Not disabled?

In a general interest forum recently, a person posted his dissatisfaction with a customer service experience. He believed that the customer service agent had made a particular decision because he (the poster) was deaf. His post was moved into the disability sub-forum. He was offended:

While I (respectfully) understand why you had to move my thread, I still feel a bit insulted. I am NOT disabled–I am just Deaf. Being Deaf is not a disability, because I can do anything but hear.

So, can you please move this thread back to the “******” forum so more people can read it?

There are a lot of things about this that bother me.

First, his post was about the fact that the customer service agent had treated him as disabled, so the disability forum is not inappropriate. He believes he is not disabled, and wants to be treated like an ordinary person – and so do we all. But is the answer to somehow persuade the entire world that Deaf people are not disabled, or to persuade the world that people should be treated well, whether they are disabled or not?

Second, how does he think things like the Americans with Disabilities Act happen? Because people who are disabled insist they are not, and as long as everyone understands that, it’ll be cool and nothing else has to change? It’s identification with others in a group that enables social action. [Edited to add: because the poster is not disabled, the ADA is not relevant, but how does he think Closed Captioning and visual emergency alarms and ASL interpreters came into the mainstream?]

Third, this is way the ADA includes a provision to cover those who are perceived as disabled, whether they actually are or not. This guy is complaining about being discriminated against as if he were disabled – does it matter whether he is or not? Will he be able to claim solidarity with the disabled community in order to fight against discrimination, or will that give him disabled cooties?

Lastly, why does he think any non-disabled, non-Deaf people will empathize with him? They certainly haven’t experienced the particular flavor of discrimination he reported. Maybe there needs to be a Deaf sub-forum.

This gives me the same sour feeling I get when, as a woman old enough to remember when a married woman’s salary was not legally her own, young women say they believe in equality and all that, but ooooh, nooo, they’re not feminists or anything.

What do you think?



  1. The Goldfish

    Whilst it is the individual’s prerogative whether or not they self-identify as disabled, it is pretty insulting to us, to claim to be insulted. If someone made a comment on-line which revealed they thought I was a black woman, I might correct them if it was relevant to do so, but I wouldn’t say, “I’m a bit insulted. I’m not black!” because it is a neutral differentiation.

    And in this context, yes of course, this *is* a disability issue.

    Some of members of the Deaf community – with a capital D – do seem to be under the allusion that by quite rightly identifying themselves as a linguistic minority, they no longer experience societal disability. Whereas in fact, comments like this positively contribute to it.

  2. mdmhvonpa

    There is a movement within the Deaf community that pushes the idea that deafness is like homesexuality or race; It’s different – not a limitation. It’s gone as far as deaf people admonishing against hearing implants. They insist that not hearing is preferential and all others should bend to their view. Identity politics gone wrong.

  3. Katja (Post author)

    I’m aware of the concept of Deafness as a cultural (or linguistic) rather than a disability identity. The question really is, how do those who subscribe to this viewpoint deal with the fact that most people do regard deafness as a disability, and are completely unaware of cultural Deafness? There has to be some logical line of reasoning to bring people from one to the other.

  4. Kara

    Can’t Deafness AND self-identifying as a person with a disability BOTH be positive cultural memberships? I don’t get that mind set–I just returned from the NCIL conference a few weeks ago and this awesome group of passionate youth leaders with disabiliteis made a shirt that said “Disability is my culture” and it had the sign for “I love you” below it. It was an AWESOME design that was a total hit across several age groups and so much like many of the trendy shirts that are flying off “regular” store shelves right now….I was floored when the group’s leader said they almost scrapped the idea because they received so much flack for the indication that Deaf people were included in the statement (with the signing hand)…….Choosing to identify as disabled is a personal choice (I guess) but I’m not sure how you can expect to have it both ways-tell us you aren’t anything like us/and then expect to get our support as peers.

    I don’t want the pity of Deaf people anymore than I want it from AB’s….It doesn’t help to hear that a person is sympathetic but can’t relate at all and is frankly offended to be confused with “one of them”.

  5. Ziggi

    I agree with Kara- “Choosing to identify as disabled is a personal choice.” Yet, being identified as disabled is entirely in the hands or minds of others. Regardless of where and how the comment string is placed or the intent of the author, the minds of others will do as they desire with it and percieve it as they will.

    Goldfish states that “It’s identification with others in a group that enables social action.” That’s true. But in the case of disabilities there are thousands of groups each with their own interests and agendas that rarely seem to cross over and hold hands.

    AB society may not relate to or even mildly understand disability. But do the individual segments that make up the disabilities community understand each other?

    ADA happened because it was an oddity. Groundswell across a great number of disability platforms finally came together on an issue in numbers large enough and voices loud enough to create change.

    Maybe the disability segments in our society need to understand each other in order to be understood by others.

  6. Ziggi

    Sorry, my Goldfish quote was credited to the wrong person but I think you get it.

  7. jesse the k

    But that groundswell across many platforms included, very importantly, the Deaf President Now protests at Gallaudet

    an international story that was also local for Congress. The savvy disability-rights politicians who’d been fostering ADA for decades included Frank Bowe, a Deaf man.

    Just as “what do the wheelchair users think” is a question without a single answer, there are many opinions among the ASL-focused Deaf community.

  8. Chris

    Everyone gets to choose and I, for one, am all for it!

    I get to decide for myself and so does everyone else.

    It would be nice if we could agree and form a new “super coalition” but I don’t see that happening too often.

    Thanks to The Deaf, Quebec and more recently individuals living with disabilities, I have started exploring this totally awesome, refined yet undiscovered, usefull, interesting, facinating, fun and highly versitile utility belt called culture!

    yum! yum!

    Yum! Yum!

  9. Dave Hingsburger

    The idea of disability community and disability culture come out of a common experience of oppression, repression and violence. The need for community is the need for safe haven – but while we lobby for diversity in the workplace, we often don’t like the idea of diversity in our home community. People with intellectual disabilities are often on the sidelines of the disability community and people are ‘offended’ that ‘because I’m in a wheelchair they talk to me like I’m intellectually disabled’. Ummmm … isn’t that attitude slightly off the mark?

  10. Katja (Post author)

    Dave, thanks for your comment. I found your observations about the mutual disregard of the intellectual/physical disability communities for each other fascinating and must confess that I was taken aback – wait! How dare these people (whom I pity) pity me? It was a very eye-opening read for me.


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