shit. Today i actually asked a friend, who is Deaf, if she’d be okay if i didn’t learn Sign. Ever. It hit me how privileged I’ve been acting—to reap the benefits of deaf culture, to have Deaf/hh friends, to discuss deaf culture when i’m a hearing person,  and the worst, to appropriate deaf culture into something that represents disability culture without talking it over with anyone*… and the whole time, not even making an effort to learn the language, which is often the foundation of a people’s culture. Even doing things like making well-intentioned, slightly empty promises to her about learning ASL is basked in privilege.

Language is just the beginning, I know older hearing people who sign and think they get everything. For me though, what I’ve done worst is expect everything to come to me. Expecting deaf people to voice and lipread. Letting people complain about the cost of terps and taking pride in the fact that I didn’t think like that. Talking up inclusion and strategizing ways to get more deaf/hh people involved in OUR organization but never committing real time to understand their culture or learn when to be an ally and when to be a fellow disabled sister.  Making up excuses like: “talking with Deaf people is when I’m the most comfortable” because it’s the one time talking is “natural” since I don’t have to worry about making sound (you have to learn new ways of talking with a trach, such as me using my hands to stop air from going into my trach so that it passes over my vocal cords.)

I’m not sure that deaf people would care if i learned sign or what I’m trying to do by writing these thoughts (am i just trying to make myself sound good? i’m honestly not sure), but the bottom line is— how can I expect to have a meaningful friendship with someone if the underlying, subconscious expectation is that they conform to my way of communicationor life, if you want to expand it and include the way we as a community include pocs/wocs, queer people, people of different classes and cultures? And where did I learn this? Is this a big part of the reason many Deaf/hh people aren’t invovled in a cross-disability rights movement? Is this the same with people who have intellectual/cognitive disabilities?

If we don’t check ourselves and become willing to redefine who we are and what we’re about (as individuals and as a community) we’re in trouble. I love that the word “crip” has evolved to mean more than someone who doesn’t walk but rather someone who identifies with the disability community. A HUGE part of our oppression is that if we have different disabilities (or even the same disability for that matter), we’re taught that we have nothing in common with each other…So with disability pride, we live our lives with the message that our experiences are often based on the same things, like ableism or learning how to be creative and adaptable…which is definitely 100% true. However, there still needs to be time and space within our movement to recognize that we don’t all have the exact, identical experiences. It doesn’t have to be a scary thing; a key value of the disability community is to celebrate difference (that’s why I love it) so how can we better do this within our community? If disability pride celebrates the idea that difference is good, how come, on some level, we still try to make everyone be like us?

*for those that know what i’m talking about (the disability is my culture tshirts) the question is not whether using the ILY sign was a misappropriation [wrongly misusing or taking something] of culture—that arguement could go on forever because it includes “is deaf culture disability culture” or “does the ILY symbol belong to our culture too or is just a deaf thing?”— but rather the fact that i didn’t really have meaningful discussion around it with anyone before printing them….i stand by not just using a wheelchair sign to symbolize our community, but using ILY should have been discussed more in depth.


Filed under community, disability

9 responses to “guilty

  1. “If we don’t check ourselves and become willing to redefine who we are and what we’re about (as individuals and as a community) we’re in trouble.”

    This is so true. Our work on ourselves is never ever done. It is constant and tiring and yet necessary and ever rewarding. The self awareness in this entry was beautiful and empowering.

  2. Stripping privilege just never ends. Of course you think they should find a way to communicate with you: you live in a world that says spoken language is Normal and everyone else must cope. Only they don’t say it so blatantly. It’s subtle. It’s just “how it is”.

    That’s the stuff that takes forever to see past, and it’s a chunk here, a layer there. You’re open to seeing past it, you’re trying, and that’s all you can do.

  3. Tim

    From what I’ve seen of your blog I’d say that you’re a talented writer and communicator. I have a question for you too–would you please email me? Thanks, Tim

  4. Seconding BetaCandy’s comment.

    And letting you know I’m back online again! YAY!

  5. I know a lot of sign because I like to sign with autistic folk and because I have difficulty with speech. The last time I signed to a deaf person was in my last sign language course, like a year ago. My only IRL deaf friend is more comfortable with speech and I’m very easy to lipread.
    None of the deaf people I have known IRL were both more comfortable with sign AND interested in getting to know me. I don’t have any reason to try to sign with deaf people.
    When I have friends who are more comfortable with communication systems that aren’t mine, I try to learn a little of theirs, but if I don’t have a friend who communicates with Swahili, why should I learn Swahili?
    If I have no friend who prefers ASL, why worry about my ASL grammar?
    By the way, playing around on the quiz me section of is a great way to feel good because it’s fairly easy while also being educational.

  6. Day

    A little late, but hope you get this regardless. Just a quick FYI that Podcast #7 ( is on the Blogswarm. It is too fascinating a topic not to get airtime. I hope I addressed/summarized the concerns appropriately.

    Day – Home of the Disability Policy Podcast

  7. Pingback: links for 2007-09-12 « no snow here

  8. It’s such a tricky thing to determine when our community should divide and celebrate our unity within specific disability groups and when we should come together….I totally agree-there’s value in both. I related to alot of what you said with my attitude about learning Spanish in Miami–even after being stuck in countless situations where I’m the one with a deficit and have no ability to communicate with those around me, I still think I have a subconscious attitude that my fellow Miamians should learn MY language and i definitely think many of them feel the same about me……at this rate, none of us are going to get very far communicating!

  9. NO

    I tend to approach communication in general as a game. english to spanish, word to sign, and vise versa. if people can try and figure out ways to communicate, then that is what matters. it IS privilege to not learn sign. when that privilege becomes messed up is when it becomes rigid and expectations are in place. communicating is a funny process no matter what – and the sooner we all accept that, then the easier it will be to try and connect and talk about what that privilege means.

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