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Touch Points
By Renée K. Walker
It is a new year as I write this column. I am thankful for so many blessings in my life and the ability to find ways to still be productive despite being deaf and blind. I think we all want that for ourselves. The New Year coming also gives us time for reflecting on what we want to change about ourselves and our lives. Often, we keep our reflections to beneficial but more surface aspects such as losing a few pounds or starting a new hobby or learning to lead a less busy life. After a hectic year of fighting some of the usual DeafBlind issues such as needing interpreters for doctor visits and being included in social and family events, I couldn’t help but remember the many comments made to me from readers of this column and comments from others in other DeafBlind venues on forums or Facebook. The common thread I heard was about negative attitudes among not just the hearing/sighted members but also those of other disabled people even DeafBlind people. That saddens me. I, too, have felt the negative attitudes and had hoped my experiences were isolated. For these reasons, my reflections this year turned more outward than inward with the desire of change being for all of us.
The comments seem to relate similar incidents as my own, so I will mention just a few here. I am sure you can relate to a few and add your own. I have encountered the usual hearing/sighted issues that you have read about even here before, but the ones that distress me the most come from other disabled especially other DeafBlind. Many Deaf will not socialize with me except through an interpreter. They actually fear the touch of tactile ASL. A few have even expressed their displeasure that ASL is even used by the DeafBlind at all since these few think it should only be a visual language. Then there are the blind and other disabled who also have disabled parking permits as I do complain that I don’t look handicapped, so I should walk like everyone else. I have my reasons and have had a permit longer than I have been both deaf and blind. It had nothing to do with vision or hearing issues. I do still prefer to use it even for those reasons because of my safety and the safety of my guide dog as I try to harness him and often have almost been hit just trying to get us both out of the vehicle. There are also the few totally blind who feel that those who have some vision shouldn’t be considered part of their group because the ones with some vision still don’t know what it is like to have no sight. Then there are the few Deaf and some DeafBlind who are culturally Deaf and feel that only native ASL signers can be culturally Deaf. I have been deaf since a young child, but I learned to speak and the oral method was the only method available to me because there was no Deaf community near me in the places that we lived as I grew up. You can’t learn what isn’t there, but that doesn’t make my experiences as a deaf child that much different from others except possibly more difficult, since I didn’t have a visual language to build on or a family or community in which I could full participate. Now that I know ASL and wish to practice it more to fluency, I find it disheartening when a DeafBlind person literally pushes my hands away because they realize I am not a native speaker, and they decide they do not wish to have further contact with me. The DeafBlind community is already very small and widely dispersed. When we often don’t fit in with the Deaf community, you would think that we would be happy to share with any other DeafBlind person, since many of us claim that isolation and loneliness are friends we have that we prefer not to have.
My experiences are similar to many others. These experiences are like walls being placed around me keeping me contained in room that seems to grow smaller. Truthfully, I have referred to these experiences as being with negative attitudes, but they are actually nothing more than outright prejudices. A person can be more than just racially prejudiced. Prejudice doesn’t have limitations. Anyone can be prejudiced, and they can be prejudiced about many different things and people. These prejudices against people who don’t sign or didn’t sign until later, who are not totally blind, who don’t look disabled, or others are dividing a small group into even smaller groups and causing even more pain than the society as a whole that tends to ignore us at best. It is often easier to cope with pain from outsiders than from those who are the same or similar. You would also expect that people who have been hurt by others because they are different would have more compassion for others who are different. Sadly, that isn’t always the case. Humans are capable of much pain to each other, and sometimes those who have been hurt can inflict even more on the ones around them.
In addition to the pain caused and the barriers of further isolation that are created, the disabled group that could stand together as one and have a louder and stronger voice is weakened to the point of being inaudible and useless. The good we could achieve for everyone as a whole is diminished to nothing. The one group is broken into so many small slivers that there are too few fighting for a specific issue. As one, we could fight with a strong, loud voice for many issues that would benefit us all. But, no, we can’t do that because we are too full of anger at another who is slightly different to recognize that the other is actually more like us that we could be the same.
Damage caused to our voice by these prejudices is great, and the good we could achieve will continue to be weak and slow. The pain that we cause each other will continue to isolate us more and more until we each stand alone. Does that sound like a future that anyone of us would want? Do we even really want to wish that on someone else just because they are a little different from us?
Reflect on your own attitudes as this year begins to move into Spring, the season of newness. You may not be one of the few are among the ones mentioned here. It is good that I can say it is the “few,” but unfortunately, the few can cause much dissension and create enough chaos amongst the many that little can be achieved. If the few can see that their attitudes are no different and no less harmful than the prejudices of racism to our society and work toward new and positive attitudes toward others, change for good can happen. If the many can be willing to lovingly stand against the prejudices of the few to show that there is a better way, the disabled can come together and work for a brighter future filled with the ability to be independent and productive. I am only one person, but it can start with one. Who will join me?
If you have comments about this topic, you may write a letter in braille or print to Renée Walker, 143 Williamson Dr, Macon, GA 31210; or you may email me at rkwalker@wynfieldca.org. You can also read and comment on my blog at http://www.deafblindhope.wordpress.com. You can also check me out at http://www.facebook.com/reneekwalker.

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