Deaf and non-deaf professionals: whose culture is it?

What happens when there are a much larger number of professionals from the majority cultural/language group than from the minority group serving minority group members?

In general, the majority group expects the minority cultural and language group to adapt to the majority language and culture. Often then, the majority language and culture dominate services for minority language and cultural groups. When this happens, the friction between the two groups is bound to intensify. The following are common behaviors that result in increased friction between majority and minority language/cultural groups.

  1. Majority group members tend to interact significantly more with other majority group members than with minority group members.
  2. The Majority group members tend to use their language instead of the minority group’s language.
  3. Majority group members may tend to perceive situations and solutions to problems from a majority group perspective. This may result in majority group decisions and actions that the minority group views as offensive or rude.

In the field of deaf services such as deaf education, deaf mental health, deaf independent living programs, etc., there is often a disparity between the number of non-deaf and the number of deaf professionals. Often the number or authority of non-deaf professionals working in the field of deaf services is much greater than that of deaf professionals. In such conditions, there may be a tendency for non-deaf languages and non-deaf cultures to dominate the deaf service. This contradicts the expectations of the deaf community. Deaf people expect deaf services based on deaf culture, a deaf historical perspective and provided in ASL.

Non-deaf professionals and staff may interact more with each other than with deaf professionals and deaf staff. When that occurs, deaf feel the non-deaf are forming a clique that excludes the deaf. This results in mistrust and hard feelings.

Because they often interact more together, non-deaf may tend to communicate by talking instead of always signing when in the presence of deaf people. This can create an environment in which fluency in ASL becomes less of a priority and a tendency may develop to hire non-deaf professionals with limited signing ability. With lax expectations of ASL proficiency, non-deaf professionals may not make the effort required to develop ASL proficiency. They may not join in deaf social activities, sporting events, etc. Not only do they not improve ASL skills, they fail to advance in their knowledge of deaf culture and history. Each step away from ASL fluency by deaf program professionals results in diminished services and communication with deaf professionals, deaf students and/or deaf clients. Deaf people find this to be offensive and frustrating and often feel alienated from the deaf program.

Non-deaf authority figures often make deaf program decisions from non-deaf cultural and historical perspectives. Deaf people feel that the non-deaf are ignoring or disrespecting deaf opinions, ideas, beliefs and cultural norms.

I can provide more examples, but this should be enough to illustrate the concerns of many deaf people.

I really respect and appreciate any hearing people who would like to learn more about the deaf world from the deaf people themselves because they are very true in their expressions and opinions.

Of the Deaf People, By the Deaf People, For the Deaf People

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