Identifying with disability

Karli Dettman
I asked my Facebook friends some questions. I asked if they think being Deaf is a disability. Some Deaf people said they do not have a disability. They enjoy being part of the Deaf community. They have their own language. They do not feel disadvantaged. But other Deaf people said they have a disability. They cannot hear and need hearing aids. They use interpreters. When they speak it can be hard for people to understand what they say. I think about the future. I wonder if one day people will understand we are a cultural group.
Posted by: 
Karli Dettman on 27/01/2012
A man using Auslan.

We have an expressive language.

For a long time Deaf and hard of hearing people have argued that we are not disabled. Yet some people do feel they have a disability because of their inability to hear and communicate well. Others feel they belong to a minority group that shares and enjoys a language, Auslan (Australian Sign Language). This group feels a sense of community and likes to attend Deaf events.

Then there are others who say they feel no difference to people without a disability. But they may appreciate receiving the Employment Assistance Fund to get access to interpreters. I asked Facebook friends, both Deaf and hearing, about their personal views on disability and deafness. Approximately 30 people responded.

Do you identify with disability?

Some Deaf people believe they have a disability if they do not have any access to interpreters, hearing aids, TV subtitles, fire alarm and doorbell flashing lights.

Sonia has Deaf parents, Deaf children and siblings. She says, I would consider myself a disabled person if there were no deaf friendly technology, communication support, captions and relay service like in the old days.

Meg, a Deaf friend, admits she felt she had to get a disability pension for financial reasons.

I never would have gone for a disability pension, but I was told by a hearing aid repair place I needed a new hearing aid. And without a pension and pension card, it would cost me thousands of dollars but [would be] free if I was on [a] pension.

Do you not identify with disability?

There are Deaf people who feel they don't miss out on anything in life. They have a rich language to share and have happy and fulfilled lives living within the Deaf community. Jody, a Deaf Aboriginal worker, is one such person.

I don't see myself as someone with a disability but an additional language user. My visual communication is a form that is expressive, rich and used by others everyday. My Aboriginal Deaf culture gives me the foundation to be inclusive and learn other sign languages on top of it, such as Auslan and English.

Zdenko, a Deaf carpenter, feels he is capable of doing everything but hearing. He explains that being able to go to work and build houses makes him feel capable.

A few more views

Society may view us as people with disabilities but attitudes continue to change. Sally is a hearing yoga teacher. She thinks it is her problem that she can't communicate with Deaf people in Auslan.

Kim, a Deaf friend with a mild physical disability, expressed her discomfort that people could see she has a disability but she felt normal inside.

Meg understands that she can't do some things that hearing people can. Things like using the phone or speaking clearly. But she is very clear on what she believes.

I've accepted there are some things I can't do. But to me, I've never been able to them so I don't miss them. Inside I am still a person with feelings, and I feel pretty happy with myself for the most part.

Is it disability or the mind that limits us?

Lisa, a deaf yoga teacher, says it is all up to us to change our thinking which can limit us, and not our deafness. Peter, a hearing uncle, says it handsomely.

Whether it's a disability or not [it] is in the mind of the person who is affected by deafness or many other disabilities. We see so many people who become affected by something in their lives and they then turn their lives into something special that they would never have done otherwise.

For many years we have been called deaf and dumb, or handicapped. Now there is a slight improvement. Yet, I wonder will we ever see the day when we are not viewed as people with a disability but as a cultural group who use a proper language. Kim, who is Deaf and is a trained art therapist, believes we need to re-evaluate, re-frame, re-discuss our definition and identity.

Readers comments (2)

I think it is both. Disability can be limiting depending on circumstances like you mentioned in your article - without access to appropriate technologies. However, I think that attitude is everything. If we make up our minds that it can't be done, we've lost half the battle. :)

Everyone on the planet is "disabled" because we all have different abilities!

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