Disability Equity: The Cheerleader Rushes the Net

Posted by safeandsilent on March 13, 2013

I blogged recently about the myriad apologies I had received for accessibility failures.

In the blog, I noted that many accessibility equity programs are run not by people WITH disabilities, but FOR us. Often these programs are subsumed under diversity programs, which just serves to underscore that you think of us all as the Other, whether it is our complexion, our gender, our cultural heritage, or our ability that is not the same as the mainstream – we are Different, therefore we are Diversity.

However, there is different and there is Different. You can often accommodate a person from a visible minority with correction of prejudices. You cannot accommodate a person using a wheelchair without a level access entrance. Disability equity is inevitably going to require some expenditures, and some knowledge about disability and accommodations, not just about difference.

Nevertheless, we persist in this Omnibus of Otherness, and they hold special lunches to celebrate Diversity. We anoint Champions who almost invariably are ethnoculturally Other rather than people with disabilities and deafness.

A sad and even laughable example of this was the media fanfare over the ABC Spark series “Switched at Birth” which ran a special episode entirely in ASL. To some of us of a certain age, it was reminiscent of the Deaf President Now protests at Gallaudet University 25 years ago. A little cloying in the TV teen-drama way, it was nevertheless great to see our history as part of a narrative in the public eye.

Alas, coverage by the Associated Press just made my whole point with this quote: “Deaf people feel that moving into the mainstream chips away at their community, which is about language and culture.”

Who is this quote from?

Jack Jason, who has been for years a regular sign language interpreter working with the actress Marlee Matlin, and a consultant on sign language usage on the set.

If you got the point of the Very Special Episode, could you not have found a Deaf person to get the same quote from? A statement beginning “Deaf people feel…” out of the mouth of anyone other than a Deaf person is utter appropriation of voice.

I am willing to believe that it was not the interviewee’s intent to appropriate anyone’s voice. There were Deaf people interviewed in the same article. It seems a reasonable assumption that in a balanced article, statements about deafness would be attributed to a Deaf person. I don’t even dispute the substance of the statement, superficial as it was due to its brevity. (Brevity does not serve this issue well, because it comes across as “misery loves company” and that completely misses the point.) Simply, it is lazy journalism.

But it is not just lazy journalism. This is the way accessibility equity is all too often done as well. The coaches and cheerleaders are making a break for the goal line while people with disabilities and deafness are still sitting on the sideline.

The best line of the show was not Marlee Matlin’s guidance counsellor, commiserating with the deaf students saying, ”Until hearing people walk a day in our shoes, they will never understand.” To me, the best exchange was the guidance counsellor telling a parent they had tried fruitlessly to get media attention, and the parent replying that she knew a few media VIPs, and the guidance counsellor responding, “That’s right! I forget that you’re a rich, white, hearing woman.” So very true.

Put us in, coach.

Reproduced from http://safeandsilent.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/cheerleader/