Refining and Reframing our Thought Processes

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When I saw this status update on Facebook 2 days ago, my first thought was…

She gets it! 🙂

That’s true allyship.

Some of you reading this post may be unfamiliar with the term. Let me define it for you. An ally, in terms of a social justice framework, is an individual who seeks to focus on the process of establishing relationships based on trust, commitment and accountability with individuals and/or communities who are marginalized.

At Gallaudet University, a small percentage of hearing students are accepted into various programs each year. I’ve been blessed to befriend some of them during my time here because the ones that I call my friends are genuine allies of the Deaf community. They see me as an equal, NOT as someone needing “help” or “compassion”. We need to revise our concept of “help”. If we impose our “help” on someone or “help” someone whilst subconsciously thinking that we are superior to them, then it is wrong here. Simply wrong.

Before I commenced my international development program last year, I entered it with the perspective thinking that developing countries need “help”, only to have my perspective turned upside down. I experienced one of those lightbulb moments and realized that it is crucial in my role as an international development professional to view Deaf people from developing nations as equal partners. The key is building relationships based on trust and accountability, instead of viewing them as “charity projects”.

As a Deaf person, I find it extremely patronizing when people make certain remarks. Some of these comments go along the lines of…”hearing people who get involved in the Deaf community are “compassionate” and “kind” people because they give their time to “help” the deaf”. This kind of statement, makes me cringe. Harlan Lane describes this as the “mask of benevolence” which often does the Deaf community more harm than good. For your information, I am proud of who I am as a Deaf person. My mind is perfectly sound. I don’t need fixing, I don’t need compassion, and I don’t need your “help”, not in that way anyway. It’s just like being Asian doesn’t make me inferior to a white person.

In light of this, I realize that if I view Deaf in developing countries as needing “help”, I am being condescending myself. In the past 2 years, I have been actively and consistently unlearning and re-evaluating my bias, attitudes and actions. The learning process has been a humbling one because I must acknowledge that in my growing up years, I unwittingly adopted audist views due to the big focus on oralism. I am thankful to be surrounded by professors and friends who are passionate about social justice and consistently challenge the status quo. This makes me adopt the practice of reflecting and evaluating on my thought processes.

Anyway, after reading the Facebook status, I immediately asked Megan if I could use her words as a quote for a website that I have been constructing over the past 4 months for my internship. I decided to add this quote to the title section of the Stereotypes and Misconceptions about Deaf people page on the website.

My internship at World Learning is coming to an end in 2 weeks time. I was assigned to develop a toolkit for ESL educators on how they could be more inclusive of D/d and hard-of-hearing students in their classrooms. The project was more challenging than I thought. Throughout the entire process, I consistently grappled with dilemmas when trying to ascertain what information was right and relevant for the toolkit simply because there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to working with D/deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the classroom. Every individual is different as there are variants in their communication styles, upbringing, cultural background, degree of hearing loss, etc…There were so many overlapping factors to consider especially on issues pertaining to intersectionality within Deaf communities. Furthermore, the entire Deaf education system itself, is a minefield with its complexities.

After much thought, extensive research on the internet, consulting certain Deaf professionals in the field, e-mailing several connections at Gallaudet and around the world, and spending time constructing a website, I am pleased to announce that the entire process has resulted in the creation of the Deaf Education: Global Perspectives website. It has been a challenging, yet rewarding task to undertake. Without my 6 years of teaching experience in Australia, I would not have had the capacity to take it on. It is my intention to continue to add on relevant information to the site over time even when my internship has ended.

On the 20th of November which is my last day interning at the organization, I’ll be giving a brown bag lecture to some of the staff in the organization. The presentation is titled Inclusion of Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing students in the Classroom. I look forward to challenging the perspectives of hearing people who have not had any exposure to Deaf people.

It is my hope that the website will be a useful and beneficial resource for all professionals in the field of international development and education, as well as parents of deaf children. I have endeavored to ensure that there is a balance of cultural perspectives showcased on this website. I did this in the hope that it will give greater recognition and voice to under-represented ethnic groups in Deaf communities around the world.

My sincere appreciation goes to Philip Waters, from CBM Australia, for some of his tips and advice which guided the development of this website to some extent. I am also thankful to Jonah Gold and Kevin Giddens at World Learning, who have given me feedback on the layout and design of the site. I would also like to thank my international connections at Gallaudet and beyond for responding so promptly to my e-mails when I asked for information on Deaf schools in their countries of origin, to add to the page containing the list of Deaf education programs around the world.

Feel free to browse through the website by click on the link below.

Deaf Education: Global Perspectives

*If you have 5 minutes to spare, please give me feedback on how to improve on the site by completing the survey and poll by clicking on this link: Take the Survey 

Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work.Andrés T. Tapia

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13 thoughts on “Refining and Reframing our Thought Processes

  1. Hello Phoebe! Found you through OM. I have read through a couple of your posts and I think what you are doing is helping US understand your world better rather than “helping you” as you mentioned in this post. It’s such a wonderful thing to receive a letter from a parent too…left me a bit teary eyed. Thank you for sharing your blog. It’s nice to meet you! 😊

  2. I’m thankful to see common sense. I’m far from any expert in deaf matters. What I know is the deaf persons I interact with like they are treated as people. I talk like they can hear. I know they read lips. I know they speak different. But a smiling face, and nod of understanding goes far among everyone.

    • Yes true and thank you for your efforts at positive communication. However, it’s more about bridging the gap and understanding differences in communication. It’s not so much about talking as if they can hear but finding a way to communicate effectively. Lip-reading doesn’t always work in every situation. Whenever I meet a hearing person who makes effort to sign, it brings a smile to my face and a connection is formed. 🙂

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