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The Truth Behind Deaf Culture and Accessibility

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Nyle DiMarco is an actor and the winner of Dancing with the Stars 2016. He graduated from Gauladette University with a degree in mathematics. After his rise to fame, he becomes an advocate for the Deaf Community.

In his Tedtalk in 2018, as a fourth-generation Deaf man in his family, he considers himself lucky. From the moment he was born, Nyle got language access and education tailored for the Deaf. As a result, he has the support and accessibilities he needed to flourish. He always felt like he grew up like others in any ordinary household in the States - and Nyle thought all Deafs live like him until finding out that he was one of the lucky ones.

What Nyle said got me curious about the accessibility for the Deaf, so I interviewed a member of Teman Tuli, the name for Deaf Community in Indonesia, called Eko.

Eko’s screen during the interview: Marceline, a hearing advocate for the Deaf who studies BISINDO, was signing my question, while Eko uses Webcaptioner to catch voiced words that might get lost in translation.

Through the interview, I found there are unaddressed, serious problems. Currently, 164 countries have become signatories to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that came into effect in 2008. In theory, the document ensures equal treatment for the disabled. But, unfortunately, most signatories do not honor what they signed.

Public Accessibility

In article 9, living independently and participating in the community are within the rights of people with disabilities. However, some governments do not maintain public services to enable the disabled to live their life comfortably. For instance, the Jakarta Post interviewed a Teman Tuli who says that traveling by a local bus in his domicile is troublesome. Many busses had broken written signals that tell passengers of the upcoming stop. Visual signal deprivation makes it hard for him to know when he can get off, especially when the bus is full and obscures his line of sight.

Accessibility in Education Institution

Eko points out his frustration at the lack of accessibility in university classrooms. For instance, having an in-class interpreter, designated front row seat, note-takers, and having a projector with a text-to-speech feature are rare. On the other hand, you can count how many universities in his home country provide ease of access.

From our interaction, I can tell Eko enjoys learning. But because of the lack of accessibilities, he decides not to forgo his interest in pursuing higher education in Information and Technology. Eko mentioned that his country provides vocational training, but his ability to enter university is a whole different story.

The aforementioned violates article 24 of the CRPD: inclusive and education without discrimination is a right for people with disabilities. The article clearly states that adults should have access to vocational training and higher education complete with accommodations to ensure learning effectiveness. We can tell from Eko's account that this remains an unsolved issue for governments if we want more artists, doctors, lawyers, or scientists from the Deaf Community.

The code also mentions that children with disabilities have the right to “free and compulsory primary and secondary education.” However, a staggering 80% out of 32 million Deaf kids, not only in developing countries, have zero access to education.

Some communities force all young Deaf persons to hearing schools to prevent them from using sign language and act as a hearing individual. Many justify this to “integrate the Deaf” into society.

Straight up, this is cultural genocide. Deaf Community, which has their own culture and language, sometimes forced to hide their identity to be accepted. All because of the destructive mindset that an inability to hear is a limitation, which drives out our capable Deaf friends from obtaining a good education and work.

How do we expect the Deaf to contribute their ideas for inclusive community building and live to their fullest potential if they receive treatment as second–class citizens?

Equality in the Workplace

CRPD Article 27 states that workplaces should be free of discrimination against people with disabilities. In a perfect world, workplaces should not discriminate in the hiring process and provide accommodation to ensure all employees have a safe and fair working environment.

Sadly, it is a common practice to see companies discriminate against disabled applicants.

In some places, when a company knows an applicant is Deaf, automatically, they are deemed unfit. The reason: Deaf people will hinder office communication - a lazy explanation from companies who refuse to invest in office accessibilities.

Even when they get hired, Deaf persons often work beyond their working hours because their boss demands it. In most cases, illegally too as companies omit their overtime pay. Even more staggering, despite the unfair working condition, they get paid lower than their hearing companions.

Again, as the community unknowingly hinders the Deaf access to adequate education, it causes members of the Deaf Community to have limited career options. The lack of education often gives them no choice but to work as manual laborers. Additionally, it made them susceptible to accept work with unfavorable terms.

Final Thoughts

There is nothing wrong with being Deaf. They do not need us to fix them. If anything, the hearing community needs to learn to be more inclusive so Deaf people can feel like their lives worth as much as any other person on this planet.

We need to reframe our minds that being Deaf means someone cannot hear, but it does not make them incompetent. Beethoven and Hellen Keller were Deaf, but it did not stop them from impacting the world. A term called Deaf Gain explains it perfectly: The Deaf Community can help us tackle issues by providing their insights from a different perspective. Most of them are hungry to learn, and like Eko, they are resilient.

Providing good public accessibilities will increase the welfare of the Deaf. Building higher learning institutions for the Deaf in every country will increase employability among members of the Deaf Community. It will also allow them to explore their talent and pursue their dream. Equal access in education not only benefits the Deaf but also becomes an asset to their communities. Lastly, government and companies need to work together to provide accessibility and end discrimination in the workplace, starting from the hiring process to having the same rights in the workplace.

For Deaf persons who struggle during the pandemic to follow Webinars, Eko shares a free online tool that allows voice translation as text called Webcaptioner. As for hearing parents who worry for their Deaf newborns, provides resources to help raise Deaf children in a safe space and provide helpful information for their guardians.

Special thanks to Marceline as an unofficial interpreter and Eko, Teman Tuli representative from Indonesia, for the interview.

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