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Blogging Against Disablism Day: Rethinking Access

Over the past five months, my thoughts on access have shifted to such a degree that some friends wonder if I might be lying about how I experience the world.

Until this January, I never asked for access and I didn’t identify as Deaf or HoH.  When I did question the way I hear, I often dismissed my own concerns as lying to myself or being dramatic.  It’s hard to know, after all, how you hear relative to others.  I frequently make “silly mistakes” in interpreting another person’s words, and these mistakes have always been an embarrassment.  I’ve always hated phones.  I do a lot of “filling in” that I don’t really think about to get the full meaning of a sentence, and I hadn’t really noticed how that differs from others’ experiences.

It wasn’t until a conference in January that I considered asking for PSE (ASL signs in English word order, basically) interpretation.  I felt like such a fraud asking, and every other word/sign in my request was an apology.  Even as witnessed how much of a difference it made for my ability to understand without strain and frustration, I felt guilty.

One interpreter, though, said something that resonated with me.  He said that it doesn’t matter what your disability is, or even whether you have one.  You don’t need a diagnosis.  If interpreters give you greater access, and improve your experience, you have a right to request them.

I can’t say that my feelings on the issue have magically reversed in five months. I still ask myself if my hearing issues are “real,” or “enough” to ask for help.  I suspect I have an auditory processing disorder, and I feel fraudulent when I identify as HoH as a shorthand.  I don’t want to minimize anyone’s Deaf identity by using terms that imply a more difficult experience than I have.  But I have been learning to ask for access, to request interpreters without fretting over the cost to event organizers and to ask for friends to repeat themselves when I don’t understand.  I’ve also been attending Deaf events whenever I can, to surround myself with people who don’t see ASL as a “language of the disabled.”

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but one of the most important I think to fighting ableist attitudes, is to demand access and not accept excuses.  When an organizer says “no,” “it costs too much,” or “we can’t find interpreters,” I’m training myself to challenge that attitude and confront organizers about their hypocrisy as social justice activists.  I’m learning to stop myself from saying “it’s okay, I understand, I can hear enough to follow” and to instead explain that my access is limited and I’m getting less out of the event I paid for than other attendees.  Who knows what effect these protests will have in the future, but my hope is that they will raise at least some awareness.

This post is for the Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012 event.  Follow the link to read all the posts.

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