I wish these words from a long standing advocate in the deaf community could have influenced Deaf lobbyists in 1989 when the Deaf Education Advisory Forum recommended the closure of the R.J.D. Williams Provincial School for the Deaf. We Deaf stumbled about nearly 27 years ago, in the disbelief that this could not be happening to us, that the school for the deaf would be axed by a government mired in debt. We are jaded, smarter and wiser now. This is the torch we want to pass on to the youth of our province who require sign language to access and learn:
These people really don’t like the fact that you need or prefer sign language to communicate freely. They don’t think that you represent many people in this province that are educated in inclusive education environments even though you went through your entire elementary years in the mainstream and learned to speak as well as you could. These people want to believe that giving you a cochlear implant is enough, a hearing aid is enough, and FM systems can make up the gaps. These people think that because you sign, your intelligence is low and your ability to learn is limited. They would prefer that you communicate through nearly unintelligible speech rather than think and express yourself freely through sign language. They think you don’t work hard enough. This is a deficit perspective that oppresses many deaf people. They don’t want to do the work of learning sign language or easing communication barriers for other DHH who may not want to use sign language. The deficit perspective is supported by a scarcity mentality, that there is not enough money, goodwill, or love to go around, or the will to change things so that you can become a fully participating member of society.
So, no, they really don’t want to hear what you have to say. They are too afraid. So don’t go into these meetings feeling flattered that you’ve been invited. They have to invite you so they can say, we consulted with the DHH people and now we’ve decided to cut back the hearing aid plan, cut the supports for bilingual education programs, limit funding for interpreters and limit post-secondary education supports. You don’t ever want them to say they talked to you and then made those decisions with your blessing and support.
They are just too afraid of you. Take the high road. Show them a way that is generous, expansive and kind. Show them how strong and courageous you are.
This week, the DHH student at Thom Collegiate are preparing to roar out of the gate with their stories guaranteed to bring tears and laughter. They will invite you to share their space without having to learn sign language. They will give you an inside glimpse of their worlds and they will do their very best to ease your fears while they will carry their own fears and burdens into their future.