A few weeks ago, an acquaintance asked if I would be willing to be interviewed by one of her 6th grade students for a project on discrimination and marginalized people. For some reason, this particular student decided to focus on deaf folks. Why is totally beyond me, but there ya go. Even more mysteriously, I said sure to the interview.
Kid did a good job thinking up some thought-provoking questions, It took me a little over 2 weeks to reply. And now, since I haven’t blogged in nearly as long, you get to read me blather on about being a discriminated deafie!
1. When was it that you first started to feel discriminated against? Where?
The very first time I knew I was being discriminated against was when I was looking for work after graduating college. I had applied at a bookstore, which had open applications signs plastered in their windows and on their website. Shortly after applying, I received a call from their manager requesting an interview–a call which my sister took and told them I would call back so we could answer questions and make formal arrangements. I called back, they hung up on my relay call. I called again, and once again they hung up on my relay call, so I had my sister call and set up an appointment for me. That worked, but when I went in for the appointment, the manager did not look happy to see me, was curt and barely polite, and after a short introduction and a brief “questionnaire” told me that I, as a deaf person, would be unable to work there–because I would not be able to use phones or in-house radio communication devices. I accepted that at the time, but my sister, who had worked for that company before, told me that I was lied to–that the phones and radio were not essential to the jobs there, and that it was plain the manager just did not want to hire a deaf person.
2. How did you cope with the discrimination against you?
I first, I was angry. I needed work, and there was no real reason why I couldn’t work there. And I was perfectly qualified to work there, as evidenced by how quickly they responded to my application. It still makes me angry, sort of, to think about it. But I had to move on other places, so I had to forget them, find work elsewhere; work where I would at least be given a chance to prove myself, show how one can do things differently and still accomplish the same things.
3. What were the first offenses made against you? Did they worsen? If so, how?
The very first thing I can remember is being bullied by classmates in fourth grade. I was an easy target, being the only deaf person ever at that school, and the only deaf person while I was there. I was one of the first in the state to test mainstreaming deaf students into public classes. Even though I went without sign language interpreters (I wasn’t allowed to learn sign until 7th grade) I was still OBVIOUSLY different, and bullies found it easy to isolate and mock me. The bullying was worse in fourth grade, but did not get better all through middle school. The bullying stopped when I started 9th grade.
4. Was there anyone you could get advice from or at least talk to?
No, no one knew how to stop the bullying, and the only advice I got was to suck it up and ignore it. I learned quickly not to talk about it.
5. Do you feel like there was one individual who singled you out? If not, was it a group?
There were, in all grades, one ringleader who would single me out for taunting, but they never were without buddies to reward their actions with laughter.
6. Is there any advice you yourself would give to people who feel like they are discriminated against (under the same conditions)?
Nowadays there is less tolerance for bullying, and discrimination based on disabilities, so I would advice people like me to go and find someone in authority and make them listen to you. Tolerating abuse just lets witnesses think that it doesn’t hurt you, and that theres no reason to help or stop it.
7. Is there any experience that you could tell me more about?
The most damaging act of discrimination I experienced happened when I was in sixth grade, and my math teacher had never had a deaf student before, and did not know how to teach me and was not willing to try. He put me in the back of the classroom, taught everyone else their lessons and gave them their assignments, and in the last 10 minutes of the period, would pretend to teach me basic stuff from previous chapters–3 or 4 chapters behind–and assigned me 10 of the easiest questions as homework. I felt both embarrassed and humilitated to be treated as if I were stupid and not worth his time, but I also enjoyed not having to work hard at learning anything in that class. Unfortunately, that set my math skills back for years, and made learning the math I needed to learn in high school and college very difficult. I still have not forgiven that teacher for making math unpleasant for me and for failing his duty to teach.
8. Is there any specific situation that you feel that is harder being deaf?
Any situation that involves being around other people who do not sign, but only speak, is hard. Making friends, keeping friends, especially dating and finding boyfriends, is very hard. Finding jobs is very difficult–unless you have specific skills or trade knowledge, its hard to find work that does not require some “hearing” aspect.
If any of you readers have any burning questions to ask, feel free in the comments.