Hearing allyship with the Deaf community

Allyship "begins when a person of privilege seeks to support a marginalized individual or group." -- PeerNetBC. This post is integrated with PeerNetBC's compiled notes in the following quotations. Wonderful resource:

Allyship is "a practice of unlearning and relearning, and is a life-long process of building relationships based on TRUST, CONSISTENCY, and ACCOUNTABILITY with marginalized individuals or groups." -- PeerNetBC.

One of my higher-level-ASL students in Fall 2017 turned to her classmate in ASL, "I want to become an ally." I explained her as what PeerNetBC put it exactly, "Allyship is not an identity, nor is it self-defined. Allyship is a process. "... our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with."

Hearing allyship is when they support Deaf people, stand by them, or work with them in advocacy. They may be teachers of the Deaf, codas, ASL-English interpreters, friends, advocates, and/or individuals. Some hearing people may know some ASL, but many also do not know any ASL but are ready to support Deaf. The following scenario contrasts two on the continuum of allyship.

Scenario: As a graduate student in 2005, a hearing disability service coordinator was not willing to accept my request for a videophone installed in my studio; instead, he insisted to provide an outdated TTY. His rationale was for safety in case of a fire and such. After a long month of fighting oppression and then overcoming the fear of going to the higher admin, the graduate director quickly set up a meeting with the disability coordinator and me. Again, the little guy brought up a concern for a fire or emergency call via TTY. I bluntly told him I'd rather take a risk in fire which was one in a million chance than dealing with communication hassles on a daily basis with slow TTY phone calls. He defended that videophone was more expensive. I responded, "TTY is outdated and it costs about the same as a videophone." And so on. The director listened, defended my place, and provided the videophone. Only to discover that videophone was slow on the crowded slow university traffic cable, again the coordinator refused to set up a separate line for this purpose. The graduate director arranged a meeting with the vice president of the university, the IT technician, and the disability service coordinator. At this meeting, the coordinator argued that the videophone cable setup would be "too expensive". After learning the cost, the vice president and the director of the graduate program ordered to install a separate Internet cable of my own by drilling an Internet cable into the wall of my studio for the videophone! Plus, the fire strobe was installed. The vice president proudly told me that his grandmother was the first Deaf Canadian woman to attend Gallaudet.

Those amazing hearing male white guys in high positions demonstrated allyship even though they knew zero of ASL, but they understood the values of equality and equity. They understood margnization, 'the Center and the Other/Margin', etc.

Moreover, when that director and I met for the first time, he cordially introduced himself and then told me via an interpreter "I'm sorry that I don't know ASL. I wish I do." His message simply conveyed that he was not the "Center" and he tried to meet my world instead of the way around. Interestingly, right after his words, that disability coordinator responded, "Oh, you don't have to. We have an interpreter here." This shows a quite contrast between those guys' attitudes and approaches.

Likewise, hearing people who may have ASL skills and work with Deaf people do not necessarily always practice an allyship. To practice allyship, consider some things: accountability, privilege (e.g. hearing privilege), oppression (e.g. audism, phonocentrism), power, and marginzalization. Here is a few examples:

"As people seeking to practice allyship, we have a particular set of responsibilities: 1) we actively knowledge our privileges and openly discuss them; 2) we listen more and speak less; 3) we do our work with integrity and direct communication; 4) we do not expect to be educated by others: we continuously do our own research on the oppressions experienced by the people we seek to work with...; 5) we build our capability to receive criticism, to be honest and accountable with our mistakes... 6) we embrace the emotions that come out of the process of allyship, 7) our needs are secondary to the people we seek to work with; 8) we do not expect awards or special recognition..." -- For full version, see the pdf link above.

"So what are our roles as practitioners of allyship? What places do we have, as people who hold specific privileges, in challenging oppressions that we don't face?"

A common oppression is hearing people using vocal communication in the ASL zone, such as Deaf schools. Another example is a person using simultaneous communication (e.g. speaking two languages - spoken English and signed ASL at the same time, which breaks one language, usually ASL). A hearing person takes a ASL teaching job that belongs to Deaf people, whereas there is a plenty of interpreting jobs.

Scenario: In circa 2003, a TV reporter and cameraman came to interview me via an interpreter. The reporter asked the interpreter to stand next to me. But, I asked the interpreter to stand next to the cameraman (that way he cannot record the interpreter). The reporter insisted a few times before she accepted my request after I explained my rationale. It's about focusing on my words. My voice -- of course, in ASL. The interpreter was my voicebox. My words, not hers. If it weren't for my action, the interpreter probably took the privilege to be on TV.

"2) We turn the spotlight we are given away from ourselves and towards the voices of those who are continuously marginalized, silenced, and ignored;..."


Related posts: Audism, Hearing Privilege