The Deaf Community or ASL is not a Fluffy Piece to be Consumed

By Ellie Bernard-Wesson

Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed here are my own.


When I accepted a very-last minute request to be interviewed by CTV which would be happening within the next two hours, I had an ominous feeling that the next couple days might be crazy. I was right in both the best and worst ways.


The point of the interview is to spotlight the creation of the ASL storybook under the wonderful Digitally Lit organization. Working alongside Digitally Lit to bring ASL story telling to the spotlight has been a fantastic experience overall. It’s something that needs to happen and I am very proud to be part of this experience as a Deaf ASL mentor.


The first interview went badly enough that my interpreter Amy Follett and I requested to re-do the interview completely because we did not have enough preparation time. For interpreters and deaf clients, typically one week of notice is requested for everyone in the situation to prepare effectively to make sure the interpretation goes clear, concise, and represents the deaf client’s words well. Two hours was not enough. Amy was transparent with me about the quality of the interpretation, which is a must for interpreters working with deaf clients. After advocating for the need to re-do the interview, we were able to re-do the interview the next day early in the morning before I headed off to work.


After we re-did the interview I breathed a huge sigh of relief that we did the deaf community justice. I discussed topics such as language deprivation impact on the deaf community, the importance of American Sign Language (ASL) to the community, how bilingual education is proven to be the best education for the deaf community, how oralism without the addition of sign language causes language deprivation, and lastly, how stories come from our heart and they all matter no matter what forms they come in. I walked to work hoping when it went live later in the evening that everyone will have more awareness of ASL, and how important it is to the deaf community.


Later, I finally had time to sit down and watch the 2 minute piece. I felt this distorted sense of happiness but complete disappointment at the same time. Those emotions mixed unpleasantly in me. It took me a bit to figure out why I was feeling these emotions.


Firstly, please understand that this is not out of disrespect for Digitally Lit or CTV News and the work they’ve done to bring ASL and the deaf community to the forefront. This is simply a step for me, at educating, advocating and opening minds to the difficult conversations that need to be had in order to break down barriers, eliminate misunderstandings and recognise privileges.


The discomfort I was feeling is that the 2 minute piece is distinctly hearing centric despite the topic about ASL storybook interpretation. They showed a short blurb of my interview, and that short blurb only shows my fluffiest comment. They did not include any sort of comment that may sound slightest inflammatory about the realities of hearing privileges.


I have to acknowledge this is how Media works, they are heavily trimmed until it fits into their slot. However, the act of this trimming hurt me and the deaf community. We are not a fluffy news piece to be consumed by the great massive hearing population.


The next thing I noticed was that CTV also spotlighted the other hearing person in the ASL storybook team heavier than they did me. They spotlight that ASL is her second language. I feel strange about that because ASL is my first language, and English my second language. Kaylee is a wonderful person and I am terribly proud of her but ASL is mine and the deaf community's language. The deaf community has been taken advantage of countless time with our sign language being monetized by hearing people.


This reminds me of the danger of “one story”, which was talked about in the great Ted Talk by Chimamanda Adichie (2009). For instance, you hear thousands of versions of a story about the deaf community. The variety of poor us, we need a hearing saviour, poor us, we’re useless without our hearing, poor us, we won't succeed in life unless we pass as a hearing person. It caused the majority of people to develop the thought that the deaf community needed to be pitied.


Coming back to the CTV News, they show a version of this story, that there are hearing saviours who have decided to promote ASL storybooks, and nicely hired on a Deaf mentor. This is not the reality of my story with Digitally Lit and I hope everyone can understand and see this from the bottom of my heart.


This is what I am feeling about the news video and article. I am excited that we are somewhat raising awareness about ASL but I am not excited about how it comes across to the general population. I hope that everyone who is reading this piece understands where I am coming from, a place of complete transparency and honesty.


I also hope that hearing people understand that their hearing privilege, audism, and biases always exist and they need to be constantly examined and analyzed. I hope that you sit down, and really think about this, acknowledge and FEEL your discomfort and swim through it.


Lastly, I hope this also promotes genuine discussions on privileges and biases in various forms and how this impacts everyone from minority communities, cultures, and languages.


This blog post was originally posted on Deaf Librarian Blog.

89 views

Recent Posts

See All