Disempowerment of all deaf people, including young deaf people, happens on a daily basis. Whilst the improvement of deaf rights over the years means that deaf people can take action against those who openly discriminate against them, daily acts of disempowerment may be much subtler and completely unintentional.
To deprive of power, authority, or influence:
make weak, ineffectual, or unimportant
Let me give you a scenario:
You are with a deaf person. A hearing person walks over and starts speaking to them, but they don’t realise. What do you do?
Most people would probably say to the hearing person, “oh, they’re deaf”. A simple and obvious solution, but this could be disempowering. By doing this, you have answered on behalf of the deaf person you are with, taking away their right to communicate for themselves. This is a small example of a much larger problem.
When looking at disempowerment, it is important also to consider discrimination. There is a fine line between the two, as they both involve the negative treatment of deaf people on the basis that they are deaf.
In recent history, legislature relating to discrimination within the UK can be analysed through two key government acts. Firstly, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010 (which replaced the DDA). These acts were there to protect those with disabilities from discrimination within the workplace, educational settings, and general society.
As a result of these Acts, deaf people can now take action against those who are discriminating against them, which is a good step towards the empowerment of deaf people, but they are far from perfect.
So how do we empower deaf people?
If we start to empower deaf people from a young age, the benefits will be phenomenal.
Firstly (let me just get my broken record out), don’t label! Let a deaf child interact in school the way a hearing child would. You simply need to accommodate for their needs by implementing the right support to help them achieve their potential. Know about different types of deafness and different communication needs. Become an expert in ensuring their needs are fully met.
Secondly, have basic deaf awareness and knowledge of how to work with an interpreter. Research shows that using an interpreter without the proper skill level can lead to a deaf person feeling disempowered as they aren’t accessing information to the same level as a hearing person. So when looking at interpreters to support a deaf person, ensure that they are qualified and that they enjoy working together.
If you didn’t get along with someone particularly well, you probably wouldn’t want to work with them for long periods. The same applies for the interpreter-client relationship.
Thirdly, let deaf people communicate for themselves. It can be easy to answer a question for them if they’re not looking at who’s speaking or to jump in when there’s a lack of understanding between a deaf person and a hearing person. You are not their mother. You can encourage a deaf person to ask for support if they would like it, but don’t assume they need it. Don’t force them to rely on you.
Fourthly, don’t treat a deaf person like a dog. By this, I’m not referring to the idea of putting a lead on them and going for a walk (though you probably shouldn’t do this either; it’s weird). I mean, you shouldn’t enthusiastically praise a deaf person for doing/knowing something you didn’t think they would. Like you would do with a dog when it finally learns how to sit (this is what I was getting at with the dog thing). I can’t believe the number of times I’ve heard the phrase, “what!? Deaf people can DRIVE?!” shock, horror, a deaf person can do something a hearing person can. I need a minute to recover from that surprise.
I’m joking. Deaf people can do anything a hearing person can: except hear.
In summary, treat a deaf person like anyone else but with any necessary adjustment to communication, and you will both be empowered.