Microaggressions and microinsults: Deaf experiences

Microaggression is defined as "a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority." Source

Harvard University psychiatrist and professor Chester M. Pierce coined the term "microaggression" in the 1970s to describe the subtle behaviors.

Many hearing people may be not overt audist nor ill-intentioned, but may be not aware of their unconscious biases, behaviors or remarks.

Examples of microaggressions in the wild

Deaf people experience some examples of everyday real-life scenarios of microaggression.

"On a field trip to a local theater to watch an ASL play with K12 students from different grades, one of their teachers asked me if I am a teaching assistant. No, I teach 4th graders. That just stuck in my mind. Ugh." -- a Deaf teacher, April 2020 (FB).

Variants of the similar situations: "Oh, you're deaf? Oh poor, you're so beautiful." -- from a gentle-hearted hotel maid to a Deaf teenager in the 1990s. "You don't look deaf." -- one of some common experiences.

"You speak (or write/read) well." "Not hear anything at all? How do you read and write English so fluently?"

"Did you know that there is a wonderful technology called cochlear implants that might help you?" "Why don't you get a cochlear implant?"


Video: "I have long been known as an unappreciative troublemaker who is selfish for not letting sleeping dogs lie. And yet I endure." -- American Deaf lawyer and advocate Kelby Brick. Source

When professors or teachers turn off captions or subtitles in class because it is distracting for other students, ignoring the deaf student's need.

A hearing person asks an interpreter a question such as "What is the sign for (word)?" instead of asking the Deaf/hard-of-hearing person. Likewise, the interpreter answers the question instead of redirecting to the deaf person to answer.

A disability service coordinator assigns a different support/need that the student may not need nor request. E.g. The disability service coordinator refuses the Deaf graduate student's request for a videophone and instead suggests an obsolete TTY.

Infantilization and Patronization

Other forms of microaggression that Deaf students may experience are patronization and infantilization. Infantilization is defined as not allowing a person to perform actions they are perfectly capable of doing.

"Deaf people cannot function in the hearing world."

A hearing preschool teacher asked a Deaf mother of the 3-year-old coda who was in her class, "What is the sign for cauliflower?" The mother replied, "Fingerspelling." The teacher signed, "Oh, it's hard and it's a long word. I had to make up a sign for 'cauliflower'".

Further readings

"What exactly is a microaggression?" By Jenée Desmond-Harris. Feb 16, 2015. https://www.vox.com/2015/2/16/8031073/what-are-microaggressions

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