Take a look at the Graphic to your right. Let it sink in. Think long and hard about the message. Think long and hard about what it actually is saying. It may not mean to say that but that is the message. Take along hard look because what you see there is very poor activism and advocacy that divides.
I am pretty sure that was not the intention but this is exactly what it does. It was first publicised on Facebook. A couple of us gently prodded the poster to let him know that it was not worded very well. We gently asked him if he could please reconsider it. Sadly, gentle prodding did not work and the graphic continues to do the rounds.
It’s a promotion from Hear For You. Hear For You are great. They support and mentor young Deaf and hard of hearing people. I can forgive them the name. It’s a very bad pun that basically highlights hearing as being the way. Of course it is not. But its catchy and I like puns so I can forgive it. That said, it’s probably not a good name in the scheme of things and I reckon people should gently prod them to change it. Not that I think that they will.
Now, Hear For You is a mentor based group. I am an old fart now. I am 55 but I know a thing or two. I thought as kind of elder that has been around the block a few times I would mentor them as to why the graphic is wrong and dangerous. I am well aware that it was probably someone other than the young people that is pushing it. I will give them the other side of things
The graphic itself is absolutely correct. Auslan users are actually the minority. People with a hearing loss who do not sign are the vast majority. However, society has a fascination with sign language. They think everyone who is deaf can sign. I speak and I have lost count of the number of times that I have disclosed that I am deaf and then someone tries out their rudimentary sign language on me.
I know that they mean well. But I could be one of the 95 % of people with a hearing loss that do not sign. Cue embarrassment all round and awkwardness. Of course they could ask me if I sign and then I could confirm yes our no. But it rarely happens
And, of course, when it comes to access for people with a hearing loss it is nearly always sign language interpreters that come to the fore. I have written about this often. Live theatre is predominantly accessed through sign language interpreting. A smattering of live theatre is captioned. The balance of access is unfair. We all need to acknowledge this.
In the recent bushfire emergencies nearly everything was about sign language and its provision. The Deaf community even set up a page where people could report the non provision of interpreting for emergency announcements. A couple even made an impromptu video urging that interpreters be on screen. Can you see the Interpreter. This was widely promoted via social media.
But you know what? Even though they focused on sign language they also acknowledged the need for captioning. They encouraged people who submitted posts about the need for interpreting to also state whether captioning was provided. They did that because they acknowledged advice stating that people with a hearing loss all over needed access and not just sign language users. What was an initial push for sign language interpreters actually provided advocacy for both signing and non signing people with a hearing loss.
This is why the graphic at the start of this article is wrong. Why? Because inadvertently by highlighting that only a small percentage of people use sign language, without any other explanation, they made its sound like that sign language users do not matter because there are not many of them.
I am sure this was not the intent, but this is what came across and more than a few sign language users were miffed by the message. What ill thought out campaigns like this do is divide. They also reinforce the age old image of sign language being lesser in value than those that speak. Even if this wasn’t the intent, this is what happened.
A few years back the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind children had a fund raising campaign that featured a teddy bear with no eyes and no ears. It was horrific and deficit based. I wrote a Rebuttal about it – You can read that here – I Saw a Bear
Within two days the CEO acknowledged how offensive the campaign was and started to withdraw the advertisements. No small task given that they were on billboards, bus shelters, publications and so on. But to their credit they listened. Hear For you – I urge you to do the same. Withdraw this campaign and work with the Deaf community to design one that is inclusive for all people with a hearing loss.
Because THIS is the right thing to do.