Deaf Role Models

Every Deaf individual needs at least one thing: a Deaf role model.

I was lucky enough to grow up with a range of Deaf role models: Deaf adults who performed in Newport’s Dolman Theatre Deaf Pantomime, of which I was part of the children’s chorus for a couple of years and then joined the adult chorus for the final year the Deaf Pantomime was put on. However while it was good for me to see Deaf adults participating in such a large production and in the process showing Deaf youngsters that it’s possible to act and perform in a theatre, none of them left a huge impression on me.

It wasn’t until I was 20 that I was to meet my first Deaf role model, a trainer who delivered a peer befriending course I was involved in (through BSL). Here was a confident Deaf professional who knew what he was talking about. It had taken him years to find his Deaf identity, but when he finally did, he became a force to be reckoned with.

I learnt a lot from this guy and it was really through exposure to him that I started to accept my Deaf identity. Crucially, however, he taught me to be patient, and that I can’t force all deaf people to accept or even acknowledge their Deaf identity. It has to start from within.

Fast forward 2 years later and I had started my Legal Practice Course at Cardiff. I met a Deaf woman who had had a similar oral upbringing to me, and had been mainstreamed for most of her education. She was also interested in the field of law and actually gave me the job that was eventually to lead to my qualification as a solicitor and the establishment of the first Deaf law centre in the UK. A pretty powerful Deaf role model indeed!

While the earlier male Deaf role model had encouraged me to accept my Deaf identity and to be patient with others who hadn’t yet attained that level of self awareness, the female Deaf role model gave me the passion I still have within me to use my skills and experience to enforce and advance Deaf people’s rights in the UK.

She also introduced me to the Group for Solicitors with Disabilities (now the Lawyers with Disabilities Division), of which I became Chair in 2003, allowing me to establish contacts within the legal profession that I still have to this day.

We also set up Deaf Lawyers UK, a cause close to my heart; collaborated on the now defunct Deaf Blogs website; did some work on the recognition of BSL, and spent many hours trying to work out how to design and maintain websites.

Although we no longer keep in touch like we used to, there’s no denying the impact these individuals have had on my life, my understanding of Deaf culture and the passion I have for the work I do, and for that, I am eternally grateful to them both.

I believe, at the risk of sounding boastful, that I am now in a position to be a Deaf role model for younger Deaf generations, and this is why I am delighted to have been approached by three Deaf law students all seeking a career in the legal profession recently. I will do my very best to be as thought-provoking and inspiring as the two Deaf role models I was very fortunate to have.

Rob

Deaf, hubby to Rachel, dad to Corey, Libby and Emily, Solicitor, Lecturer in Legal Practice at University of South Wales, PhD student at University of Leicester.

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10 Responses

  1. MM says:

    By far the best role model at the Dolman was Ms Betty Powell, she has done more for young/middle-aged/elderly deaf in Gwent than ANY other person, and her daughter follows in her footsteps too as an Interpreter. It is a pity the Deaf theatre didn’t continue sadly, but deaf went to the pub instead. Currently no other role models exist here.

  2. Rob says:

    Ah, Betty Powell! I’ve known her ever since I was little, and Angela, her daughter, is a friend of Rachel and I.

    I do agree with you that Betty has done a huge amount for the Deaf community in the area, but I still stand by my statement that every Deaf individual needs a Deaf role model.

  3. Dafydd says:

    Hear, Hear or Sign, Sign. I agree with you Rob, growing up my role models were hearing as I had limited access to the Deaf Community, this was disastrous to me because my role models couldn’t tell me how to eliminate the barriers. However I am lucky enough to have discovered role models in my late 20’s and from then on my life has improved significantly.

    If it wasn’t for Deaf role models I would still be a postman in the valleys rather than a successful manager in the civil service that I am today.

    I know Betty and she is a lovely person and committed to supporting the Deaf community and the amount of work she has done should be applauded. But I agree with Rob, Betty is not the ideal role model because she is hearing. This is not a criticism but a fact of life. Role models should be people you can emulate, hearing people are not the best roles models as the communication barrier will prevent Deaf people from fully emulating the person.

    However that said I am not saying hearing people can’t be role models, sometimes people emulate several role models, but for a Deaf person at least one of those role models should be Deaf.

  4. mm says:

    Betty actually had deaf parents and is long overdue for official recognition by Welsh deaf for her contribution to deaf people. She is as good a role model as any deaf person and puts in more mileage too even at her age. I find deaf role models too political and they are not outgoing people except IN the deaf world. They have little ‘outer’ vision basically. Betty opens up the world to deaf people so who is the better role model, it’s how you view what a model is about, even more important to follow Betty now as the deaf world in Wales has shrunk to near nil and the youth deaf have no interest in perpetuating the deaf way.

  5. Rob says:

    You’re missing the point somewhat, MM.

    The aim of having a Deaf role model is as a source of knowledge and experience of surviving as a Deaf person in a predominately hearing world.

    While Betty is a lovely person, she would really only be a role model for a hearing person wishing to become an interpreter and be involved in the Deaf community.

    I’m not sure what benefit she would give a Deaf person struggling to find their way in the world other than as a gateway to the Deaf people she has contact with.

    Let’s move on, please.

  6. mm says:

    Betty would show them that despite being deaf there is a future out there, without immersing yourself IN your deafness to the exclusion of everything else. That’s what I took from it. I don’t go with the ‘deaf are better than hearing’ angle, it’s unhelpful and a pointless argument. If you are born deaf and STILL don’t know who you are then no role modelling will do it for you. ID ‘searches’ are a waste of valuable time, it’s just confidence boosting deaf need. OK you are proud to be deaf, now what ? Pride usually precedes something nasty doesn’t it ?

  7. Dafydd says:

    MM, not sure if your comment was directed at me. I didn’t say that Deaf are better than hearing, and I didn’t say that hearing can’t be role models for Deaf people, however the fact remains is even with the best of intentions hearing people would struggle to be role models for over coming communication barriers when they don’t know what it is really like on a day to day basis.

    If Betty is a role model for you, then that is great. But Betty on her own would be a struggle for most people as I am assuming the majority of Deaf would use “but you are hearing, I am Deaf, not possible” argument. By having Deaf people like Rob who are breaking down barriers and proving that being Deaf is not an excuse for doing nothing, says far more than a hearing person telling Deaf people they can do it.

    I have hearing role models for my career as a manager, I look for good managers who have ways of working that I feel works very well. It just where I work, most of the senior managers, if not all are not Deaf. So I need to look elsewhere for role models of what makes a good manager from a Deaf perspective.

    I have no shame in being proud of being a Deaf person, with a strong Deaf identity. In the same way as Black people are proud of being Black and Welsh being Welsh. An identity gives meaning to who you are, it is the foundation building block from which you can work from.

    My experience of trying to adopt a hearing identity while the fact remains I am Deaf or hard of hearing back fired big time for me. I am sure that some deaf or heard of hearing people are successful with a hearing identity, but by and large this depends on their communication skills and how well they cope in group discussions. The majority I believe struggle in these situations.

    By accepting I am Deaf to me means I have adopted a Deaf identity which means I need to do things differently to hearing people and develop different communication strategies. If I only had a hearing role model, then it would be a struggle to identify alternative communication strategies. Only a Deaf person can truly relate to the challenge and suggest or show alternative communication strategies.

    Sorry for the long post.

  8. mm says:

    This is widening the debate somewhat. There are acquired deaf and born deaf. Born deaf do not struggle with an ID, they do struggle with confidence as you pointed out, most who experience issues of ‘Who the hell am I ?’ are those who acquire a profound or severe loss from hearing backgrounds. So I would see an hearing person just as relevant in that respect. It’s an issue we will always disagree on, we can only put our 10ps worth in. It’s a curiosity only hose who are already immersed in the ‘deaf way’ are those most lacking confidence in that, but it pales into insignificance when you can consider 9 times more people deaf have not even the ‘community’ to fall back on. for them no role models, mainly because no-one has considered a need for a deaf one and they do not look upon deafness the same way. The arguments mainly (From my view), are that deaf education is to blame, they just do not equip people with that confidence to get out there. They get their academics and a fail at the first hurdle almost unable to communicate to those not deaf, the whole thing then becomes an major excersize in making Isolation an virtue. rather than laud ‘exceptions’ to the rule, let us promote these things as a norm.

  9. Dafydd says:

    MM
    I agree with some of what you say, although one part I disagree with is those who are born deaf don’t struggle with ID issues.

    I was born Deaf and struggle greatly because, as you mentioned, education is failing a lot of people.

    You are right that people who acquired deafness may need different role models, but the point Rob was making is you need role models that you can identify with. So if you have acquired deafness then other people who are successful and have acquired deafness would be better role models than a hearing person who doesn’t know what it is like.

    Good debate. 🙂

  10. MM says:

    The example I pointed out, was because this lady is an example of an role model that bridged both areas. Rob and I are totally different deaf people from different backgrounds, yet this individual is a beacon to us all. I think she seriously merits an award, but if you want Rob instead try here, they are looking for nominees. I think Ms Powell should be nominated too and will be asking why an hearing person may not be eligible, given her lifetime of dedication to our support and confidence building, it is about people who BENEFIT the deaf community. I just find the ‘pro-deaf, anti-hearing’ lobby a pain really. There is no need for that negativity. http://byddarcymru.blogspot.com/2012/02/nominees-wanted-for-deaf-positivity.html

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