Deaf, Dumb, and Disabled

What I can't hear you Let me clarify the title of this article before I begin—I use it in complete disdain, sarcasm, and vague annoyance. I hate it. I hate everything about it. Deaf and dumb, while generally not offensive in a separated context (unless you consider “You’re dumb” to be an effective insult, which is entirely possible and no judgment here), when strung together, have this stigma attached to it. Said stigma designates thus: you cannot hear, you have a deficiency that I don’t understand, and therefore, you are less of a human being than I am.

And yes, I did just use “I am”. Why you ask? It’s simple. I am “deaf and dumb and disabled”, according to the stereotypes. I am not like the vast majority, for certain. Some consider me “abnormal” and undeserving of certain things. For example—last year, I went on a popular film franchise’s website and complained to the CEO about their lack of support for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. My main gripe was the absence of captions—not just on every movie, but any movie. If you are reading this, chances are that you are what we in the Deaf Community call a ‘Hearing Person’, so it is understandable that you may not be privy to the following information. Generally, for a Deaf or HoH person to see a movie in the cinema, he or she must look up the specific time the particular film is playing with the open captions (at least this was before the advent of the new closed-captioning glasses offered experimentally at Regal Cinemas nationwide, to which, if you are so inclined, you may read about here). Usually, a single showing with the open captions would be available, at a specific time, for a few days only. Let me reiterate that there are always at least five other showings without the captions in which a person who doesn’t need them to enjoy the movie can go watch. However, this still didn’t stop the cavalcade of insensitive and ignorant comments I read on that very site describing the captions “unnecessary” and “annoying” and applauding this specific theatre’s lack of CC support.

One young man, who I will refer to only as “Kevin” (as an olive branch of respect that he doesn’t deserve), responded to my own comment clearing up the misconceptions that the open captions are “unnecessary” with the following:

 “I was on a date nd tha annoing ass words n tha screne made us leave”.

For once, I ignored my Grammar Nazi tendencies and overlooked the atrocious grammar and spelling and tried to explain to Mr. Kevin that, if he goes to the Regal, there are many other showings without the captions that you and your “datee” can choose to attend.

He responded:

“f[***] u Helen keller b*tch.”

Putting my astonishment aside that this astute young man even knew who Helen Keller was, the fact that Mr. Kevin is only one in many who think those with some kind of scarcity (I refuse to use the word “disabled” because I hate it even more than “deaf and dumb) in…something, whether it be hearing, sight, balance or the ability to walk, is naturally and obviously beneath them. This knowledge both makes me sad and very, very frustrated. It’s a misconception “we” (and by “we”, I mean the record 10.9 million people in the US who are currently receiving disability services and/or collecting disability and the doubtless countless more outside this country [addendum: if you are swindling the government out of cash by citing a disability when you are perfectly capable of working, karma will get you, I promise]) have been battling against for decades upon centuries.

Excuse my language, but it’s 2013. Get with the f***ing program! So, everyone’s not like you. Some people need extra help. Deal with it instead of taking to the Internet and whining like a little b*tch.

With that out of the way, I shall continue. I don’t write this to simply complain about Hearing People. There are plenty in the Deaf Community who need to realize how oblivious and selective they are about certain things and certain people. As a late-deafened person, who lost her hearing at eighteen (I am twenty-six now) due to Meningitis. When I first became deaf, I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. Many of my supposed “friends” ditched me and I felt very isolated and uncertain about the future. For years, I refused to even acknowledge that this wasn’t permanent, that somehow, a magical hearing aid or Cochlear Implant would defy the odds and work for me (which they don’t, and it’s been proven) and all would return to normal. This was just…a momentary nightmare.

Now fast forward eight years. I’m enrolled at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, a private institution where there are over one-thousand Deaf and HoH students. Most are fluent signers. The ones that aren’t are labeled “hearing-brained”—or someone who wants to hear. When I first enrolled in 2010, I obtained this label right away. Not only was I a very poor signer, I also lived with Hearing People, had Hearing friends, and was part of a boisterous, opinionated Hearing family. Being of the Jewish persuasion, my family has a lot of holidays, which also means there are many opportunities to gather around the table and discuss everything from politics to school to that funny story about the mailman over brisket and my grandma’s matzo ball soup. In years past, I eagerly took an active role in these family gatherings but now, without being able to hear anyone, I became unintentionally isolated and depressed. I made excuses against attending holiday dinners or parties or basically anywhere I would be expected to participate in a conversation.

I didn’t want to be this way. My true friends know that I am an outspoken, social person by nature, at least with those I am comfortable with, and suddenly, I was in an invisible cage of my own making. And there was nothing I could do about it.

I still feel this way sometimes.

As such, should I lie about my willingness, my desperation, to hear again? To say “Oh, after eighteen years of hearing fine and now it’s gone completely, I’m totally happy about not being able to communicate with my family and friends anymore”? Apparently, I should have, because my fellow Deaf and HoH students at R.I.T. made my life there a living hell because of my “hearing-brainedness”. It was because of this superior, “nothing can touch me” attitude that I stopped going there as a full-time student.

What I learned is that those who were born Deaf (or “Born Deafies”, as some call themselves) have this sort of “us vs. them” mentality especially designed to fight off the ignorance and the downright antagonism of certain members of the Hearing Community like Mr. Kevin. Alas, this form of self-defense, while advantageous in theory, can be poorly executed. The “us vs. them” mentality can also reflect not only a prejudice against those who are Deaf or HoH, but also those who do not use sign language fluently and/or wish to hear. And that makes you just as bad as the very people you’re trying to protect yourself from.

As it is, both the Deaf and Hearing Communities expect certain things from someone like me—or, rather, don’t expect. Hearing People don’t expect me to be able to speak—I can. The Deaf don’t expect me to be able to sign at all—I can, after much study. Hearing People don’t expect me to be able to work—I very well can. The Deaf don’t expect me to want to be a part of their community—I do, but am often shunned. And most of all, Hearing People expect that I can’t do anything I set my mind to—and I damn well can.

So, what is the point of this article? Not for me to rant, although it has been a therapeutic outlet and an added bonus, I won’t lie. But to underline and emphasize the discrimination against the “less than 100% population”—as in, someone who may not have perfect hearing or perfect sight or even perfect health. But that doesn’t make them any less of a human being. If nothing else, dear readers, please take away this one point: no one is better than you, and no one is inferior to you. We are not all the same, but we are all human. Each of us may be different in our own ways but that is okay. We all have flaws and we can all do things that no one would expect us to be able to accomplish. We can overcome obstacles and persevere through the prejudice.

So remember,  we can do absolutely anything we damn well please. (Provided that it’s within the boundaries set by the law. Please don’t go out and rob a bank based on this. I don’t want to get sued, thanks.) And no one is any better or any worse than you.

Except perhaps the Queen of England.


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Jennifer R. Luna

Absolutely loved this piece!

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