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Deaf Representation

An illustration of a Indigenous woman with long brown braided hair hanging to left side and red earrings. Wearing red top with gray overcoat. Signing DEAF.

I am not asking permission at the seat of the table. I am pulling up my own chair, to bring you awareness about the issues important to certain individuals to have a voice.

There has been an increased recognition of diversity, equity and inclusion within organizations or institutions. They have adjusted their policies to have proper representation in their workplace. Women and visible minorities, people with disabilities have been often included in the policies. That has not been the case for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafened. 

Inclusion by way of exclusion is not inclusion. Having the right players and representatives at the table does not mean you are inclusive. 

Well intentional institutions continue to speak on the deaf community’s behalf. There’s no denying it. The vast amount of people in the workplace, committee, board or clubs are auditory based groups of people that do not have lived deaf experiences or are fluent in sign language. It’s not well balanced. They claim they can represent because they work, collect resources or know someone who is deaf. I do not see myself or any deaf person represented in that space.

The deaf community, which is united by our shared experience of having some degree of hearing loss, is, as all communities are, made up of so many unique, intersectional and valid experiences. I might be the first Deaf person that many of you have met. And my experiences that I share with you are my own. Because when you meet one person that is Deaf, you’ve met ONE person that is Deaf. My experiences are not the same as all other deaf people. Now of course as every community or culture worldwide the deaf community is made of people. People who have different ideologies, beliefs and values. Our experiences are vastly different from one another. A shared experience we do all have in common is dealing with the bias from people that don’t understand us, our language, and our culture.

There has been an increased approach that is occurring in those spaces, implementing resources that are not theirs to speak of. Deaf representation in that space is necessary to improve the environment. Deaf people over time have naturally adjusted to life, their will and ability to live in an auditory world. Deaf people don’t necessarily see themselves as disabled, it only occurs when there is a communication breakdown. Most deaf people are fluent in sign language, it’s a linguistic language with its own culture. We see deaf gain when people see hearing loss.

Myself and deaf people are trying to pave our way into those spaces, creating a social position that values difference when they are gathered together to discuss access, change of policies, workplace inclusive communication practices and more. Deaf people have established a practice of communication that benefits everyone, not just ourselves, new information tools and communication technologies. Our methods work for other people who are not deaf. 

Deafness can touch anyone, it doesn’t have to be traumatic. Learn from those who lived it, that can provide the expertise on access, informed respect and equality. We all are aging and will move towards needing these awareness and a need for sign languages in the near future.

We all have a responsibility to understand the impact of speaking on our behalf not only because your employees, coworkers or family members are deaf that are impacted by this, but also because you’re repeating the same patterns of inequity, marginalization and negative attitude we see in society at large. Let’s do the work together to begin dismantling the conditions and systems that oppresses the deaf community by having various deaf representation at the table.