law likes to pithily say, “shit happens”. Yes, they had a problem to deal with. SO FUCKING WHAT. (excuse my language).

I stopped being apologist, that night, stopped apologising for being a problem, and moved into being something far better: Me. I interacted with people, smiled, thanked them. No matter that they had to repeat themselves several times, that didn’t matter: what mattered was that I was friendly, curious, enquiring, pleasant, and grateful. Not for their being willing to repeat things, but for being willing to engage with ME, not the deaf label. I made sure they walked away with a smile, thinking “what a nice person!” rather than “god, that was awkward. I hope I never meet a deaf person again.” And I did the same thing again at the postgraduate meeting the following day, having a MUCH better experience than I had the previous time, where no one spoke to me.

Removing my aid had a very powerful effect. It meant I had to stop pretending to being hearing. I had to stop pretending to be someone who “isn’t really deaf, you just don’t hear very well“; stop mimicing hearing people, as I do so very, very well, in order to make them feel better. And in so doing, I made contact with the deaf part of me, and formed a bond with my deaf identity, started to move towards greater acceptance of myself, who I am – warts n all – and think about how I can be positive about my disability, make it work for me, instead of against me. How I can make it so that I bring something different to the table, something that is unique to me, instead of pretending to be the same as everyone else. In short, developing a healthier relationship with my deafness, with the deaf label. Working with it, instead of thrusting it out there in front of me, using it to push people away.

Deaf identity doesn’t have to mean going to deaf clubs, mixing with deaf people, learning deaf culture. Sure, it can mean that and if that’s the way you choose to go, then more power to you! But it’s not the right path for everyone, and sometimes, it just means accepting who you are, putting your foot down and saying: ‘It stops here. You start meeting me on MY terms. Not yours’.

My name is DeafStudent. I’m a deaf person. I’m a student.

I am me.

I’m deaf, I’m not disabled! Why should I do this?

Blogging Against Disabilism Day

Blogging Against Disabilism Day

Today is May 1st – known to many around the world as Blogging against Disabilism Day. A day where people, who are affected by disability and experience prejudice because of it, write about it. That’s all – a very simple idea, the brainchild of Goldfish and who is now ably supported by her husband, Mr. Goldfish. It’s a fantastic day, with tons of really moving, really well written blogs that are posted, worldwide, throughout the day – and in the days after, since some people are not always well enough to take part on the day.

But here’s the thing. This blog is aimed at deaf people. And I know many deaf people really have a problem with disability, with being seen as disabled – and as a result, will totally reject any idea of joining in with BADD.

‘Why should I do this? Great for them, but I’m deaf, not disabled!!!’

Here’s why: because you are.

I’m sorry, but to the world at large, to the world that mostly doesn’t care, you are deaf. Your ears don’t work properly. That lumps you squarely in the same category as all the other people that have bits of them that don’t work properly – eyes, legs, spines, nerves, arms, lungs … and so on. Dis-abled – meaning not abled. Your ears don’t work. Therefore you are disabled.

Oh, I understand why there has been a wholesale rejection of the idea that as deaf people are disabled. Deaf people have had to fight long and hard for the idea that just because they are deaf, doesn’t mean that they can’t do anything (in fact, they most decidedly can). There’s also been a wholesale rejection of the disability model, because for many deaf people, they feel that they are a cultural minority, with a different language and culture, just as, say, Jewish people or Scottish Gaelics, and they have fought long and hard to be accepted as such, and more importantly, to qualify for government funding as such.

Believe me, I get all that.

But here’s the thing: the world out there doesn’t care whether you, as a deaf person, can still be a doctor. They may well be very admiring, in that inspiration porn kinda way, and wish in their minds that more disabled people would be like that. The world out there largely doesn’t care if you’re a cultural minority, about the incredible beauty of sign language, of the hilariously funny jokes of John Smith, the stunning poetry of Dorothy Miles – and so many other wonderfully creative, active, hard working, high achieving, deaf people.

We – your fellow deaf people – are not the ones that need to be convinced of all this.

The world out there thinks you’re disabled. It treats you as a disabled person. Subjects you to the same prejudice that disabled people have been suffering for a long time. [To give one example: you think only deaf people are affected by the recent changes to Access to Work? Hell, no.] The fact is, the last five years have been hellishly bad for disabled people. Actually, scratch that, the last ten years. There’s been a systematic programme on the part of the goverment – all government – to demonise the disabled. To call them scroungers, refer to them in degrogatory terms. This has been well documented and the changes to funding systems and benefit systems over the last five years has been the culmination of that.

And that’s why days like BADD are so terribly important for deaf people as well as disabled people. Because deaf people are disabled, and its important that deaf people’s voice is heard. Heard as part of the rising clamour of voices that are making the world out there, the voting public, realise the damage that has been done in the last ten years to the silent minority. It is often said that the measure of a society, of a government, is how it treats it’s weakest members. Churchill said it, Truman said it, Hubert Humphreys said it, Pope John Paul II said it – or variations on it. Right now, with an election looming, society is beginning to wake up and realise what has been done in its name, the people who have died in the cold, alone, in terror, because of the ‘pointless cruelty’. Right now, a tipping point is fast approaching, in the cultural hegemony of the disabled person as a scrounger, living off the state – and the disabled are aware of this, and working to maximise it.

You want to know why, as a deaf person, you should be joining BADD?

Because of this. Because you are disabled. Because your voice needs to be heard. Because on a day like this, what needs to happen is joining, support, not division, not rejection, to make sure that in the next five years, society doesn’t treat the disabled – i.e. YOU – as they have been doing for so long.

Take to your Keyboards. The time is now for you to write, to sign, to do VLogs about it. Show them how powerful deaf activism can be.

Take part in BADD.

 

‘Invis-abilities: the Elephant in the Room’

The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room

Yesterday I was contacted by Rachel Wayne, a PhD student from Queen’s University, Kingston in Canada. Her studies are in the field of Cognitive Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology and she recently came to some very personal conclusions as a result of some research work she was doing with her supervisor. The result of that one conversation with one person, as she put it, sparked not only a deeply important personal realisation but a whole series of blogs which culminated in a TEDx talk entitled ‘Invis-abilities: the elephant in the room’. The TEDx talk is well worth listening to (and for once, google’s autosubtitles behave themselves) so it is definitely worth a watch. Her talk may not be evocative for every deaf person, particularly those that see their deafness from the Deaf perspective, but it certainly spoke to me. This was particularly so in the part where she talks about feeling that she ‘had to constantly advocate’ for herself and what she needed in the classroom. I know there are times where I get so tired of being the needy one, constantly (or so it feels) asking for support for this event or that seminar. Just once it’d be nice to be asked “say, there’s this conference in August, do you want to? if so, I’ll sort out the support…”. Inspired by Rachel, I plan to write more about this at a later date.

But back to Rachel: her writings, in three parts, are also very much worth a read, where she reflects on how to enable communication with deaf people; gives some insights into deaf students in further and higher education and finally, some strategies that deaf students and their teachers can use and the bigger picture.

More information about Rachel and her work can be found here.