Deafness is not visible, and some of the difficulties Deaf people face can be invisible to hearing people, who can easily take ‘hearing privilege’ for granted. Here, I wanted to raise some awareness about the extra work that Deaf people often do, in order to achieve the same outcomes as hearing people.
A simple example that many Deaf people will relate to is my university maths class. I couldn’t understand the lecturer, who spoke into the whiteboard as he wrote his notes. At that time, I couldn’t sign well, so an interpreter was not an option for me. Instead, I dutifully copied out all the notes on the blackboard, and took them home to try and figure it out. Figuring it out meant hassling my father, who kindly gave me about an hour a day of his time to go over the material, and studying the text book at length. For me to pass that course, I think I put in twice the amount of time that any other student put in, and even then I only just scraped through. University level maths was hard!
Another example is when I wanted to become a professional circus performer. Joining a professional circus company was not an option for me at that time. There simply wasn’t money available for interpreters, and the companies who were interested in me were not in a position to change their entire working environment in order to accomodate my needs. Fair enough. I decided to go solo.
I created my own acts to perform freelance, and approached the agencies that my circus friends got lots of work through. However, I did not receive a single booking. I think they did not feel comfortable putting my material in front of their clients, as they weren’t confident that I, as a Deaf person, would handle the requirements in a professional manner.
With yet another dead end for my desired career, I decided to make it happen myself. I invested my personal savings to pay someone to ring festivals and tell them about my acts. I then posted them the same promotional material that my agents had. Finally! I got bookings! This was before email was popular. I had to spend a lot of time and money training up my admin assistants to present me in exactly the way I wanted to be presented. But the hard work and cost paid off, and for the next ten years I earned a living as a freelance circus performer.
For those of you with hearing privilege, keep in mind the ‘head wind’ that Deaf people often need to deal with in order to get ordinary, everyday tasks done, and in order to get and hold down a job. Perhaps you’d consider hiring a Deaf person, (most Deaf people work very hard – we are used to that in order to survive), or extend an opportunity that just makes life that bit easier.
It happened for me when Arts Centre Melbourne hired me to tell stories as part of a project they were running, and, without me needing to ask, they also hired my interpreter. They had to pay double, to get my stories, compared to what they paid their other storytellers. I like to think it was worth it for them. But maybe, my stories had to be twice as good….
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