Hearing allyship with the Deaf community

Allyship "begins when a person of privilege seeks to support a marginalized individual or group." -- PeerNetBC. This post is integrated with PeerNetBC's compiled notes in the quotations.

Scenario: One of my ASL level-200 students in Fall 2017 turned to her classmate in ASL, "I want to become an ally." I explained her as what PeerNetBC put it exactly, "Allyship is not an identity, nor is it self-defined. Allyship is a process. ... our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with."

Allyship is "a practice of unlearning and relearning, and is a life-long process of building relationships based on TRUST, CONSISTENCY, and ACCOUNTABILITY with marginalized individuals or groups." -- PeerNetBC.

Hearing allyship is when they support Deaf people, leaders, and advocates, stand by them, or work with them in advocacy. They may be teachers of the Deaf, codas, ASL-English interpreters, friends, advocates, and/or individuals. Some hearing people may know some ASL, but many also do not know any ASL but are ready to support Deaf and HoH. The following classical scenario contrasts two on the opposite ends of the continuum of allyship.

Scenario: As a graduate student in 2005, a disability service "coordinator" (who was actually the only one-person staffer on contract with the university from the government, not a hired staffer of the university per se) was not willing to accept my request for a videophone installed in my studio; instead, he insisted to provide an outdated TTY. His rationale was for safety in case of a fire and such. ...

... After a long month of struggling with his oppression and then overcoming the fear of bringing a burden to the graduate director, to my surprise the graduate director quickly set up a meeting with the disability "coordinator" with my presence. Again, the coordinator brought up a concern for a fire or emergency call via TTY. I bluntly told him I'd rather take a risk in fire which was one in a million chance than dealing with communication hassles on a daily basis with slow TTY phone calls. He pointed to the Deaf clerk at a Deaf and HoH service who also recommended a TTY [tokenism]. I remarked, "Well, she is a local elder in this small city whereas I had worked at the national association of the Deaf" and reminded him of my educational backgrounds and international experiences. He defended that videophone was more expensive. I responded, "While TTY is outdated, it costs about the same as a videophone." And so on. The director listened with enough information collected; he intervened and stood with me, saying that the videophone is to be provided immediately. [allyship] ...

... In no time, videophone was slow on the highly congested university traffic cable. Again the "coordinator" refused to set up a separate line which would require a drilling work in my studio for this purpose. The graduate director arranged a meeting with the vice president of the university, the IT technician, and the disability service coordinator. At this meeting, the coordinator with the IT technician's side argued that the videophone cable setup which would require a drill work plus a monthly Internet cable fee were very expensive". After learning cost which was not that expensive to them, the vice president and the director of the graduate program ordered to install a separate Internet cable in my studio for the videophone! [allyship/accessibility] Plus, they ordered a fire strobe to be installed in my studio! [complete accessibility and allyship] At the very beginning of the meeting, the vice president greeted and told me that his grandmother was the first Deaf Canadian woman to attend Gallaudet (University). Looking back, I realized that he apparently intended to show his support and to give comfort.

Those amazing educated hearing male white guys in high, powerful positions demonstrated allyship (and quick responses) even though they knew zero of ASL, but they understood the values of social justice. It was no burden to them, only injustice was a burden to them. They understood margnization, 'the Center and the Other/Margin', etc.

For example, when that director and I met for the first time, he cordially introduced himself and then told me via an interpreter "I'm sorry that I don't know ASL. I wish I do." His message simply conveyed that he was not the "Center" and he tried to meet my world instead of the way around. Interestingly, right after his words, that disability coordinator responded, "Oh, you don't have to. We have an interpreter here." This shows a quite contrast between those guys' attitudes and approaches.

Likewise, hearing people who may have ASL skills and work with Deaf people do not necessarily always practice allyship. To practice allyship and accountability, consider unpacking: hearing privilege, audism, phonocentrism, power maintenance, paternalism, marginzalization, tokenism, etc.

"As people seeking to practice allyship, we have a particular set of responsibilities: 1) we actively knowledge our privileges and openly discuss them; 2) we listen more and speak less; 3) we do our work with integrity and direct communication; 4) we do not expect to be educated by others: we continuously do our own research on the oppressions experienced by the people we seek to work with...; 5) we build our capability to receive criticism, to be honest and accountable with our mistakes... 6) we embrace the emotions that come out of the process of allyship, 7) our needs are secondary to the people we seek to work with; 8) we do not expect awards or special recognition..." -- PeerNetBC's "Allyship 101" pdf.

"So what are our roles as practitioners of allyship? What places do we have, as people who hold specific privileges, in challenging oppressions that we don't face?"

A common oppression is hearing signing-able people using vocal communication in the ASL zone, such as Deaf schools. Another example is a person using simultaneous communication (e.g. speaking two languages - spoken English and signed ASL at the same time, which breaks one language, usually ASL). A hearing person takes a ASL teaching job that belongs to Deaf people, whereas there is a plenty of interpreting jobs.

Scenario: In circa 2003, a TV reporter and cameraman came to interview me. The reporter asked the interpreter to stand next to me. But, I asked the interpreter to stand next to the cameraman (that way he cannot record the interpreter). The reporter insisted a few times before she accepted my request after I explained my rationale. It's about focusing on my words. My voice -- of course, in ASL. The interpreter was my voicebox. My words, not hers. Why did I have to make the effort all the time? Why didn't the interpreter firmly stand next to the cameraman and said "It's what the Deaf client requested." If it weren't for my action, the interpreter with her inaction would take the privilege to be on TV.

"2) We turn the spotlight we are given away from ourselves and towards the voices of those who are continuously marginalized, silenced, and ignored;..."


PeerNetBC's "Allyship 101". http://www.peernetbc.com/wordpress2017/wp-content/uploads/allyship101_online-screen-reader-friendly.pdf (This web page no longer is online.)

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