Why was it important to interview an individual with a hearing impairment? What can you learned about a hearing impairment that struggles within the community, and how it contributes to a better understanding of the blind community.

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Disability studies would be a good place to turn to consider your questions. Disability studies is the consideration of the multiple facets that go into one’s dis/ability and how society defines us accordingly. Disability studies strongly opposes the belief that an impairment restricts someone. Rather, disability studies views us all as having a spectrum of abilities. For example, someone may be blind but have a heightened sense of smell. In your example, someone may be hard of hearing but have impressive artistic capabilities. Oftentimes, our society medicalizes and singles out those with disabilities. Disability studies pushes back on this instinct and instead argues that it is not disabled individuals who need fixing but rather society as a whole. Within disability studies is Critical Disability Theory (CDT). CDT challenges the idea of ableism. This is the belief that Western society favors and privileges those who are able-bodied. According to CDT, the very framework of our society is built on ableism. It ranges from how grocery stores are designed to how teachers teach in the classroom. CDT views ability as a social construct. In other words, it questions what it means to be abled in the first place. How did these definitions come to be created? If someone can become disabled over time (for example, if a war veteran loses a leg), how can ability be such a fixed category? If society were to categorize itself along different terms, it is likely that those who are currently labeled “disabled” may not be so. In addition, CDT recognizes that disability is culturally contingent. Someone who is identified as disabled in one culture may not be recognized to be so in a different culture.

With all this in mind, it is very important to consider the experiences of those who are hard of hearing and/or Deaf. Because society so often categorizes and labels Deaf individuals, their narratives are rarely centered. Instead, so much time and energy is spent trying to "fix" them. In fact, there is a very oppressive history in relation to Deaf individuals. For a long time in the United States, Deaf children were sent to schools where they were prevented from using sign language and forced to speak verbally. For Deaf children, this does not come naturally and is often highly traumatic. These schools worked to demonize Deaf culture and prevent sign language from being taught. However, Deaf people persisted and have since survived this schooling era. Now Deaf Pride is celebrated. Deaf Pride is a celebration of the uniqueness and culture that has arisen out of a common struggle. There are ASL poetry slams, books, humor, and mannerisms.

It is also important to incorporate the stories of hard of hearing individuals for ethical and legal reasons. A good resource to look at for the legal perspectives is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The ADA legally prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities to ensure equal rights and opportunities. The ADA is similar to policies protecting against discrimination against race, sex, national origin, age, and religion. Ethically, any individual is entitled to a life of opportunity, respect, independence, and dignity. These are a basic human rights afforded to any individual.

Something you may learn from speaking with the hearing impaired is that not all disabilities are the same, yet there are some similarities in the struggles people face. For example, public settings are rarely created with individuals with disabilities in mind. Consider the crosswalk. If there is no light or visual to accompany the auditory walk signal, it would be difficult for those with hearing impairment to navigate a city safely. Therefore, this design would take away a person’s independence and dignity. This same example also exemplifies how cities are designed for those who are able to walk. Not everyone who crosses a crosswalk does so on two feet. Some do it using wheelchairs and other modes of transportation.

It is hard to say exactly how speaking with a hearing impaired person would help you to better understand the Blind community, as all disabilities differ in their struggle. However, it is likely that the two communities share a kinship in their fight against ablism. Just as the world has not been kind to those who are Deaf, it has certainly been unkind to those who are Blind.

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