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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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Donate to a Trans-Friendly Project, Get a Custom Blog Post

Here’s the deal, folks.  I so want the Gender-Independent Kids Books project to succeed that I am offering a custom post to any reader who donates $35 or more in the next five days to the project at the Kickstarter link above.  To celebrate my birthday, make a donation and not only will you get a signed coloring book and audiobook of either Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy or Backwards Day, but if you let me know in a comment here that you donated, I will write a post on any topic for you within the scope of this blog (gender, sexuality, queer, law, human rights, race, class, and similar topics).  If you donate $100 or more you’ll get the above, two signed books, a limited edition t-shirt, and an 8 x 10 photo print of a book page, plus I will either do a five-post series OR an online radio show episode OR a vlog (in ASL or English) on your topic of choice.

Please spread the word!  If the project gets $3,500 more they’re going to do an ASL-accessible video storybook version of Backwards Day!  This will allow D/deaf/HoH kids all over the world who have internet access to learn about gender in a trans-friendly way, and that’s a big deal to me.  Thanks for supporting this project and please share widely!