Not too long ago I stopped at a friend’s house. When I arrived, she was standing in her driveway talking to someone. As I pulled in, she smiled and waved, then turned to the person and said, “This is my deaf friend, Debbie.” . . . I read her lips.
I have to admit that I was shocked and a bit stunned. I sat in the car for a few seconds, feeling like I’d been punched in the gut.
True, I AM hearing impaired, but I never expected this friend to label me.
It made me reflect on labels we place upon people. I would never reference a friend with a label. . . my autistic friend; my Jewish friend; my black friend; my dyslexic friend, my gay friend . . .
What’s the difference? We’re all homo sapiens!
Labeling is a pandemic in today’s society. Race, sexual orientation, political, handicaps, anything “different” than what is perceived as an acceptable norm. And social media has spawned a new generation of label-driven animosity.
Differences and diversity drive a successful society, and individuals need to learn to be more compassionately inclusive in their thinking and behavior. Labels almost always trigger an immediate preconceived reaction and often an uninformed, inaccurate perspective.
Opening one’s thinking to diversity and inclusion embraces an authentic balance in one’s perspectives and contributes to a society where differences are accepted and respected.
Promoting diversity is the first step to not just “tolerance,” but a true understanding of another’s actions and behaviors. Through exposure to and communication among different people with unique ideas and cultural backgrounds, individuals may recognize that increasing familiarity and a comfort level with these differences can diminish the misconceptions and prejudices that fuel discrimination and hatred.
Often the label of deaf carries with it an accompanying label of stupid. When I was growing up, the phrase “deaf and dumb” was commonly used. I remember the day when my mom and I were going through the grocery store check out lane when the cashier said to my mother, “Is she a dummy?” Even though the term dumb referred to lacking the ability to speak, many misinterpreted it to mean stupid.
Growing up, many of my peers considered me “not too smart.” My grades seemed to reflect that. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s there was no academic support for students with challenges. Hour after hour of exhausting lip-reading and trying to follow what teachers were saying while pacing or turning their backs to face the blackboard made it very difficult for me to acquire information. And forget classroom discussions — impossible! In spite of my parents being huge advocates for me, 98% of my teachers just didn’t “get” how they could support me nor were they willing to make the extra effort.
College was much easier because I only had two or three one-hour classes a day. Fatigue was no longer a factor, and most professors were much more understanding of my special needs. Post graduate work was a cinch, and I was hired by a premier school district to be a school librarian and later promoted to the administrative position of district library-media coordinator. The administrator who interviewed me had her own hearing challenges and a brother who wore a hearing aid. She intuitively knew that my hearing impairment would not be an obstacle to being a school librarian. She embraced differences and diversity, and there was no deaf label.
I’ve always been very up-front about my hearing challenges and have no qualms in telling people that I lip-read or asking for assistance. Diversity and inclusion are a reality in our world. While differences can be recognized and acknowledged, there’s no reason to resort to derogatory labeling.
Yes, I am hearing impaired.
My name is Debbie, and I’m human, just like you.
“Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.” William Sloane Coffin, Jr