Jealousy

As a deaf person, particularly as a deaf person that was subject to people putting them down at various episodes of my life, its difficult sometimes to see jealousy. I mean, jealousy that I’ve got a nice house or a nice partner, yeah, thats fairly straightforward, and not really what I’m talking about here: what I’m discussing here is a form of professional jealousy. Some people have a very specific form of  professional jealousy that can be quite difficult to pin down, as the emotions engendered tend to result in them behaving slightly differently to the usual behaviour triggered by straightforward jealousy.

When you work with hearing people, a wide range of them, who are on their own journeys and who may be at different stages in those journeys to you, one problem that you may come across is that they can be jealous of your capabilities. This is particularly the case if you’re achieving on the same level as hearing people, just as well – or better than – them. The thinking may go something along the lines of “my god, look at them. They achieved XYZ, and they’re deaf, and look at me, my ears work, I’ve nothing wrong with me, and they’re better than me”. Sometimes this may not even be this clearly thought out, sometimes its just an unconscious, ugly, angry emotion that they feel when they see you and they don’t quite know how to handle it. It can result in behaviour that is geared, in a very subtle way, sometimes, towards trying to bring YOU down, because if they do that, then they feel better as a result. A lot of negativity, discouragement, anything to get you to be worse than them, to stop you being better than them ‘despite’ your deafness¹. An example might be, when you’re waiting for a specific result, getting all kinds of snide, negative comments instead of hopeful, supportive ones. The difference between constant rephrasings of ‘so many people apply, be prepared to be rejected’ and ‘Good luck! I’m sure you’ll succeed, but have you got a back up plan if you don’t?’ and then not mentioning the backup plan again once you confirm that you have one. You can see the difference.

[Sometimes it can result in even more aggressive, angry behaviour, although within an educational or professional setting, this should certainly be the point where other people (such as Human Resources) are turned to. If you’re at this stage, don’t go with the suggestions in this article, DO get the appropriate authorities involved.]

So… what to do when you’re confronted with this kind of behaviour?

Much depends on how close this person is to you. If they’re just a classmate who you can easily avoid outside of the classroom, then problem solved, just avoid their company and refuse to take the more negative comments on board (which is easy enough, once you understand what’s behind them). Blocking them on social media is another option, if you find that many of their comments are coming through that way, particularly if you find yourself getting angry with them – why waste the effort in being angry? Block them and have done with it (and there are even different levels of blocking, if you’re worried about them seeing that you’ve blocked them or defriended or whatever, some of which won’t be visible to them).

But if they’re someone who you genuinely like, admire, who you’d otherwise like to spend time with, or someone who you have to spend time with for work purposes, regardless of choice, then what? This can be particularly tricky if the jealousy is appearing in someone who seems to swing between the jealousy and admiration. I have a friend like that; she openly admires the work I do, is friendly and wants to spend time with me, but every so often, she comes out with these terribly negative comments. They picked up in intensity before the PhD result came through, which is what first clued me in. I like her, mostly, when she thinks consciously about it, she’s very supportive about my work, she read through my PhD application and made a number of very useful suggestions, for example. Its just these little snide asides. I noticed the other day, that I was starting to unconsciously avoid her, or get a sinking feeling when I saw them coming towards me, which is a shame. So. What to do?

The way I see it, I have a couple of choices:

  1. Talk to her about it. I wouldn’t phrase it as ‘jealousy’, or even in the terms that I’ve used here. Maybe something like ‘I’ve noticed you don’t seem terribly happy about XYZ. Do you want to talk about it?’ may be good. This is particularly the case where you don’t think they’re even aware of it, bringing it out into the open like this may well work, particularly if they’re a friend that you think you can talk to on this level. On the other hand, it can spectacularly backfire, so be very very careful if you decide to take this path.
  2. Ignore it and wait for them to get past it. It may be that you don’t feel able to talk to the person on the first level, or it just isn’t possible because of institutional relationship rules (e.g. they’re your supervisor). Gritting teeth and just ploughing through is the tactic here.
  3. It may be that deliberately mentioning things that you struggle with would work. Such as, if you’re struggling with a piece of work or with networking or something. You certainly don’t have to do this; arguably, this is a bad move, as in, you’re not giving them the chance to grow and to account for their own emotions. You’re certainly not responsible for theirs, or anyone else’s personal growth (or lack of it). But if on the other hand, you do a little diplomatic fumbling with something, or show yourself as being NOT the super-capable-super-student that they think you are, it might just make your life a bit easier. And I don’t think anyone would blame you for that. I know I wouldn’t. Along the same lines, taking the time to praise them for things that they do, particularly if they’re doing it better than you, is another good tactic to use.

In my own situation, I think I may well be adopting a combination of 1 and 2. give 2 a chance for a while, and if it continues, move to talking to her about it. But either way, I doubt that this is the last time it will arise. And I do wonder, if sometimes this happens far more than I’d previously realised. I blogged last year about feeling very excluded at a postgraduate meeting, how many people there didn’t speak to me at all. Whats interesting is that those people, over the last year, as I’ve persisted in attending these meetings and other postgraduate events, have split into two groups. One group are those that have made an effort to engage with me on one level or another (e.g. find out what my research is, who I am), even if its only on a very minimal level and they’re keeping it strictly professional. I certainly am not deluded enough to think that everyone should be my friend! The other group are those who have just ignored me. Other than polite hello, goodbye, and so on, they’ve made no effort to talk with me, even when I’ve tried to strike up a conversation. There’s not many in that group (I would say, perhaps 3 or 4 now) but still, it was enough to make me wonder why, when they didn’t really know me at all. This kind of jealousy may well provide an answer to at least one or two people’s behaviour there.

I do think that ultimately, this kind of jealousy is a kind of backhanded compliment. Jealousy – of all kinds – is something that everyone has to learn to deal with, both in other people and in themselves, and in education as well as in the workplace, particularly if you’re suceeding, and doing so better than your hearing colleagues. There are quite a few articles out there about professional jealousy in both education and the wider workplace (which this is a form of). If you find that this article doesn’t quite offer the solution to your situation, then maybe try to adapt what others have suggested. And remember, if the jealousy gets out of hand, get others involved (authorities, not your friends), and document everything you can.

Further information: Jealousy in PhD Cohort / Addressing Envy in Grad School / Overcoming Jealousy in the Workplace / Seven Tips for dealing with a jealous co-worker

¹ And by the way, I do think this problem isn’t unique to deafness; people with other disabilities, or even other factors that can hold them back, can experience the same thing.

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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.

unthinking disabilism in higher education

A PhD position became available recently, connected to deafness. I had a look at it, but decided it wasn’t the right sphere for me, that I didn’t have the right skills for it, so I passed it on to our postgrad community in case anyone there fancied it.

I was asked several times why i didn’t go for it, as I’d be perfect for it.

They didn’t say this on the basis that they thought that my skills, knowledge and discipline made me perfect for it.

They said it on the basis that I’m deaf, and it’s a PhD connected to deafness.

This actually made me quite cross, because it is disabilism, pure and simple. it takes no account of me as a person, my skills, and reduces me down to one thing and one thing only: my deafness. And here’s the thing – they didn’t even see that it was ablist, that it was prejudice. It wasn’t malicious in any way – I suspect they’d be dreadfully upset if they ever read this, that they had inadvertently been so prejudiced – but … fact remains that that is exactly what they’ve done.

Imagine suggesting to a black person that they’d be perfect for a PhD examining skin colour in some way? Or a woman that they’d be ideal to study the effects of oestrogen? Or a transgendered lesbian that they should study the impact of sexuality in transgendered people? Or a Catholic that they should study the troubles in Ireland?

It would be very frowned upon, of course, all of these. People would – quite rightly – be upset and disgusted.

So why should it be acceptable to suggest that someone should do a PhD incorporating deafness purely on the basis of their disability?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not by any means suggesting that people should not do those things. That the black person shouldn’t study skin colour, that the woman shouldn’t study the effects of oestrogen, and so on. If they CHOOSE to do so, that’s up to them. It’s a matter of choice.

I don’t choose to study deafness. I feel that for me it is the obvious route and that I want to study something totally unconnected to my deafness. That is my choice, and I have a right to make it. If others want to study something connected to their deafness, then that is their choice, and I support and applaud their right to make that choice.

But for me, or anyone, to be encouraged to study a field purely on the basis of their ‘label’ – be it gender, skin colour, religion, sexuality, – or, yes, disability – is just wrong. It suggests that they aren’t capable of more. That we should stay within our sphere, because that’s where we belong.

And that makes me very, very angry.

I’m much more than just my ears. much, much more. I should be free to study as I wish, to the best of my own skills and capability (which is very capable), just as anyone who is hearing is permitted to do.

It makes me very, very sad.

It makes me realise that there is still far too much work to do to educate people, even people in higher education settings. Rightly or wrongly, I expect more from them (and these suggestions came from other PhD students, not members of staff). It makes me sad that these intelligent people can’t see further than their own experience, their own privileged life.

It makes me very, very determined.

If nothing else, it makes me more determined not to go the ‘deaf’ route, to opt for studying deafness in my field in some way. I’m happy to facilitate education for others, to aid with deaf awareness etc. But I want to study what I will be studying, and my path will not change.

It makes me determined to do my bit to educate other people. It makes me determined to make the institution realise that they are failing their staff and students in not providing disability awareness. It needs to change – and it will change.

the removal of disability employment advisers from job centres

Thanks to my twitter account, I’m now kept fairly up to date with the goings-on of the deaf world – politically, at least. One of the people I follow is Alison, or @Deaf, who often posts really interesting news about deafness or disability politics that touches on deafness. (Thanks, Alison!) This morning Alison posted a link to a blog post by Kate Belgrave on getting rid of Disability Employment Advisers at Job Centres, which made me remember that I hadn’t posted anything about my most recent experience of ‘service’ from our local job centre.

Although a student, I am a part time one, and moreover, a self-funded one. This means that apart from an award to help with part of my tuition fees, I support myself. It’s not easy. Anyone who talks about students having the life of riley really needs a reality check because it is incredibly difficult to undertake postgraduate study; funding is competitive and not automatic, no matter how good your grades are. I have a first class degree, and in line to get distinctions for my Master’s degree. Funding for a PhD is still not guaranteed. But I digress.

Although I worked (temporarily) last summer in between graduating and starting my MA course, matters were made more complicated by the fact that a) my partner was out of work as well and b) we had to move house (the same week as I started my MA course. My stress levels were unbelievable, as I’m sure you can all appreciate). We rapidly discovered that the house needed work doing to it that the surveyor’s report had NOT uncovered (more stress) and by the beginning of December, with neither of us working, we were broke. Flat broke.

So, we resigned ourselves and went down the job centre. At first it seemed to be okay. We were assigned to an adviser called Neil who told us we needed to be job searching for 36 hours a week, but not to worry about it over Christmas, as everything was shut. By January we were searching hard for jobs. Our second appointment came in the second week of January. It was a busy, loud environment and my partner (whose ears work perfectly fine) didn’t hear Neil calling our name, and of course, neither did I, despite Neil standing right behind me (and I didn’t see him). When I eventually realised he was there I got a really filthy look… like ‘how dare you keep me waiting’. He had clearly forgotten that I was deaf, despite me asking at the previous appointment for it to be listed clearly on my notes. Before very long he was putting pressure on us. Why hadn’t we applied for more jobs? (in the previous week, my partner had applied for, I think, 5 every day). Why hadn’t I applied for this receptionist job? (um. telephones….). Why hadn’t I applied for this shop job (um… customer services… ). It was like he had absolutely zero understanding of the fact that I’m DEAF and that there are certain things I just cannot do.

And it was like that, week, after week, after week. It wasn’t just me either. When my partner eventually found work – his first job in more than 10 years, his dream job, working for a dream company, in an industry he never thought he would ever work in again, it was initially part time, two days a week, which put his hours in at 15.5 hours a week. Anyone with job centre experience knows that you can do work, up to 16 hours a week, but at 16 hours, you get kicked off JSA. The company my partner were working for had actually stretched themselves to hire him for those two days – they’d interviewed both him and another chap for the same job, and wanted them both, knew they were going to need them both in the months to come, but could only afford to give my partner the two days a week at that point. ‘Bear with us, please, in a couple months, we’ll make it full time’, they said. This actually suited my partner just fine – at that point, after being out of work for 10+ years, the part time work gave him a chance to get used to working again, instead of jumping in at the deep end with 5 days of work, which quite frankly, worried him, about whether he would cope with it.

Instead of saying “well done”… Neil’s reaction was to put pressure on my partner. “Can’t you get another half hour out of them?” … he seemed to totally miss the point, that the company was already stretching themselves financially by employing my partner at all. By pushing for that extra half hour, it could have wrecked any chance of a permanent full time job. In the end up,, my partner refused to give Neil the details of this new job because he was so concerned that Neil was going to call them and essentially ruin it for him. At around the same time, I got a temporary part time job as a teaching assistant at the uni I attend, and also a week’s worth of admin, which put me over the 16 hours a week limit. Between us both, we were kicked off JSA for a week.

I re-applied almost immediately. The first interview we had with Neil it was clear that he still did not remember that I was deaf. No attempts to slow down so that I could understand what he was saying. No attempts to talk directly to me, he was constantly talking to his computer keyboard. Constantly asking me to consider jobs that were totally unsuitable for me, given my deafness. Within five minutes he was hectoring my partner again. ‘Just half an hour extra, you must ask them, if you don’t, I’ll have to sanction you’. I was LIVID. It got to the point where I would go in there and refuse to talk to him, because the only way that I could retain control was to just bite my lip continually for the whole 20 minute appointment. My partner would answer for me (he’s better at remaining calm when he has to).

Around 2 weeks after we signed on again, my partner came home from work absolutely over the moon. His company wanted him to start the following Monday, full time. Less than 2 months in, actually, 6 weeks, they had kept their promise. My partner could sign off, and he wanted me to sign off as well. What he wanted didn’t come into it – we would have been kicked off regardless, with him working full time – but I was glad to. We signed off immediately, and the relief from stress was incredible – palpable. Our daily lives had become controlled by Neil, by fear of what would happen on Friday (our sign on day), we would argue at weekends, argue in the days before sign on day as we each struggled to cope with the stress and feared that we would never find a way to get off benefits. As it happens I was close to requesting to see a disability employment adviser because it was very apparent that Neil had no interest whatsoever in understanding my deafness, nor working with me to find me a job that I could do. It wasn’t just me. My partner has a disability too, and Neil showed a similar disrespect for his needs. Frankly, he just did not care. All he wanted was for us to get out of his office and not bother him again. It was clear that he hated his job, and hated us, with a passion. That man should NOT have been working as an adviser, because he was totally incompetent, and could not have ‘advised’ his way out of a wet paper bag.

To read that IDS now wants to get rid of Disability Employment Advisers… it just makes my heart sink. We were lucky. We were able to get off benefits relatively quickly, and with a first class degree, I knew that if necessary, I could find something on a graduate scheme and give up on my dreams of working as a lecturer in my field. It would have been horrible to have to do that, sure, but between a rock and a hard place, I would have done it. We’re both intelligent people, and we had the love and support of our families and friends as well, during that dreadful, dreadful period. Even through all the stress, we knew it was temporary, and that it would come to an end. For those who don’t have all that, the support of their families, the knowledge that they would get out of it, that they would find something… to have to deal with a man like Neil without respite, knowing that there was no way out, no understanding of their position… I fear for people. I fear that they will be pushed into jobs that they are unable to do, entering a cycle of finding work, losing it, and signing back on – with the attendant spiralling depression that will result. I fear that it will not be long before we read of suicides and deaths – we already are with other disabilities. The Independent recently wrote that the conservative rhetoric means that people with disabilities have no choice but to live with what is happening… or die.

I honestly believe that in the years to come, people will look back on this period with a sense of horror, much as we now look at what happened during the holocaust. I believe that people like IDS will be branded as criminals. I believe the Tory party will have to change its name completely – and will probably spend years in opposition as a result of what happens in this parliament. I only hope that events happen that makes it so that Cameron and co can no longer govern, and that they are forced to call an election earlier than five years.

And if this country votes them in again.. then I wash my hands of the UK. I really do.

‘Lose Yourself’ in ASL going Viral; reported in Huff’s Weird News

This video has recently been making the rounds… It features an interpreter interpreting/signsinging to Eminem’s ‘Lose yourself’ in ASL (I don’t speak ASL, and I thought it was pretty good, but reading the comments, it seems that her actual interpretation isn’t that great). It is currently at almost 3 million views – and is climbing, rapidly. I think what is so infectious about Shelby’s interpretation is her transmission of the attitude of rap, the way that she totally throws herself into the song and what its about. And good for her – I’d say that I’d like to see more of this sort of thing, but honestly, it already exists – in BSL as well as ASL. There are thousands of videos out there of varying quality of people signing along to their favorite songs, sometimes its conveying the feel, the concepts of the song, as Shelby has done, sometimes its a literal signing word for word. Both are okay – they have different purposes. I think some of the best are the ones done by deaf people themselves. Some people have really turned it into an art form – christmas carols, signed like this, has immense power and never fails to make me cry. Music, performed by artists like these, has the power to reach hearing people as well as deaf, as sign language need not be a barrier to communication between deaf and hearing (if you want to know more about that, look at the reviews for The Tribe).

However….

The increasing popularity of videos like this is making me uncomfortable on one important level. Periodically, when videos such as Shelby’s go viral, it has two effects. One is to enhance the knowledge of sign language. That’s not a bad thing. Making sign language something that is cool is great, it means more hearing people want to learn, even a little bit, even if just to understand what the people in the videos are signing. Fantastic! I’d never criticise that. Videos such as this one by Paul McCartney really testify to this process.

On the other hand… there are the inevitable reviews, comments. And it is these that make me uncomfortable. A hearing friend in the USA first alerted me to Shelby’s video, saying that she thought it was very cool and that I might like to see it, even though it was in ASL. I refrained from telling her that while it’s a good example of its kind, its not THAT unusual. I just thanked her. Then she compounded it, by sending me a link to this. The title is a bit iffy – ‘Woman performing “Lose Yourself” in sign language gets us super pumped’ – but it starts with “we have always wondered how to say ‘Mom’s Spaghetti’ in sign language”. Really? no commentary about how good this is that it levels the playing field for deaf people? No commentary about how expressive Shelby is, how good it is that we’re able to follow the basic message along with the beauty of her signs? You choose to focus on Mom’s spaghetti? You know, if you seriously always wondered how to sign this, there are sites out there that act as dictionaries, and I’m sure you could google this. Or ask a deaf person who can sign. Novel concepts, I know. But the thing that REALLY annoyed me when I first read this yesterday (but didn’t have time to comment on it) was where it came from. Its not there now, but yesterday, it came from the Huff’s Weird News desk. That’s right. This article was deemed up there with an article about cheese costing a lot of cheddar; a man in florida getting upset when someone else took his bingo seat; and a groom and his mom going head to head at his wedding in a dance off. And I can’t think of anything that is more insulting than this. By putting a wonderful, expressive language – actually, ANY language, any culture, into the “Weird news” category, what are you saying? That we’re a freak show?

Thanks, Huff. Thanks a whole bunch.

But this speaks to a bigger issue. Can professional outfits such as The Huff, NME, mashable … really not find deaf journalists to comment on this? Or a deaf sign/singer? Despite the fact that Shelby is on record as having done this video as part of a job application for a role as interpreter for a TV channel in Austin, Texas, there seems to be little recognition of the part of these reporters that Shelby did this as an interpreter, not to make a great video for hearing people to enjoy. I’m not saying that hearing people can’t enjoy it (that would be ridiculous) but for news organisations like this, professional journalists who are PAID to be critical and to look beneath the surface, it seems ridiculous that they could not think and talk to people who DO know about sign language, ask deaf people for their impressions of it, as well as hearing people – and thus gain a much more rounded, better article in the process.

It speaks to the fact that for them, deaf language is something to be thought of as beautiful, fantastic, watch the video, then put to one side, and forget about it. There but not heard. Once more, hearing people are speaking for us, but not taking the time to truly learn something about us.

Am I the only one to find that truly so deeply offensive?

Educating deaf children

Deaf Awareness Week

Deaf Awareness Week – 4th to 10th May 2015

The NDCS (National Deaf Children’s Society) has this week announced that there is evidence to show that deaf children with mild to moderate hearing loss ‘struggle in classrooms‘, mostly caused by poor acoustics and a lack of understanding by staff (you can read a summary and a link to the full article here).

The initial report is shocking enough – mostly because it absolutely highlights, for me, how very little has changed since I was a child in mainstream education. While the report focuses – and quite rightly so – on what needs to be done to improve matters for deaf children in education NOW and in the future, today I’d like to write about the implications of what has been noted, particularly if things do not change.

In a nutshell, deaf children will continue to struggle at school. They will continue to leave with lower qualifications, substantially worse access to further and higher education, and lower prospects for success in careers and life (although, as Charlie Swinbourne has written, many are currently wondering if they should even bother to strive for a career).

This makes access for mature (over 21) deaf students to Further – and then from there – Higher education even more crucial. It is the only way, that if the measures above are NOT addressed, that deaf people have any kind of chance of redressing their poor education, of learning what they need to learn, in order to get on in life and succeed. Deaf people already have so much stacked against them that really, they need every single positive tick on their side in the education box to help them. [and yes, I count myself in that criteria as well.]

The troubles besetting deaf people’s access to higher education have been fairly well publicised – the challenges to Disbled Student’s Allowance, for example. The changes to further education have been less well publicised, less well known, perhaps because they aren’t aimed specifically at deaf people, but at further education in general. But they will impact on deaf people just as hard, mostly because – and I have no statistics to back this up – I suspect that proportionally, deaf people would be more likely to need to access further education when they left school.

I had a substantial chat with someone who works in further education about the impact of these cuts on deaf people. Naming no names, or the institution, or even the location as this is happening across the country (to the person that I had the chat with though: thank you for all this information!) This is what has been happening:

1. EMA has been cut – in England at least (it is still available in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Education Maintenance Allowance used to be given to help young people with the costs of studying in further education. Instead, in England, there is a bursary for those aged 16-19. You can also get a loan if you are over the age of 24 to help with career development. If you’re aged 19-24, you’re outta luck. This is general, by the way, not specific to deaf people, BUT, as my contact pointed out: the general cuts to funding ‘all affected the deaf and people with disabilities disproportionately, as they are generally less privileged and less well off, so it becomes the death of a thousand cuts…’.

2. Additional Learning Support is the term given to all disabled students, a generic term covering the various technologies and personal support that can be given to disabled people to assist them in learning environments – that’s schools, FE colleges, universities, the lot. Here’s the thing though: in FE colleges, funding for ALS is provided by the local authority. That means that every time someone applies to go to college with a disability, their needs are identified, and then someone from the college has to go to the Local Authority and ask for that funding.

That funding isn’t ringfenced.

Too often the local authority, struggling with cuts all over, with too many things they need to cover and nowhere near enough money, simply tries to deny, or only partially grant the package of ALS that is requested by the college. While there has to be accountability, they seem to too often query the level of support given, with financial motivations, rather than the motivations of what’s best for the person (which is as it should be). Greater amounts of work need to be put into ALS requests, which can lead to disabled students being undervalued, or worse, being actively resented because of the additional work that is required.

At the same time, colleges, which, like the local authorities, have had their budges slashed, are looking to actually make money from disabled students, from the ALS. If they can make a discrepancy between what the student’s requirements actually cost and what they get from the local authority, then they essentially make a profit from the student. Which makes the local authority question the budgets for ALS more tightly, which… oh, you can all see where this is going, can’t you?

Decisions on ALS are also often being made late, which means that the support teams in colleges often just don’t have time to find and bring in the appropriate person – which means that support teams are chronically understaffed, underpaid, and overworked.

3. Factor in the fact that FE colleges have had their budgets cut so badly (up to 40% in some cases), that 190,000 adult education places will be lost, and the picture looks truly, truly bleak.

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What does all that mean for deaf people?

Very simply, this. Imagine you’re one of these children, highlighted by the NDCS, that leaves school with less than stellar qualifications, even if you’re actually pretty intelligent and capable of a lot more. You struggle, you manage to find a job you enjoy, and you work hard. But you watch people being promoted over you. You wonder why, you talk to people, and it transpires that you don’t have the qualifications needed to be promoted, even though you have the capability. So you think about going to college in order to get those qualifications.

Good luck with that one. Colleges have warned that by 2020, adult education simply will not exist in England.

By driving forward with these cuts, the government is condemning deaf people. Condemning them to a childhood with poorer access to education, to leaving school with poorer qualifications, poorer prospects of a good job. Poorer access to further and higher education, which could make the difference to a good job. Poorer assistance with the job, in making the difference so that deaf people actually CAN do the job, regardless of their hearing loss. Poorer help with benefits, so that, if after a lifetime of being given these poorer chances, you can’t find a job, you’re kicked when you’re down anyway.

… death of a thousand cuts indeed.

 

 

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.