Saturday, April 26, 2008

Segregation and the deaf blogging community

We live in a society that deals with oppression and discrimination, despite our best attempts at educating and encouraging others to have an open mind and embrace others of different beliefs, different races, different abilities, and different cultures. With respect to the d/Deaf communities, discrimination still exists, alongside misunderstandings, misinformation, ignorance, and apathy.

What does one do when a community that is well known for complaining that they are discriminated against, practices that very form of discrimination within itself?

I'm talking about the online d/Deaf community, and how there seems to have been a line drawn in the cyber-sand lately and edicts stating that unless you are "deaf enough", you need not be acknowledged.

The crux of the biscuit, is that there are a great many bloggers/vloggers who use the blog aggregator known as DeafRead. I am listed there myself, along with a plethora of other bloggers who talk about everything from ASL/SEE/BSL (American Sign Language/Signed Exact English/British Sign Language) to Deaf Culture, to the deaf experience, to AVT (auditory-verbal training,) to closed captioning, to entertainment, to cochlear implants....

And it seems the latter, cochlear implants and those who have them, or have children with implants,or support those mentioned previously, have "invaded" (not my own words) DeafRead. There is a collection of bloggers who object to the blogs that discuss CI's, hearing a telephone, understanding conversations by hearing alone, mapping strategies, and educational choices/strategies for children with CI's, just to name a few. They feel they need protection from the big bad CI-using/supporting segment of the deaf community. Those that use CI's, who can hear, who don't communicate with pure ASL 100% of the time are not deaf enough to be included in the blog listings.

Just what *IS* "Deaf Enough" anyway? In many cases it depends on who you ask. There seem to be a great many "groupings" of deaf individuals within the entirety of the deaf community. There are those who are simply hard of hearing, those who are "little-d" deaf, who have hearing loss, but don't participate within the deaf community, those who are "big-D" Deaf who are actively involved in the Deaf Culture. There are those who come from generationally Deaf families, and those who aren't. There are latened-deafened children and adults. There are those who communicate via speaking/lipreading, those who sign, those who use cued speech, and those who use a combination of several of these methods.

The fact is - there are as many "flavors" of deafness as there are individuals who are deaf. Shouldn't we as a minority embrace all the wonderful differences that make each of us unique, and celebrate the different ways we can live our lives, instead of ranking people in terms of whether they are "worthy enough" to talk about their experiences? In response to the number of bloggers complaining about non-ASL/non Deaf Culture themed blogs on DeafRead, the owners offered a "dashboard" setup where members could select those blogs that they do not want to read so they don't show up on the listings of current blog postings. Thankfully they didn't make this blog-segregation a mandatory thing, but those who simply couldn't live with a blog being listed that contained a CI-theme could chose to delete them from their preferred blog list.

But STILL that wasn't good enough.

STILL there were calls to "ban the CI-blogs!!" and make DeafRead a 100% ASL, Deaf culture aggregator. Period.

So in response, the owners of DeafRead are setting up DeafSide - another aggregator where blogs will be submitted and picked by a group of three moderators (censorship anyone?) and must be ASL/Deaf Culture themed in order to be accepted.

I believe this is a slippery slope - what's next? An aggregator for those with CI's only? Maybe one just for adults and one just for children? An aggregator for those who use cued speech? One for those who are parents of CI-implanted children, and one for those who only lipread? Where does it stop? As one commenter named Nesmuth responding to the post about this upcoming change said, "This paves the way to the balkanization of the deaf community."

The Deaf community complains that too many people don't understand them, aren't willing to learn ASL, or learn about Deaf Culture....will with this move, cloistering themselves inside a "ASL/Deaf Culture members only" mentality, encourage those who *want* to learn to reach out to them, or will it be perceived as the equivalent of a "DO NOT TRESPASS" message?

I've personally experienced this kind of mentality from the Deaf community. When I was in my early 20's, and attending Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf, I went to RockFest at Gallaudet University. A group of friends and I were attending a private party held in an apartment when we were approached by a group of individuals who ordered us to leave. The reason? We were signing in SEE instead of ASL. We were instructed that unless we used ASL, we were not welcome. I was absolutely shocked by this, and have never forgotten that first taste of discrimination within the deaf community.

I feel like I'm suddenly back at that party, and the bitter taste that that experience left in my mouth has returned all over again.