Are the people that have lost sight and hearing considered disabled? Or double-disabled? Or just a thorn in normalcy?
One of the readers brought up a very good question and it’s one I have asked myself and others ever since it dawned on me that I would eventually become blind. It hadn’t dawned on me when I was 8 years old and diagnosed; it was when I was 19 and has seen the sign at a Gallaudet office: Office for Students with Disabilities. My naiveness led me to do some quick sleuthing work and I probed around about the odd title smack dab in the middle of a Deaf collegiate utopia where the word ‘disability’ were to be left outside the gates. A willing passerby pointed out, signing in song-song like, “Oh. That;s for the retards, the cripples and those who are blind. Or close enough.”
Panic set in. My eyes were wide awake. Blind people were considered “disabled” within its own Deaf community? How can that be? We fought for recognizance for hundreds of years, our identity as a culture exploded when the 1988 Deaf President Now protests inserted the notion in millions of peoples’ minds: deaf people are capable, they just cannot hear on a level. Communities grew with the understanding that we had to shield the misconception that we were not capable, our place became more and more common in the world where ‘normal’ people – those who could hear – had begun to slowly accept that we didn’t like being called disabled and that we would thrive if given opportunity and oppression removed.
It was an unspeakable horror. To be seen as Deaf to my college mates & professors without any inkling I had Usher Syndrome suddenly turned into a laborous struggle for me as I tried to conceal any sign that I was “disabled”. I suddenly felt like a hard-of-hearing person in the hearing world, adamant not to be called disabled or deaf (blind in my case) and treated differently; the effort to listen to sounds and voices became a day’s work and by the end of the night, sleep knowing that you’re tone-deaf and others don’t know it. But then how long would it be until they found out? And called you disabled?
During my first years at Gallaudet, I avoided the OSWD eventhough it was right across from the hall from a classroom that fate chose through 4 professors, it seemed. It became a nuisance, and often I would think to myself menacingly: I am not freakin’ disabled. I am Deaf, period. I am not yet blind. OSWD, move to Pluto for all I care. Get lost.
When the new academic building was completed, and the OSWD moved to offices that occupied next to the grand big hallway where I passed the office from classes to the social cafe. I’d seen a fully blind older man walk in and out, he was the counsellor to blind students attending Gallaudet. Art would pounce his cane left to right, right to left and hitting some people in his way. Later I’d found out he’d lost his vision due to Usher’s. I was so afraid to touch him or communicate with him…. it’d just probably rub off on me and I’d become blind all of a sudden and be called disabled in my own community.
During the last years of Gallaudet, I finally began to come to terms with my rapidly deteroriating vision. In an operating accident, I lost all of my sight in my left eye and the right had 5 degrees out of 90 remaining. I had no choice but to pull myself out of the quicksand I was in, and face it head on: I was going blind. In this time, I had become an integral part of the Deaf Blind community, even working with the SBG to look over Disability affairs to help students inflicted with blindness, cerebral palsy, wheelchair-bound & a learning disability. I even became a client of the OSWD, and to my amazement the stigma of being disabled went away and my schoolwork fared better with interpreters & large-print textbook copies. I interned at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind and became members of the DB communities in Seattle, Toronto & DC. At one moment during these experiences, I realized I wanted to crusade for rights for the DB and travel, to educate people about being Deaf and Blind. What got me started? I felt so oppressed, even worse than when I was just Deaf. It’s difficult to get around when there aren’t accessible tools for the Deaf Blind. People in general have an ignorant attitude, intentional or unintentional.
It doesn’t bother me that Hearing people call me disabled. It has been that way for centuries. Yes, I am dis-abled to hear and see, because of equipment and accessibility that don’t exist.
But what really bothers me is that Deaf people call us disabled, and say it with such a tone just like the Hearing people do. Often me and my Deaf Blind friends would agree on a few scenarios where some Deaf people would look down on us.
1. Deaf companies mostly have zero to two Deaf Blind employees in average
2. Several of us hosted workshops on Deaf Blindness, especially at Gallaudet and in DC – and out of 1,000 students & over 3,000 community members, 4 to 10 would show up.
3. At bars, Deaf Blind people are usually left to converse with: close friends & themselves. We have experienced introductions where others have walked off while we were still talking; hands waving in front of our faces while we couldn’t see; “friends” around us we didn’t see who didn’t bother to say hello; and it’s a struggle to get people to invite you to events in dark spaces.
4. Deaf people are throwing their TTYs away for videophones. Get this: Blind people cannot use videophones, but they can use their braille TTYs to call a regular TTY.
5. At large Deaf events, do you see Deaf Blind people? Very rarely.
While I am not accusing the entire Deaf community of blatant ignorance, I am just pointing out that Deaf Blind people aren’t more involved in the Deaf community because of two reasons: there isn’t enough education and Deaf people aren’t inclined to.
Deaf people, do you remember the times when you felt very oppressed by Hearing people? Deaf Blind people feel that way with the Deaf community and that is just terrible. We cannot hear alike. We are supposed to be a family. I find myself more and more lonelier the more my vision goes away, because Deaf people seem to not want to be around a Deaf Blind person.
Thank god for these friends I have.
Back to the point. With gadgets like the iPhone, small-font pagers, videophones, the UbiDuo – and more – Deaf people are getting more and more ahead and well into the world where they felt so oppressed 10 years ago. But the Deaf Blind still feel stuck in that phase. No one is dragging us along for the ride or encouraging the companies that already listen to Deaf consumers — to start listening to those who have no sight nor hearing.
Hearing Blind people are way ahead of us. There’s ATMs and store debit transaction machines that are computer voiced with braille. Sighted dogs are trained feverishly for the Hearing Blind and it’s rare that a Deaf Blind person gets a dog from the ONLY dog-training school in Michigan that trains dogs for both sensor losses. More and more technology is invented these days for the Deaf, the Hearing, the Hearing Blind & the physically incapacitated. Why? Because the ADA says they should feel less dis-abled. The ADA empowers people to create an environment for those people mentioned above to move around, being able to do more and more things.
Guess what? There’s a very, very gray area where the Deaf Blind have right to access or enforcement upon companies to put us into consideration. So we’re very alone. And feeling more and more dis-abled each day.
When I am with my Deaf Blind peers, I do NOT feel disabled. By peers I mean: the partially sighted, the sighted who interpret/guide/assist us; the fully blind. I may have grown up legally/partially blind but it wasn’t until I found this new community that I called myself Deaf Blind.
Within us, we are not disabled. Out there, we are not by choice. And it sucks.
But it cannot go like this on the office walls:
Office for the Visually, Physically & Learning Challenged.
A lot of people need to look down on something in order to make themselves feel superior. I know I’m not wrong in this. I felt that way… feeling superior above Deaf Blind people before I hit rock bottom. Who better to make that perspective than someone who’s experienced both worlds?
– tactile love –