Deaf studies

Hearing allyship with Deaf community

Allyship "begins when a person of privilege seeks to support a marginalized individual or group." -- PeerNetBC's.

"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. -- Elie Wiesel"

Allyship not as an identity

Scenario: One of my ASL level-200 hearing students in Fall 2017 turned to her classmate and eagerly signed in ASL, "I want to become an ally." I explained to 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."

"You cannot declare yourself an ally because you don't decide if you're an ally, your actions do. Allyship is something that is silently earned and it is not a performative self-declaration." -- @voltedvoices

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.

Becoming allyship

To practice allyship and take accountability, consider unpacking: hearing privilege, audism, phonocentrism, power maintenance, paternalism, marginalization, tokenism, microaggression, hearing fragility, cultural/lingual appropriation, etc.

"As people seeking to practice allyship, we have a particular set of responsibilities (PeerNetBC's "Allyship 101"):

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 oppression 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." Don't fall back on hearing fragility.

7) our needs are secondary to the people we seek to work with; 8) we do not expect awards or special recognition..."

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." -- Desmond Tutu (quoted in Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (1984) by Robert McAfee Brown, p. 19).

Allyship from a place of solidarity

Hearing allyship is when hearing people support Deaf people, leaders, and advocates, stand with 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 signed language, but many also do not know any of the language nor Deaf culture but they can be excellent allies.

Paradoxically, some hearing people, who may have some knowledge of ASL language and work with Deaf people or in Deaf settings, can be sometimes unintentionally oppressive. What one thinks is allyship is not necessarily allyship in itself.

"as much confusion has come out of problematic ideas of "being an ally", these may be well-meaning, but they often recreate the same oppression or perpetuate new ones." -- PeerNetBC

For example, a common harmful action is when hearing non-native signers start teaching or showing ASL and Deaf culture online or any forms of broadcasts. Not only hearing non-native signers take away from Deaf people's place of voice, they also teach or show incorrect signs and information too many times without themselves realizing. Instead, send references to Deaf teachers, Deaf-run/Deaf-owned websites, and all other materials created by Deaf as well as some materials created by hearing authors (e.g. Harlan Lane) approved and recommended by collective Deaf experts.

Too many cases have occurred when hearing authors and creators include ASL in their products or materials without consulting Deaf experts. Their intention was to be inclusive which is a wonderful thing, but they often quoted information from hearing materials. For example, one workbook for summer fun learning in math, language, and reading included a few pages on ASL, assembling a mix of accurate and inaccurate information (obviously some research from hearing sources) because it used the utterly unacceptable, audist term "hearing impaired" -- this tiny one-word tells the whole ignorance.

"Allyship is a proactive, ongoing, and incredibly difficult practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group's basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society." -- Ref

Allyship out in the wild

Now the way around. This part is a hope for the oppressed group who seeks allyship. The following real-world scenario contrasts two white male hearing persons on the opposite ends of the continuum of allyship.

Scenario: As a graduate student in 2005, a disability service "coordinator" (who was actually the only one-person staffer on contract with the university from the government, not a hired staffer of the university per se) 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 painful struggles and hardships of dealing with accessibility issues, I overcame the fear of bringing a "burden" to the graduate director, to my surprise the graduate director quickly set up a meeting with the disability "coordinator" with my presence. Again, the coordinator brought up a concern for a fire or emergency call via TTY. I bluntly told him I'd rather take the gamble in one-in-a million fire chance than dealing with communication hassles on a daily basis with slow TTY phone calls. He pointed to a local Deaf clerk at a Deaf and HoH service who also recommended a TTY [tokenism]. I zapped, "Well, I'm Deaf and I had worked at the national association of the Deaf" and reminded him of my involvement and experience in the international Deaf organization and events. Well, he defended that videophone was more expensive. I responded, "While TTY is outdated, it costs about the same as a videophone." And so on. The director listened with enough information collected; he intervened, saying that the videophone is to be provided immediately. [allyship]

In no time, the videophone calls were terribly slow and frequently freezing on the highly congested university traffic. Again the "coordinator" refused to set up a separate line in my studio because of the costly expenses. The graduate director quickly 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 cable installation would require a costly drill work plus an "expensive" monthly Internet cable fee. The vice president asked, "how much?" After learning the costs, the vice president with the director's support ordered to install a separate Internet cable in my studio for the videophone plus a monthly cable fee! [allyship/accessibility] Even more surprisingly, they ordered a fire strobe to be installed in my studio!

After a decade to this day, their actions are always remembered, very much remembered. They are also a living example that one doesn't need to know ASL or Deaf culture but understands universal principles of social justice, equity, and diversity. They stood for social justice. It was no burden to them, only injustice was a burden to them. A lesson from this is that there are people out there who will stand with minority or oppressed individuals. A lesson from this is to take an appropriate step and another step in faith.


"we are acting rather out of responsibility ... we act out of a genuine interest in challenging larger oppressive power structures" -- allyship network.


PeerNetBC's "Allyship 101". (This web page no longer is online. Available now at

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