When I was growing up, I was often reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Instead of walking into a conversation saying “What?! What are you talking about?” I should wait, listen, and then thoughtfully contribute.
I get the idea behind this, I really do. In fact, I’ve totally internalised it. The problem is, it doesn’t work for Deaf people. I can’t slip into a conversation being held by hearing people and make a contribution at an appropriate moment.
Stella Young, comedian, activist and feminist who died in 2014, taught me that actually, it is appropriate for me to ask for access. We all have the right to be included. I still find it hard to accept this, and believe it, but I’m trying.
Instead of making an excuse for why I can’t go to a party or social event, I’m trying to learn to explain that I don’t want to come because if there are no signing people there, I would be excluded. Instead of accepting that I can’t take this course or that course, I am learning to ask the teacher to make the effort to adjust the curriculum so I can access it.
It’s hard, it’s awkward, and whenever I do this, I have that inner voice piping up: ‘the world doesn’t revolve around you!’ But when I think of OTHER people, of, say, Stella, who couldn’t get up a flight of stairs no matter how hard she wished it, I think, ‘Of course she should have access. Let’s all make it happen.’
This little image is a reminder to all of us, to make the effort to provide access to everyone. It might be someone who can’t read a sign because their glasses are at home, it might be an elderly relative who can no longer hear at the dinner table, or it might be someone like me, or Stella, who have to ask over and over, for access.
If you are in a position to provide access, maybe you can do so without being asked. Simply offer. Arrange for an interpreter if you are inviting a Deaf person to a hearing-only event. Check out a venue for access and toilet accessibility when inviting a person who uses a wheelchair, and let them know that you did so. I’m learning to ask… but when I don’t have to, it means the world to me.
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