Deaf = Disabled?

This is an extremely controversial topic among the Deaf community: are we disabled? Why is this such an important issue? Well, within the Deaf community there is a paradox: a lot of Deaf people do not consider themselves to be disabled, and yet many claim the benefits of being disabled, such as entitlement to benefits such as Disability Living Allowance, Disabled Students Allowance, Freedom Passes etc.

Personally, I don’t consider myself to be disabled, and I think the Deaf community is a language minority rather than part of the disabled community. This is because even among the disabled community, we are marginalised and singled out because at the end of the day, people who are blind or have visual impairments, or those in wheelchairs or with mobility problems, still have their hearing, and they do not have communication issues with other people.

If one thinks of hearing people as the ones with the problem, and not Deaf people, disabled people would fit under this category as well: Deaf people don’t have any problems communicating with others, it’s the hearies who have difficulty in communicating with Deaf people. After all, it’s the hearies who can’t use BSL, who don’t know how to speak with clear lip patterns and ensure the light is on their face etc. Disabled people have the same problem. Therefore, how can Deafies classify themselves as disabled?

A friend of mine, however, has expressed the opinion that marginalising ourselves away from the disabled community is not going to do us any favours. I don’t really understand this viewpoint: if we’re not really disabled people, then how will we suffer by no longer calling ourselves disabled?

The fact is, Deafies are called disabled simply because the Government doesn’t know how to deal with us. The easiest thing to do with us is to clump us with other people who have a range of conditions and call us disabled with the rest of them.

On the other hand, how are blind/visually impaired people different from us? Are they disabled as well because they can’t see as well as the average people? What about wheelchair users? Are they disabled just because they don’t have use or only have limited use of their legs? The questions just go on and on.

In fact, why do we need to label ourselves at all? This is the problem with society today: we are all obssessed with labels. What purpose does it serve? Why is it so important to ensure that everyone has a category? This applies equally to sexuality and race. Why should we have to identify someone as Jewish or black simply because that is what they are? Or someone as gay or bisexual? At the end of the day, aren’t we all human beings?

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