Picture via Vulture.com
The award-winning play Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris recently opened up in NYC to much acclaim. Although the play mainly focuses on issues related to racism and the gentrifications of neighborhoods, what is really striking about the play was it's casual, yet utterly offensive approach to deafness. It treats ableism like a joke, using one of the character's, Betsey (played by Anna Parisse), disability as a punch-line.
Deaf in a hearing world, Betsey who is also extremely (about to burst) pregnant is left out of most conversations, struggling to follow with her minimal lip reading. When she speaks, her voice is revealed to be completely off-tune—she sounds like a stereotypical person who is deaf. Yet, nevertheless, she tries to make a presence: she attempts to follow, to converse and to interact with the other characters but to little avail.
“Wait a minute…lemme get this straight--you have a hearing loss,” a middle-aged woman demanded of me last week, “How come you don’t look like you do?” Startled, I was immediately taken aback. How could I possibly answer this question? After all, what does a person who is deaf or hard of hearing even look like?
Did she believe that I was supposed to be blonde, not brunette, in order to highlight my dark hearing aids? Are my ears supposed to protrude so far out that everyone can easily see my tiny aids? Should I be signing, not speaking? Or is my speech supposed to be so strongly accented that it’s obvious I have some form of hearing loss?
Although her question was both ignorant and rude, it represents one of many common misconceptions about hearing loss. There are so many false ideas floating around about what a person who is deaf or has a hearing loss is like or can do. Apparently, the condition includes being old, uneducated, and unable to speak. The picture seems to be of a person severely limited by their disability. So, I want to address a few of the most common and bizarre stereotypes that I have encountered:
Racism mixed with ableism is not good. Not that either are ever acceptable on their own. For those of you who don't know—and I am guessing that's most of you—, ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities.
But according to a report conducted by the National Education Policy Center, it is a wide-spread practice. In a recent study, research found that minorities with disabilities are two-and-a-half times more likely to be suspended from school than white children with disabilities.