Texas Initiative for Mental Health for Deaf Youth: Session One – Deaf Culture

Texas Initiative for Mental Health for Deaf Youth: Session One – Deaf Culture


>>Hello. My name is Thomas K. Holcomb. And today I will present about
deaf culture and how that ties into mental health issues
within the deaf community. A little bit about myself. I have specialized in studying deaf culture. Deaf and hearing relationships. As well as issues within deaf
and hearing interactions. Throughout my career I’ve
developed various resources to help people understand the complexities
between deaf and hearing relationships. As well as the journey that deaf
individuals have throughout their lifetime. As you can see, displayed are
some of the various textbooks. DVDs. And training resources
that I have helped develop. My presentation today will
come from my most recent work. Which is a book by the name of
“Introduction to American Deaf Culture.” This was published by Oxford University
Press and disseminated in 2013. This text explains various aspects of
deaf culture and the deaf experience. And the purpose is to help readers better
understand the lives of deaf individuals. When examining a deaf individual’s
life, there’s an easy formula to keep in mind related to the deaf experience. And that is the 90 percent formula. I’ll review some of those right now. When looking worldwide, over 90 percent of
deaf children are born to hearing parents. This is a universal truth. And we see the same thing here
in America, that over 90 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Within that group of hearing parents with deaf
children, 90 percent of them have never met, known or interacted with a deaf individual
until they gave birth to their own deaf child. That is the first time in which they
have first encountered a deaf person. 90 percent of the deaf children born to hearing parents will encounter
communication difficulties. This is due to parents not
learning sign language and not having effective communication at home. Therefore, 90 percent of deaf children
encounter extreme communication challenges, even with their own parents. Of the deaf children that continue to learn
and practice spoken language and to rely on their hearing, 90 percent of them will
not achieve intelligible speech equivalent to that of a hearing child. 90 percent of deaf children will
not graduate on grade level. They will experience various
delays within their academic areas. In looking at the deaf community as a whole,
90 percent of those who use sign language as an adult grew up using oral communication. And it wasn’t until adulthood
that they learned sign language. Meaning they were not given access to
sign language until far later in life. Today, 90 percent of deaf children go to
mainstream education in a public school. They do not have experience or
an environment in a language and cultural-rich model of
a residential deaf program. 90 percent of children that are deaf
do not receive that type of education. 90 percent of deaf adults have hearing children. That means the majority of deaf
individuals have hearing children, which provides its own type of challenges. So keep in mind that 90 percent formula. Which means there’s quite
a bit of shared experiences within the deaf community
with some slight variances. With all of that information
that I just presented to you in mind, there’s several considerations. Deaf individuals often have
poor communication at home. Relationships with families can be difficult. Schooling in the mainstream environment
can result in very few peers or friends, regardless of their hearing status. Many deaf individuals do not
have a peer group as a child. Likewise, having access to role models or
deaf adults who are successful is a rarity. Many do not have access to role models. Whereas, other children may grow up
having aspirations of a good life, knowing that they can do well and be
successful, many deaf children struggle. Individuals who are deaf struggle
to understand what does it mean to be deaf in an otherwise hearing world? Now, I’d like to discuss what is
called the “deafhood journey.” That journey is one that many deaf
individuals find themselves going through in order to discover themselves. Or, in other words, make piece with themselves
as a deaf person in a vastly hearing world. I borrowed a model that is called
“stages of cultural awareness.” That model was developed by three
individuals; Atkinson, Morten, and Sue. These three individuals developed
that model back in 1989. That model was developed to help
people, not just deaf individuals, but any oppressed group or
disenfranchised group. They discovered many commonalities and patterns
amongst these oppressed or disenfranchised group that struggled to find peace with
themselves about who they were. And that particular journey in which
they reached the endpoint of comfort in their identity as a member
of that particular community. In looking over that model,
which has five stages, I could see how it could easily
apply to the deaf experience. Because deaf individuals are also members of
a disenfranchised group or an oppressed group. They have many parallels in their
experiences as shared with this model. I’d like to go through these five stages to help
you gain an understanding about the experience that deaf individuals go through. And perhaps have a better understanding about where the potential mental health issues
may impact individuals based on that journey. As I mentioned, there are five stages. And I’ll go ahead and let
you know all five stages now. And then I’ll expand on each of those stages. The five stages are as follows. The first stage is the conformity stage, in which the individual follows
the dominant or majority group. The second stage is the dissonance stage. This is the stage in which a new idea
or new experience, new information or perhaps a new understanding presents itself. The third stage is the resistance
and immersion stage. This is the stage in which the individual
resists the dominant or majority group and finds themselves immersed into the
smaller oppressed or disenfranchised group. The fourth stage is the introspection stage. This is when the individual begins to do some
self-reflection about who they are in terms of their identity and their community. The final and fifth stage
is the awareness stage. This is the stage in which the individual
finds themselves in a comfortable position for who they are and how they relate to the
world in the dominant group around them. And also how they relate to the smaller group. And having an understanding
between the two communities. And making peace with themselves
and able to continue on with life. Those five stages really help
us understand that journey. And the goal is to go through each stage and
arrive eventually at the awareness stage. In which that person finds themself
in a contented, healthy identity and a comfortable life with who they
are, regardless of being different from the dominant or majority group. I’d like to expand further
on each of these five stages. The conformity stage, as I mentioned, is a stage
when the person accepts the beliefs, the values and the view of the majority group on
the minority or disenfranchised group. That view or belief is often a stereotype
of that smaller oppressed group. And often has a stigma related to it. Individuals within that oppressed group
during the conformity stage accept that stigma or negative view of themselves. As I said, many deaf individuals
are born to hearing parents. And they receive a message
from their hearing parents. Deafness is sad. Deafness is a severe disability. Life as a deaf person is going to be very hard. By hearing that message, deaf individuals
believe, well, if I want a good job, if I want a good life, I have
to be able to speak well. I have to be able to use my hearing. Which means it would be better if I went ahead
and used a hearing aid or a cochlear implant. And the belief that that’s a very
positive change for the better. I have to practice my speech. Because, if I can speak, that means
I’m going to be better than some of those other poor pitiful deaf people who
don’t speak well, who can’t use their hearing. Poor things. I’ll be much better. I need to try so I can be
just like a hearing person. So I’m going to do that by using a
hearing aid or a cochlear implant. And I’ll learn to speak. I won’t use sign language. Sign language is for individuals who fail. That’s for people who don’t try hard. They don’t make enough of an effort. I need to be trying harder to hear. Using sign language is lazy. That’s the easy way out. There are many deaf individuals
who grow up feeling that way. And they’ll say, you know what, I’m not deaf. I’m hard of hearing. I’m more like a hearing person
than, and that’s better. Oh, those poor deaf kids
who are stuck in a school. Or those who have to rely on an interpreter. Those poor deaf people in that community. I’m much better. I’m much more successful. I’ve worked very hard. That message is often given by the family. Families make the decision
to say no sign language. Because, you know what, you can do better. There’s also many professionals out there in
the world that give the exact same message. You can do it. You can try harder. You can use an implant. You can use a hearing aid. You can speak. I believe in you. You can do it. And deaf people accept that view. Some even celebrate that view. You see those videos where society applauds
the deaf people who can finally hear. Oh, wow, a deaf person who can
hear well, that’s fantastic, wow. There’s nothing wrong with
hearing or spoken language. However, it doesn’t mean that those who struggle to use speech are a second-class
citizen or less than someone else. That’s not true. But there are many deaf individuals
that grow up with that belief. And they experience that
throughout their lifetime. Being told that deafness is not desirable. That, if you want to have a better life, you should pursue spoken
language and using their hearing. There are some deaf individuals
who are accomplished in their speech, and they do quite well. And I’m not arguing that. I’m more focused on the individuals
who struggle. Those who feel that they’re not successful
because they don’t do well at that, that something’s missing in their life. And the group of individuals that
experience that is quite large. And, in that part of their journey,
they’re still in the conformity stage. The next stage is the dissonance stage. And that’s the first time
in which an individual, whether it be they see or learn of a situation. It may be a person or a place
in which they realize that being deaf is not necessarily a bad thing. That deafness is not necessarily horrible. That perhaps a person who is deaf
may even be able to have a good life. Another example may be a deaf
child watching a TV show. And perhaps they see a deaf
character in a particular show. The individual may be deaf. They don’t speak at all, and
they’re working as an attorney. The deaf child is puzzled by this. Because all along they’ve
been told, if they don’t speak and they don’t hear, they can’t be successful. And they have a poor education,
and their options are very few. However, they witness seeing
this deaf attorney on television. And there’s suddenly a conflict
in their way of thinking. They start to consider for the first
time that perhaps the information and message they’ve been receiving is wrong. Another situation may be perhaps the
deaf child needs someone such as myself. Maybe it’s in a meeting or what have you. And so I would introduce myself, “Hey, I’m Tom.” And they say “You have a Ph.D.?” “Well, yes, I do have a Ph.D.
I have a college degree.” They may ask, “Well, where’s your hearing aid?” “I don’t have a hearing aid.” “Well, what about a cochlear implant?” “But I don’t have an implant.” And they think to themselves, well, how? You don’t hear, but you’re
able to get a good education? But wait, you have to. How could you understand information? That individual, in going
through those questions, truly has no clue that there are some deaf
individuals out there that have a life without relying on their hearing. And they’re in disbelief. Perhaps they ask me, “What about your speech?” And I may respond, “Well,
my speech is not great. I choose not to speak.” And they’ll ask, “But how could
you be successful in life?” And I’d be able too tell them, “Well,
there’s other ways to communicate, whether it be through an interpreter
or writing even over e-mail. I may be different, but it’s
never been a problem.” And the person may be in awe. Because their whole life they’ve
been told, if you don’t speak well, if you can’t use your hearing,
no one will hire you. You won’t have a good life. And they may say, “Oh, your
probably limited in your work. You can only work at a deaf
school because of that. You could only work at Gallaudet University.” And I would be able to say, “No, I
work at a regular public college.” And they would say, “But how is that possible?” And I’d let them know, “The college
accommodate dates me, and I’m able to do my job. I may even be one of the best
instructors at that university.” I think it doesn’t matter regardless. And the person finds them self in shock. They would have never known that
they could have had that sort of path rather than the one that they’re on. Worst of all, they may see me and
realize I’m a happy individual. And, yes, I am happy. I have a happy marriage. I own a home. I’ve traveled quite a bit. I have a very good life. And an individual in that second
stage may look at me and wonder how? There’s so many deaf individuals
out there that struggle. As I explained before, they
may have had very few peers. Their friendships may have been lacking. They may not have had much dating experience. They don’t have much hope. And so they may see me as a deaf
individual with a good life. And they may start thinking to
themselves, perhaps the belief of the bigger system that I’ve had is incorrect. The message I’ve received from my
parents, my family, professionals, school may have not been accurate. They may realize that it’s time to
start to doing something different. They may need to do something
to improve their life. And, again, I’m not saying this
applies to all deaf individuals. Not everyone grows up like that. But there are many that experience
quite the struggle. Again, that’s the dissonance stage. That realization due to new information,
a new experience and a new understanding of what the possibilities are as a deaf person. For some deaf individuals, that new experience
may be cast aside, and they may continue to conform to the beliefs of the dominant group. It may be a long time before they even consider
a change may be necessary in their life. For others, with their first experience and
first exposure, they want an immediate change. They don’t want to continue
life as they’ve known it. They don’t want to continue living a lie. This leads us into the third stage
called resistance and immersion. That stage is where deaf individuals reach the
point where they’re done with their old life. They don’t want to continue that “lie.” They don’t want to continue
with the pretending and trying. But they want a better life for themselves. Their resistance means that they stop their
old way of thinking, their former beliefs. Some may even throw away their hearing aids
and decide, I’m done with using a hearing aid. Some may stop using speech all
together and say, I’m tired of talking. I have tried and tried and tried
to conform to a hearing world. I’m done. Their parents, their
family and their school start to be challenged by the deaf individuals. They may tell them, “You must use your voice. You must use a hearing aid in school.” They will say “No” and refuse do so. Some may ask them, and they’ll say “I’ve met
others like myself,” perhaps even like me, Tom. Or “Hey, I saw a deaf character on a
television show, and I want to be like that. I want to be happy. I want to have a comfortable life. I am done with struggling.” That is the resistance part of this stage. The second part is the immersion. They find themselves immersed with other
individuals like themselves as much as possible. That means being a part of deaf community. And searching for those deaf individuals, deaf
friends, deaf role models and wanting to have that culturally deaf experience
as much as possible. For some that may be changing their schools. They may decide that they don’t
want to be alone anymore in school. They don’t want to be in
a mainstream environment. Others may decide they want to be in a deaf
program or a residential school for the deaf. Perhaps even a university
that specializes in deafness. Total immersion within the community. Amongst those five stages, often times
people will refer to this third stage as coming out of the closet, so to speak. Others call it the anger stage. They are done. They come out. I will be as deaf as possible. I will be this as possible. Whatever the term may be. I am done pretending to be something
different, something other than myself. Deaf individuals that reach
this stage often are very angry. They become very involved within the community. And become very resistant. I’m not calling them a radical, but
they often become very motivated in immersing themselves in the community. And that varies individual to individual. They no longer believe that a hearing
person is better than a deaf person. They find themself feeling
proud of their deafness. And fully immerse themselves
into the deaf culture. That eventually leads to the next stage,
the fourth stage, which is introspection. During that stage, that person begins
to reassess what it means to be deaf. Perhaps during their bout of anger they realize that they’re not getting anywhere
with those angry feelings. They could be very mad at the world. They could be mad at their parents. Mad at school. But over time they realize that perhaps their
parents were just simply trying their best. Perhaps their parents didn’t know better. Perhaps their parents simply accepted
advice that they received from professionals that happen to not be the best choice for them. It doesn’t mean that their
parents do not love them. They begin considering forgiveness. They begin considering that perhaps casting out the hearing members of
my family are good people. There are many people out there
who just simply don’t know. In fact, quite the opposite. Many hearing people are excellent
allies of the deaf community. It’s not black and white or hearing and deaf. That individual, during the fourth stage, begins
to reflect on that and think about how they fit as a deaf individual in a
greater hearing society. They begin dealing with their
anger, their frustrations. And also considering that
perhaps fully immersing themselves into the deaf community is
not the best decision. They begin meeting new role
models during this stage. Perhaps earlier role models
may have been like myself. They may say, “I want to be just like Tom.” But perhaps I’m not the best
role model for everyone. My experience is different. My communication preference
and skills are different. Some individuals may reach the fourth
stage and stop using their hearing aids. And stop speaking, for example. But perhaps they actually
really do have excellent speech. Maybe they actually enjoy using
hearing aids and enjoy music. But during that third stage they decide to
throw them out and to stop using their voice. But, during that introspection
stage, they may start to realize, you know what, I do like hearing. I do like music. I can talk. Is that necessarily bad? And, in meeting other members
of the deaf community, they’ll realize that there are deaf
people that run the gamut in terms of communication skills,
communication preferences. We’re all there, and we’re all there together. Some speak quite well. Some prefer to use sign language. Some prefer to use sign language only. Some prefer to use hearing
aids or a cochlear implant. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s important that it’s the
individual who’s making the decision as to what their comfort is
and what their preference is. And so that is where that search
for a like-minded role model occurs. Finding someone who is similar in
terms of preferences and needs. And in doing so, find a new way
of life from some of those people who seem to be similar to themselves. And, finally, that leads us to the
fifth stage, the awareness stage. Whether it be from the new role model or dealing
with the anger, they have a better understanding of their parents, their situation
and growing up. They’re finally able to make peace with
who they are during the awareness stage. They’re at peace that I am deaf, and I am
deaf my way, not based on my parents’ way. Or what my school expected for me. Or what society deems is appropriate for me. It’s my identity and my way as a deaf person. I make that decision, and it’s my choice. And I’m good with it. My way as a deaf individual is
different from other deaf individuals. Some deaf people decide that they have no
interest interacting with hearing world. They don’t receive any pleasure from that. I’m not angry with them anymore,
but perhaps I’m just not interested. I prefer to hang out with deaf
individuals as much as possible perhaps. Of course, the world at large is hearing. Stores, banks, of course, there’s
going to be hearing people there. But any opportunity I have, I’ll
remain in the deaf community. Whether it be a deaf church. Deaf sports. Deaf friends. They find themselves happy there. Whereas, another deaf individual may
have a different choice for themselves. They may say, you know what, I love deaf people,
but I also love being with hearing people. I’m willing to teach hearing
people sign language. I love being involved in different activities, regardless of whether it’s
deaf or hearing people. Again, it comes back to the deaf individual’s
choice and the other individual’s choice. And that’s okay. That is the awareness stage. And that’s when a person reaches the
point of knowing that’s what they want. That’s what they want to achieve. And truly that’s a goal for all
deaf people in the deafhood journey, and really individuals in general. Specifically oppressed or
disenfranchised groups. They must find a place in their
life which they reach themselves. Finding themselves. Having a good life and being happy in general. There’s no difference. That journey for some deaf
individuals is not difficult. They go through each stage quite easily. There’s some deaf people in which each stage,
as they pass through them, is very tough. It is long. It is painful. It is arduous. It’s a struggle. There are many deaf people that never reach
all the way to the fifth stage of awareness. Perhaps they don’t have the tools or the
opportunities or simply don’t know how. They could be stuck in any one of these stages. And they find themselves with an ongoing
struggle in trying to find peace in themselves, having full awareness of what
the possibilities of life are. For example, many deaf individuals remain in
the conformity stage during their entire life. They are ashamed of their deafness. They really believe that members of the
deaf community are second-class citizens. Sign language is not good. Oh, they use sign language because
they’re not bright or they’re lazy. They truly believe themselves to
be better than those deaf people. And they hold that belief for
the remainder of their life. Some until their death. Others spend years upon years in that stage
before finally gaining an understanding that deafness doesn’t mean it’s the
end of the world nor is it horrible. Others find themselves in the dissonance stage. They find themselves surprised every time
they meet successful deaf individuals. And they just can’t seem to
understand how someone is successful without hearing aids or spoken language. The deaf individual can be successful, and
they find themselves impressed each time. But it’s a shock. Really? What, deaf people can do what? They may meet a deaf person and
just be in complete awe each time. They have a hard time understanding and
really finding a shift in their thoughts. For some it can be quite some time before
they reach that stage of dissonance. And it can be painful. A lot of reflection happening during that time. Others move themselves into resistance,
and they find themselves very angry. They are unable to forgive their parents. They’re unable to forgive their
school for what they’ve done to them. Some never fully resolve that anger. They continue to hold a grudge
and to be against certain groups, whether it be their family,
school or hearing society. They don’t trust hearing people. They don’t like hearing people. And they prefer to be part of the
deaf world only, as much as possible. And it’s solely out of anger, out
of disgust and out of frustration with their life up until that point. And they felt they didn’t deserve that. Some remain angry until they die. Some never find forgiveness
for those other individuals. Others end up in introspection. Meaning they’re at that stage of
trying to figure out who they are. Have a better understanding of why people made
certain decisions that affected their life. And trying to figure out their true role
models, and who those individuals may be. They continue to learn more about the
deaf community than they thought possible. They realize there is quite
diversity within the deaf community and different components within it. That not everyone is the exact same. And, finally, awareness. They may struggle throughout
each of these five stages. And some may get stuck in
any one of these stages. So now perhaps you can see what impact that may
have on the mental health of some deaf people. As they find themselves stuck in one
of these stages, their mental health and their emotions become an issue. It could be due to unfinished business. It could be due to not having a
realistic view about themselves. About life. About the deaf community. Or perhaps what the world is all about. It has a huge impact on many deaf people. Part of that deafhood journey is
about having a better understanding of what exactly is the deaf community? What do they have to offer? What is deaf culture? And what is that for? My favorite quote related to culture,
which I’ll display here on the screen. Access to historically created
solutions for good living. If we were to investigate various cultures
across the globe, we’d see many types of living. Many approaches to life that
may be considered better. The rules, expectations and norms of that
group has been established years upon years ago in order to fit that particular
community for having a good life. That could be how they dress. How they talk. How they eat. What they believe in. What gives them hope. All ties into the culture of that group. The culture has not arbitrarily established
rules just because someone said so. The rules tie into the interactions
of that group, and they have a reason. Maybe the reason had a strong
historical basis that has since faded but still serves a good purpose
for that community. Those rules, those expectations and those norms
may make sense for that group of individuals, but not make sense for another group. Because the other group may historically have a
different living situation that did not require or need those same sorts of solutions. An example of this may be living
in a northern, cold country. Perhaps the Eskimos. Their culture is quite different than those
who are living in a hot, arid desert location. The way in which those two groups
dress, the two groups relate within their own community, it’s different. The solutions that they need are different. Globalization is becoming a worldwide phenomenon in which cultures are seeing
similarities amongst themselves. However, many groups often hold onto
their old traditions within the culture. Culture is full of solutions. And now the definition of deaf culture. Access to historically created solutions
for good living as a deaf person in a predominantly hearing world. Deaf people today struggle with the same sort
of issues that they did hundreds of years ago. Part of that is due to 90 percent
of their parents being hearing. Lack of communication. All of those challenges have been ongoing. Even though technology and innovation has
had an impact, those still issues remain. The solutions that deaf individuals have
are powerful and effective in how they deal with people and helping them gain
an understanding of the community. Understanding how to best manage their lives. The deaf community is vibrant. It is active. Deaf people generally are
quite happy group of people. And that’s because they have solutions. The challenge is having those solutions within
the deaf community, but getting those solutions to the hearing children that
have hearing parents. Many deaf adults have had that
same experience as deaf children. They’ve been through that. However, the access to those solutions
is very little, if anything at all. By not having access to those solutions
or deaf culture, causes many deaf children to experience emotional and
mental health challenges. This doesn’t apply to all,
but many do experience that. I want to give you a few examples of
those challenges that I mentioned. And perhaps will allow you to have a greater
appreciation for the life of a deaf person. And perhaps have a better
understanding of why emotional and mental health issues have become
prevalent amongst deaf people. I want to be clear that it’s not because
of the deafness or because of deaf culture. It’s because of the lack of access of those
solutions that exist within deaf culture to be able to help deaf people
move forward with a happy life. Give them hope. Give them role models. And now I’d like to give you a few examples. We talked about those five stages recently. One of my favorite stories is related
to a person that found themselves in the resistance and immersion stage. And the things that they were doing
during that time really fascinated me. People often react horrified about why that
person is so angry or so radical seeming. But that was their time of self-discovery,
of coming out as a deaf person. There was one person who talked about
being done with lying about their deafness. About the beliefs they had growing up. Thinking that students at a deaf
school were lazy or not smart enough. They were done with using
hearing aids and spoken language. They had always refused to sign. However, after the dissonance phase of meeting
other deaf individuals who seemed happy, obviously quite happier than themselves. Always feeling lonely and struggling. They decide that they were done. And they wanted to have that same experience. That person learned about Gallaudet University,
which they had never heard of before. No one had every told them. It was like a long kept secret. So, when he graduated, he went off to
Gallaudet University, and he wanted to be with other deaf individuals only. There would be no hearing people there. And he was so excited. He flushed his hearing aids
down the toilet and said, I am starting my new life as a deaf person. Gallaudet University, they absolutely
forbid using hearing aids; right? Spoken language will never be used there
because Gallaudet forbids speaking. And me at that time, I loved
music, but I’m going to sell it. Can’t have all these speakers in my room because Gallaudet University would
never allow that to happen either. Imagine that person’s shock when
they got to Gallaudet University. Gallaudet is probably one of
the loudest places on earth. The students love music with loud speakers. They party on Friday and Saturday
nights with big subwoofers. Many students there have hearing aids on. Many use cochlear implants. Some speak quite well. And that person found themselves
completely surprised. Because all their life he was told people
who go to Gallaudet or people who go to a deaf school have no appreciation for music. They would never use speech or hearing aids. And it completely was false. Deaf schools, Gallaudet and other places
have a wide range of deaf individuals. And really it doesn’t matter. That’s the important point to drive home. It doesn’t matter. If you can talk, great. If you can’t talk, great. If you like to use hearing aids, great. If you don’t, great. Within deaf culture, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make you better
or less than as a person. That’s a new skill for many people first
time going into the deaf community. Because most of them growing
up, feeling that their speech and hearing is a very big
part of their identity. And a place like Gallaudet, or really any
deaf community, really they don’t care. They don’t know whether you can speak or not. And it truly doesn’t matter. There are more important things about a person. Their personality. The way they relate with people. Their intellect. Spoken language and hearing doesn’t matter. And so that’s just one example of misinformation
or misconceptions that many deaf people have. And those who feed into that are often
professionals at schools, parents and families that feed those mixed messages growing up. And they struggle throughout
their life because of that. I used to work at NTID, National Technical
Institute For the Deaf in Rochester, New York at Rochester Institute of Technology. And a friend had asked me to be a
part of the judicial affairs sessions. And, yes, sometimes even
deaf students get in trouble. Just like anyone else. They get in fights. Use drugs. Have poor behavior. Destruction of property. Get drunk. I like to believe it’s not many. It’s a small group. But it could happen to anyone. So I was there to make sure that the deaf
student was represented appropriately. That there was no misunderstandings
in the interpretation. Because RIT is a predominantly
hearing university. However, they have excellent services
for deaf and hard of hearing students. So there was one case that
I remember quite clearly. I was sitting and watching the meeting. And there was a panel of hearing officers that had accused the deaf
person of doing something bad. And I can’t recall what it was. Perhaps it was theft or something like that. And the deaf person was very
clear, I didn’t do it. I’m not guilty, no. And you could see they were really trying to
get a confession out of the deaf individual. And the deaf person became
increasingly frustrated and angry. And part of American Sign
Language is very expressive. He started to say, “Well, no, stop blaming me. I didn’t do it. Why do you not believe me? Stop.” And that kind of response continued
to escalate throughout the hearing. When it was finished, everyone left the room, and the panel discussed what the
consequence should have been for that boy. During their discussions
they all mentioned concerns of perhaps the student was having
a serious mental health difficulty. That they would need anger management. And, in seeing this dialogue, I
was completely thrown off guard. Anger management? They decide that, in order for him to stay
in school, he would need to see a counselor. Go to anger management class. And I thought to myself, really? I had to interject at that point. And said, “I’m sorry, where
is this coming from?” And they, “Oh, you could see his
facial expression, which was terrible. It was scary. It’s quite intimidating. And clearly has very deep issues.” And I said, “No. He was strictly denying the
accusation made against him. ASL is very expressive, very visual. And it is an expressive language and that was
an appropriate way for him to express himself.” And the panel said, “No.” And they say, “Most hearing students of
that same situation would remain calm. They would respond and never
have such an outburst.” And I told them this was not an outburst. This was strictly a response in sign
language that include facial expression. If I had not been there that day, that student
would have had to attend hours of counseling as well as anger management classes. When, in all reality, he didn’t need that. So I could think to myself, how many deaf
people out there are being misdiagnosed based on the assumption of their mental
status that is perhaps not accurate? And that diagnosis being brought by those
who have no understanding of deaf culture or of American Sign Language
or even the deaf experience. Perhaps many hearing students are
more familiar with the court system. Perhaps they hear from friends. They learn about how to behave
in that particular situation. Whereas, deaf students don’t often
have the same type of interactions or incidental learning with family. They don’t have the same
access to the court system. So perhaps they may misbehave
while being in that sort of setting and encounter an awful punishment
because of that. It’s really fascinating for me. Another story I’d like to share,
which is one that is far more common, is that deaf children believe
that they will die young. The reason being is because they’ve
never met another deaf adult. Which means, obviously, they
would die because they were young. I won’t grow to be an adult because
there’s no deaf adults out there. Other people believe that they’ll become hearing
some day because they’ve never met a deaf adult. And I’ll ask, and they’ll say,
“I’ve never seen a deaf adult. That means that I’m going to become hearing. All those deaf kids must become hearing.” It seems logical to them. Those two scenarios speak a lot about the world
and about that deaf child and their experience. Another example is that deaf people
highly value their eyes and their hands. Covering the eyes of a deaf individual or
taking away their ability to communicate by their hands is quite unfortunate. Many deaf people that find themselves in a police situation often
times find themselves restricted by handcuffs behind their back. How are they able to communicate? They may be able to speak some. But I have heard many deaf individuals talking about how they’ve been arrested
and then lose their cool. They get very upset about handcuffs
because that’s the worst possible thing to a deaf person, restricting
their communication. And they end up becoming violent as a result. Which ends up with an even worse consequence. They may be tackled to the ground. They may become out of control. So, if police officials could understand
how critical the eyes and hands are to a deaf individual, they may
approach it quite differently. And they could really lessen some
of those more negative consequences. Many deaf individuals feel that they
have not been treated fairly due to situations such as that. I have two final points I’d like to make. Some deaf people may appear
paranoid or suspicious. Maybe even have strange behavior. But for anyone, whether they’re hearing or
deaf, if they’re in a room full of people, perhaps speaking a different language. A language that they don’t
understand or have access to. People looking at you. Perhaps laughing. Appear to be joking. You can’t help but wonder, are
those people talking about me? They begin to worry about
what they’re talking about. What are they laughing about? And they develop a paranoia
or a suspicion of people. Because they don’t understand fully
or they don’t understand anything about what the conversation
is happening around them. So you may consider that paranoia is
very bizarre within a deaf individual. However, I find it to be
quite a natural response after having many years of similar experiences. They’re denied access between
what’s being discussed around them and what’s being talked about. That’s not a pleasant experience. And my final point. Many deaf people are viewed as
having poor problem-solving skills. Poor reasoning skills. Again, you have to look at the
overall experience of deaf people. That opportunity for incidental learning that’s
afforded to hearing children is different. Seeing their parents argue and solve problems. Being able to communicate with their brothers
and sisters or cousins in solving problems. Arguing with other kids on the
playground and solving problems. Learning how police matters are handled and
how individuals are arrested and talked to. Those sort of incidental learning opportunities
are lessened for a deaf individual. Hearing children learn it through
seeing and hearing it day to day. Through seeing older people and how
they manage different situations or difficulties and resolving those. If a deaf child and, as you remember 90
percent of them come from a hearing family. 90 percent of those do not sign. And 90 percent go to a school where
access is not had through sign language. And they have minimal peers. How can a deaf person learn to solve problems? How can they learn solutions
related to having a good life? If access is not available, deaf
people end up making poor decisions. And the consequences of those
situations are often not good. That leads to the importance
of mental health professionals, and those professionals understanding
that journey through the five stages. Also understanding, where is that deaf
individual right now within those five stages? That can make a great difference as to
why that person is thinking a certain way. Responding a certain way. Or managing certain situations. By having an understanding of those five stages,
the deaf person’s actions can make more sense. And in that way can give them
more appropriate solutions and understanding cultural appropriateness. So what I encourage you is
to understand deaf culture. Understand the deaf experience. And understand that the solutions that
deaf people have have been created for themselves in terms of having a good life. Those solutions are already
available in the deaf community. And learning how to deal with hearing parents. How to deal with oppression. How to deal with communication happening
around them that they don’t have access to. It’s important to be able too apply those to those deaf individuals that
do not yet have solutions. That’s my message. Thank you for watching. And thank you for your interest
in learning more about the life of the deaf individuals around you. And hopefully this will motivate
you to maintain a commitment to appropriate mental health
services that deaf people deserve. Thanks so much.

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