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Rely on litigation and not the kindness of strangers

by Arthur Grant Dignan | May 2, 2012 at 6:00 a.m. | Updated May 2, 2012 at 6:00 a.m.

Did you read about the university "Women's Studies" Department that does not use any textbooks written by women and that has no women involved in running the program or teaching the courses?

Did you hear about the all-Black college that has "African-American Culture" courses taught only by white people who have had limited contact with African-Americans and that only use textbooks written by white people?

Did you see the TV program about the school district that only hires English teachers who are not fluent in English, have only recently met English-speaking people and only began learning English a couple of years ago?

Each of the above examples of course is pure fiction, now. However, it was common at one time for almost all professors, administrators, TV news anchors, newspaper editors and other professionals to be white males.

Unfortunately, not all minority groups have made the same degree of progress. Deaf people still receive most of their services from non-deaf professionals who often know very little about deaf culture or the deaf experience. Non-deaf people teach most of the college and high school American Sign Language, deaf history and deaf culture classes. Many of these teachers have had very little experience being with deaf people and have minimal skills in ASL. What would you do if you found out that your children or grandchildren were learning English from a teacher that was not proficient in English herself?

Non-deaf education professionals continue to direct, coordinate, supervise and teach in deaf education and Interpreter Training Programs. Likewise, non-deaf professionals direct the deaf mental health and social service programs and provide the services to deaf people. Many have very little experience working with deaf people and no ability to communicate in ASL.

How did women and African Americans overcome barriers that kept them out of positions of authority? Their most effective strategies involved effective lawsuits and legislative changes. Deaf communities around the country are using this same strategy to implement effective mental health services for deaf and hard of hearing people in their home states. Missouri's deaf community brought a successful lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Mental Health (DMH.) Missouri's deaf community is now reviewing the settlement offered by DMH.

Rarely do a significant number of professional members of a majority group voluntarily step aside just because it is the right thing to do. Often the gains minorities have made in changing their status have come about by their persistence, hard work and especially by effective lawsuits.

For cultural and linguistically appropriate services, the deaf community must rely on litigation, not on the "kindness of strangers."

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


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