In the last few years there has been an increasing awareness of white privilege. Yet there is another kind of privilege that most people take completely for granted, regardless of the colour of their skin, their race, religion, sexuality, gender or even disability. That last being the most disheartening when I inform you that the privilege is that of “hearing privilege”.
Don Grushkin wrote an excellent blog on this subject recently where he identified many different types of hearing privilege. To highlight a few of his points:
- Hearing people don’t constantly have to explain and defend their very existence.
- Hearing people do not have to constantly explain and defend the fact that sign language is a real language.
- Hearing people can expect to participate in family conversations without having to struggle to understand the content of those conversations.
- Hearing people can turn on the TV and expect to find programming in their language and see themselves represented (and often fairly accurately) on-screen.
- When something goes wrong with the audio portion of a television show or a movie at the cinema, Hearing people can expect that it will be fixed IMMEDIATELY (problems with closed captions often will persist throughout the duration of most, if not the entire show).
- Hearing people don’t have to think about whether a show they want to watch will be accessible to them or not.
- Hearing people can go to a movie and expect not to stick out like a sore thumb by dragging in weird-looking devices.
- Hearing people can expect to get their instruction directly from their teachers and not through a third-party, such as interpreters.
- Hearing people can expect their teachers and other educational personnel to be fluent in the same language as theirs.
- Hearing people can expect to attend school in the same neighborhood as they live in, and with peers who are like themselves.
- Hearing people can expect their educational (and just about any other) environment to be set up for their learning and social needs.
- Hearing people can expect their language to be valued and supported, and without pressure to be changed by forces outside of their linguistic community.
- Hearing people can expect to communicate directly with their doctors and other medical personnel without a third-party in the room or needing to resort to writing.
- Hearing people can expect their doctors to treat them for what they need and to see them as a whole person rather than as a specific body part (one unrelated to the medical problem at hand).
- Hearing people can have a heart attack without being asked by the EMTs why they have not undergone totally unrelated medical procedures, such as getting a cochlear implant
- Hearing people can expect law personnel to communicate with them directly and in their own language.
- Hearing people can expect not to be shot by law personnel (because they can hear the instructions being given to them by the officers)
- Hearing people can expect to be able to communicate after being arrested and placed in handcuffs (you can’t sign with your hands behind your back).
- Hearing people can expect to be able to make contacts with lawyers and others from inside prison through standard telecommunications methods
- Hearing people can expect to be tried by a jury of their peers, of whom at least a significant percentage share their identity and life experiences
- Hearing people can expect to communicate with store personnel directly and without any difficulties in communication.
- Hearing people can strike up a conversation with a random stranger in line and expect that person to respond in a similar manner.
- Hearing people (with the appropriate qualifications) can expect to have their job application considered without being immediately eliminated for the position solely because they communicate differently.
- Hearing people don’t need to make decisions on whether to disclose they are Hearing to potential employers.
- Hearing people don’t need to make decisions on whether to ask for an interpreter at a job interview or risk misunderstandings if they tough it out by lip-reading and speak for themselves
- Hearing people can call and attend meetings at the last-minute without worrying if an interpreter will be present.
Why did I say that it’s disheartening that the disabled take hearing privilege for granted? That’s because I would like to assume that the disabled would look out for, and be sensitive to, all disabilities. However, I am finding that even with the disabled community there is a lack of understanding of what it means to be deaf.
Buildings are built and inspected for accessibility, often by disabled people. Yet those doing the inspections rarely think about accessibility in terms of the deaf. Wheelchair access, mobility issues even mental health are gaining in recognition and buildings are being designed with these issues in mind. Yet, I can’t tell you how often I have sat in a waiting room where it is not possible for me to get a line of sight to the face of the person most likely to be calling me.
I don’t get to sit and read in most waiting rooms. I’m constantly alert watching for somebody to call my name. Even when I remind the staff that I am deaf and need to see their face, the majority of the time they’ll call me as they turn back towards where we need to go.
I can’t hear you if I can’t see you.
Ironically, the time that this becomes most obvious is when I try to access accommodation for the disabled. If I want to fly within Canada, I have to notify the airline that I will be flying with a Service Dog. I can’t just book my flights like anybody else. I have to contact the medical desk and provide additional information.
Likewise if I want to book tickets for a show, and need to sit in the seating for the disabled to give my service dog a little more room (tiered seating is pretty much impossible for a service dog to tuck under safely) I can’t just book online, I have to contact the box office directly.
I don’t actually object to the first too much, though I have a harder time understanding why it’s necessary for booking theatre/show tickets.
However, what I do object to is that 9/10 the only way that I can do this is by telephone!
This happens over and over again.
Anytime that I need to access services established to specifically assist the disabled they insist on me using the telephone to do so.
So why is disability accommodation riddled with hearing privilege?
If you’re a hearing person and want to know what you can do to not discriminate against the deaf, have a look at this video. Amber Galloway Gallego makes some excellent points about deaf oppression.