According to Jamie Berke’s post titled “What’s Wrong With Just Saying Deaf?” at deafness.about.com, the Gallaudet Public Relations team mailed brochures to alumni and other Gallaudet community members with the following text:
“Thanks to her experiences growing up as an oral deaf person, learning ASL as a young adult, and developing a deep appreciation for deaf history, culture, and language, Dr. Fernandes has a unique ability to understand and communicate with diverse groups within the Deaf Community.”
By these measures, the brochure text implies that I am not diverse WITHIN the deaf community. Because I used sign language all of my life, I am not diverse. Because I was never able to speak, as many deaf people can, I am not diverse. Because I use only one mode of communication, sign language, I am not diverse.
The irony must have hit you by now. I am absolutely diverse in the eyes of the general population. Medically, I “suffer” from hearing “loss”, and belonging in the disability category, I get lifetime membership in the diversity camp. But within the deaf community –according to Gallaudet’s Public Relations department –I am not diverse.
White men are perceived to be the upperclassmen in the hearing society. To identify one, all you had to verify was two things 1) cacusian and 2) male. However; in the deaf community, it is unquestionably more complicated. To identify one’s diversity within the deaf community, I believe there are three factors: 1) Language 2) Education Setting and 3) Family.
The number of modes of communication a deaf or hard of hearing person uses is of utmost importance, including all these that were used during a person’s upbringing. Which mode of communication was used has no value when judging one’s diversity within the deaf community. A bonus point is given if you use a language primarly that is different than the one you used growing up. Fernandes is exactly this: she grew up oral and now uses PSE.
This is not the education you received, but how you received it. Did the school’s teachers communicate to you in the same mode of communication as you used primarily at home? Did you transfer to a different school which required you to learn or improve your fluency in a communication method or language? Did you change schools throughout your childhood, each school having a different communication philosophy?
Is your family all hearing or deaf? Having parents and/or siblings of different hearing degrees contribute to a deaf person’s diversity within the deaf community.
Thoroughly assessing a deaf person’s diversity within the deaf community cannot be identified immediately by looking at a person, like it is often done in the hearing society. White man = WASP, finish.
Because of this, we need to excerise extra caution when we assume a deaf person’s identity. The brochure proclaims that Fernandes is diverse, in that she grew up speaking orally, then learning (some form of) sign language. It implies automatically, for example, that a deaf person of deaf parents who enrolled in a deaf school at kindergarten and graduated from the same school has no diversity whatsoever.
Fernandes (and her Public Relations team) again splits the community–not into two halves, but into many teeny pieces. Just as we’re rallying to unite, Fernandes again shows she has the mentality that she is different, and in that, she is special and unique. Not so. Not when you divide a community.