Is Being Deaf a Disability?

This question is widely debated by different groups and even Deaf people themselves.

First, let’s look at a few facts. Over 70% of deaf or hard of hearing Americans have received social security benefits because of their disability. Half of the total Deaf population in the United States were unemployed or part-time employed while receiving benefits.  Some other data you might find interesting that the National Deaf Center [link: https://www.nationaldeafcenter.org/sites/default/files/Deaf%20Employment%20Report_final.pdf] put together are:

  • 48% of deaf people were employed in 2014.
  • Unemployment rates are similar for deaf and hearing people.
  • A large percentage (47%) of deaf people are not in the labor force.
  • Deaf people who work full-time report average annual earnings that are comparable to the general population.
  • Educational attainment appears to narrow employment gaps.
  • Employment experiences are not the same for all deaf people.

As a Deaf person, I don’t see myself as disabled. This is because I can drive, walk, hike, read, communicate, and enjoy my television shows. Sure, I can’t hear most sounds, but that doesn’t mean anything to me because I can do pretty much anything I want, thanks to technological advancements and accessibility laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. In an article in Psychology Today [link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-apes/201802/is-deafness-really-disability], the writer debates why Deaf people should be perceived as being disabled if they claim they’re part of a culture and linguistic minority. Many Deaf people have no desire to hear even if they are given the opportunity to — and therein lies the oxymoron.

However, discrimination against Deaf people is incredibly high, and ongoing, unfortunately. As the National Association of the Deaf writes on its website [link: https://www.nad.org/resources/justice/] (in regards to discriminatory practices in the justice system, a huge problem around the nation):

“Deaf and hard of hearing individuals face greater legal challenges due to communication barriers that are typically not recognized by lawyers, courts, or police.  In encounters with the police, lack of communication may result in detention without the ability to call one’s lawyer. When a deaf or hard of hearing person is not able to communicate with a lawyer, there is no real representation.  When a deaf or hard of hearing person does not understand what is going on in the courtroom, justice has not been served.”

Although I had received high evaluation marks at my 9-to-5 job, I decided to establish a company. It was in this job that I was reminded of the harsh reality: there are many, many people who will take advantage of Deaf people, and treat them poorly, even if they work for a Deaf person like me. This led me to close my company, and file a lawsuit. Although the lawsuit itself was nasty enough, I had to also educate my lawyer and others on my rights as a Deaf person. For example, my attorney never paid for an ASL interpreter during our meetings, so we had to write back and forth.

Another area that Deaf people face extreme discrimination in is employment, which I’ll discuss more in another article. But here’s a good article to read about that: Unemployment in the Deaf Community: Barriers, Recommendations and Benefits of Hiring Deaf Employees. [link: https://www.deafjobwizard.com/blog/unemployment-in-the-deaf-community-barriers-recommendations-and-benefits-of-hiring-deaf-employees].

So this is why Deaf people, despite seeing ourselves as a linguistic and cultural minority and not as “disabled,” have to fight for accessibility and disability laws to be in place. It’s because we are among the most misunderstood groups of people, and while we know fully well how “normal” we are, most people don’t see us that way — and treat us as if we are second-rate citizens unable to achieve anything. Laws, awareness, education, and open-mindness are what help us gain equal footing in this country, although we still have a long way to go.

Keep reading my blogs here, and feel free to share feedback, questions, or thoughts here [link: https://referralsbyrobb.com/contact].

Referrals by Robb is a website that allows anyone to learn more about Deaf people, their experiences, stories and beyond.

What’s Audism?

In the Deaf community, the word “audism” has started to appear on a regular basis. But what is it exactly? First coined in 1976 by renowned scholar Tom Humphries, he defines audism as “the notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears, or that life without hearing is futile and miserable, or an attitude based on pathological thinking which results in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear.”

Audism exists in many different ways, some explicit and others not so explicit. For a quick primer on how audism is performed, here’s a public video available at Facebook.

Communciation Service of the Deaf (CSD) also recently released a film, “Meant to Be.” [link: http://csdvisionfilms.com/films/meant-to-be/]. The story shared in this fictional film is one echoed by so many Deaf people, including me. The only differences are that I never had a cochlear implant, and my parents started to learn sign language as soon as they learned I was Deaf – thankfully! 

On the career front, I’ve experienced countless incidents of audism, unfortunately. When I owned a guided hiking tour company, I encountered different challenges, such as misconceptions about my abilities and even intelligence as a Deaf person. Eventually, this audism led to the closure of my company [link: https://referralsbyrobb.com/ceo-made-decision]; However, the experiences I had while operating the company were for the most part wonderful. Even the challenges were fantastic life lessons, and I look forward to what lies ahead of me. 

Let’s work together to end audism!

A recommended novel:

What’s LEAD-K?

During the 1970s, I attended an elementary school that had the “Hearing Impaired and Hard of Hearing Program.” (Note: “hearing impaired” is not an acceptable term; the preferred term is “deaf.”) I was in a self-contained classroom with other deaf students; the teacher was hearing, and used an artificial sign language system. At times, I was mainstreamed into regular classes with ASL interpreters.

It was an overwhelming time for my hearing parents, who had to decide what kind of educational setting to provide me: a mainstreamed program, a deaf program where support services were available, being the only one at my school with limited supports, or a deaf school (which was several hours away, which meant I would have to live in the dormitory). My parents felt we should stay together as a family, so they chose to have me attend the school I did. That was fine, but I also encountered a lot of audism and a lack of language access in school because I wasn’t taught in my natural language of American Sign Language (ASL) or even bilingually. 

Today, there’s an organization working to end language deprivation and to ensure that students are kindergarten-ready. That’s LEAD-K (www.lead-k.org), which states:

The LEAD-K Campaign is a direct response to the alarming number of Deaf and hard of hearing children arriving at school without language. Language deprivation has irreparable catastrophic consequences on the educational, social and vocational development of Deaf and hard of hearing children.

When provided with access and opportunities, the Deaf child has normal ability to develop language. The Deaf child who has the foundation of language will acquire English literacy.

The Campaign aims to end language deprivation through information to families about language milestones and assessments that measure language milestone achievements, and data collection that holds our current education system accountable.

At LEAD-K, we believe that Deaf children benefit from American Sign Language (ASL), a natural visual language, however our goal is language acquisition regardless of the language used, whether ASL or English or both. We cannot afford to lose another generation of Deaf children by engaging in a ideological war. Deaf children who have language are Kindergarten-ready.

What a fabulous idea! I wonder what my life would have been like had LEAD-K existed during my early years. I’m so thankful that my parents always used sign language with me, which helped me become fluent in English. Perhaps, if LEAD-K had existed during the 1970s, my parents wouldn’t have been so overwhelmed by how to handle my education. I could be in a completely different field — but I’m very happy being with Referrals by Robb, because all of my experiences have led me here right now to this point in life. 

It has become my mission to share information with people about Deaf people, Deaf education, and most importantly, access for Deaf people. Another important thing to remember is that not all Deaf people have the same goals, needs, or desires; they all have individual dreams and goals.  Yet we all have a shared experience: discrimination. 

I once shared my experience of discrimination with a nearly 80-year-old Deaf guy, and he could relate to me perfectly. This is also true for almost every other Deaf person I’ve talked to, and this is why LEAD-K is such an important program. With increased awareness of Deaf people’s capabilities and language acquisition needs, Deaf people will then be positioned to know about opportunities and choices they have throughout their lives, especially in their careers. Otherwise, without all these resources, they experience lower self-esteem and lower motivation because they think there are no other options — when in fact, there are many resources they can access. 

LEAD-K offers many opportunities to provide resources that fits the Deaf child’s educational and linguistic needs. There are numerous states that have incorporated LEAD-K’s bills for equal access in Deaf education, the first being in California in 2015. Other states include Hawaii, Kansas, Oregon, and soon South Dakota, Georgia, and Louisiana. Yet there are still 42 states remaining that need to incorporate this law. Even so, it’s a great start. I only wish LEAD-K had been around when I was a little boy, so all of my friends whose parents didn’t sign could’ve had more access.

Keep fighting for Deaf people!

Lack of Awareness about ASL Has Impact on Businesses

I’d like to share this recent video by 11-years old Deaf boy who inspired me.

Even with all the media exposure we’ve had within the past few years, people still don’t really understand Deaf people, or our language, culture, and values. There are many stories, including right here in Arizona, of people doubting the validity of American Sign Language (ASL) as a stand-alone language separate from English. In fact, there are many hearing children with Deaf parents who have been told by their teachers that ASL is not a language.  

ASL was recognized as an official language with its own grammar, syntax, and even vocabulary by researchers in the 1960s, and all research since then have further supported this discovery. Yet such misconceptions persist, mainly because of people’s lack of willingness or awareness to learn about other cultures. This is one of the many reasons I launched Referrals by Robb: to help others understand Deaf people better, and to help pave the way to equal access especially for businesses.

Even with the Americans with Disabilities Act in place since 1990, many businesses don’t understand the importance of providing equal communication access. There are stories all over the media about how hospitals and medical professionals fail to provide qualified ASL interpreters to patients. Had they done things correctly the first time around, they wouldn’t be facing so many lawsuits or hurting so many Deaf patients. They could even have hired a qualified, certified staff interpreter.

This lack of accessibility spills over into everyday businesses hearing people frequent without much thought. For instance, auto dealerships often don’t provide communication access, even though Deaf people often go to dealerships to make what may be some of the most expensive purchases of their lives: cars. Add to that regular oil changes and other mechanical needs, and you see how it can affect Deaf people not having full access. 

Take my experience for example. I had purchased an automobile from a dealership, and knew that part of the deal was I would get free oil and filter changes. Yet one day, I went in for an appointment as a “preferred customer,” and was told that I had to pay for the service. I disagreed and explained — all through paper and pen — that I was told I would get free service. The manager was called in, who then deuced I was unable to read or understand the contract.

This was embarrassing for me, because I obviously am literate and could understand the contract. I was insulted, but persisted in my communications with them. It was very cumbersome having to write back and forth with them, especially when they obviously had a low opinion of my intelligence and knowledge. After a long conversation, they finally figured it out: I was eligible for oil changes only when my car indicator light let me know I was due for one. I had come in before the light came on.

This was such a simple explanation — only if it had been shared with me. They could have also brought in an ASL interpreter who would have accurately conveyed my information rather than forcing me to write back and forth. Ideally, they should have accepted the responsibility for communication, as part of customer service. Rather, they made me the problem and dismissed my intelligence.  

This is just one small example of disempowerment that happens everyday for so many deaf people, all because of people’s lack of awareness.  But there are many possible solutions to this. Starbucks has created kiosks that feature signers on screen; there are many kiosks used throughout the nation for ordering food directly at drive-throughs or even at fast-food restaurants. 

Oftentimes it takes just a bit of new thinking to easily accommodate people who use ASL. Referrals by Robb wants to highlight these ideas, and to encourage increased patronage by Deaf people. That can happen only if accessibility is provided.

What Riders Often Say When They Find Out I’m Deaf

I’d like to talk about my experiences in encountering individuals who have shared their insights about my being Deaf. Everyone has different perspectives and opinions, so let me share mine. Before I go on, it may help to visit this page [Community and Culture – Frequently Asked Questions] to learn a bit about certain words and identities within the Deaf community.

As you may know, I’m a driver for Lyft and Uber, where 95% of my riders are hearing.

I’ve also had blind riders —if you were wondering how we communicate, it was a piece of cake! When I learn my rider is blind, I immediately send a text message to let him/her know that I’m Deaf. I typically get a reply saying, “No problem. Thank you.” Cool beans! With the hearing riders, they usually say the same things:

“I’m sorry for not knowing sign language/I wish I knew sign language/I used to know some, I forgot, my bad…”

My response: It’s fine, and I’m sorry I don’t use my voice except when I’m angry! LOL. (To see a previous blog I wrote about communicating, click here.)

“Do you read lips?”

My response: I always say no, even if I can read lips a bit, and open a voice-to-text app to chat with the rider. This question is the most misleading one, because even the most experienced lipreader catches only 20-30% of the words; the rest is guesswork. So this means most lipreaders don’t catch even 20%. It’s better to use other ways, such as writing or texting, for brief, superficial conversations. It’s my goal to make every person comfortable in talking with me, which is why I have over 2,000 five-star ratings from satisfied riders!

“You should get a cochlear implant!”

My response: This is a hot-button issue within the Deaf community.  It’s certainly an option for many, but for me, I choose to not receive one for many reasons. I’m perfectly content being Deaf without hearing aids or cochlear implants (I haven’t worn a hearing aid since the eighth grade!). I was born Deaf, and don’t know any different — which is just fine with me. Besides, when I wear hearing aids, it becomes very irritating and I’m not able to distinguish sounds from each other.

Some people receive cochlear implants later in life, others receive implants early in life — and for many different reasons. I have friends with cochlear implants who are still culturally Deaf, and I have other friends who aren’t as culturally Deaf as before receiving their implants. I’ve heard many, many stories — some positive, some very sad — about implantation.

Again, implantation is an individual preference. I prefer to be fully Deaf, physically and culturally.

“You’re Deaf? I’m so sorry!”

My response: Don’t be.  You’re not sorry for who you are, and I’m not sorry for who I am. It’s perfectly fine.

The most important thing is to be patient, since I may be the first Deaf person riders have met — or maybe I’m not the first, but they had bad experiences with the previous Deaf person they met. The bottom line is we are all humans, and we all have different personalities, characteristics, and perspectives, whether we’re Deaf or hearing, and whether we’re drivers or riders.

Why Deaf Business Owners Has Increased Even More?

I’m a bit late in posting this blog…but I have a good reason: I just got back from Mexico for my birthday. Much to my delight, the rain stopped when I arrived there, and I had a blast with my friends! I’ve shared some photographs.

In my last blog, I mentioned that I would write about why Deaf businesses have grown in recent years. But I realized I had too many unresolved feelings and struggles to write about this. As you may remember, I owned a business that wasn’t as successful as I had hoped because of external circumstances. Through that process, I realized that a major reason many Deaf people launch their own businesses is because of discrimination; rather than struggling with employment, they decide to establish their own businesses. But that’s a topic for another time; in the meantime, I’d like to write about something more positive.

There’s some changes with my relatively new business, Referrals By Robb. I’ve updated my company’s slogan from “A Deaf Business Network in One Place” to “● Join ● Promote ● Shop” 

Join. If you’d like to join Lyft or Uber as a driver, you can enjoy your own schedule, earning money to make your piggy bank grow, and get discounts as a rider. As a Lyft and Uber driver, I can confirm that they’re great companies to work for! You can sign up via my link on the “Drive or Ride” page

Another way you can join is becoming an Amazon Associate and/or eBay Affiliate, and start selling and earning just like I do!

Promote. Are you a Deaf or Hard of Hearing business owner? You can promote your business on my Business Directory page at no cost! Fill out the following form and wait for approval just a few days away. 

Shop. If you prefer to shop without becoming part of any program, shop on Amazon or eBay and help me earn points. I’d be happy to share recommendations on various products. Thank you for your support! 

The purpose of Referrals By Robb is to help anyone who wishes to join, promote, or shop and help support the Deaf business owner community!

I’m so happy as a Deaf, self-employed person, especially being my own boss. Thank you once again for your support. A bit early, but Happy Patrick’s Day — I particularly like the name “Patrick” (it’s my last name!), so it’s a great holiday for me. Don’t forget to grab a Green Shamrock shake or even a green beer! 

Cheers,

Robb

Tips for Communicating with Hearing Riders

I’m back! 2017 hasn’t been too great a year, with so many natural disasters and too many violent situations around the world. We must stay positive, help each other, and pray for all of us.

I’d like to talk briefly on how I, as a Lyft and Uber driver, communicate with hearing riders. It isn’t as hard as you’d think; all it takes is some flexibility and proactivity. Just like any other Lyft or Uber driver, my goal is to make the riders feel comfortable.  As soon as a rider hops in  my car, I give them a bottle of water, and tell them to feel free to play their favorite music. And of course, they can turn it up as loud as they want!

I also downloaded a great app, Sorenson Buzzcards (available for iPhone or Android), which allows me to write notes or save oft-used messages; another great app for communication is Cardzilla, which was created by a Deaf guy. I also store a few jokes on my phone that I can share with riders to help break the ice. This is easily done when not driving, such as waiting at a red light. I also use speech-to-text apps so that riders can speak to me. When I’m not driving, I can respond by texting back, or I can gesture a response.

Another idea is making a video similar to this. Keep in mind that ASL is a separate language from English with its own grammar/syntax and vocabulary. It’s a great language to learn — if you’re an ASL student, you could even get to practice your ASL skills with a Deaf Uber or Lyft driver!  I hope you enjoy the video. You can also visit the Drive or Ride page.  (Facebook— be sure to click LIKE!).

In the new year, I’ll be writing about Deaf entrepreneurs being on the rise. Meanwhile, it’s time to go shopping — happy holidays to you all!

Cheers!

Robb, Patches, & Coco

As a CEO, I Made a Decision

One evening, I was watching “Girlboss,” a new comedy on television. I cracked up at the main character, Sophia, because she actually reminded me of…myself. She struggles to make a life in San Francisco after losing her job, trying to pay her rent and make ends meet. Just like me; I recently closed down my company and am trying to make ends meet. I won’t spoil the show for you, but there are many funny scenes in that show that hit home for me.

Just like Sophia, I am living by myself in a big city. I struggled to find a job, because I’m Deaf and despite my successful career, people were hesitant to hire me. I decided to take matters into my own hands, and launched Referrals by Robb — just like Sophia, who launched a fashion business on eBay.

Forming a company is an example of system development, which I studied in college. As the former founder and CEO of a hiking company, I worked with different individuals, who were all hearing. I am Deaf, and use American Sign Language (ASL). I had an assistant who was hearing. Whenever I shared my input, thoughts, and/or concerns, he often would dismiss me, even though he was not at the helm of the company. We would use instant messaging software to talk with each other, since his ASL was rudimentary and not easily understood, nor could he easily understand a fluent signer like me.

After understanding the complexities of audism, and accepting the fact that I could not change things, I decided to close the company. There were also other underlying reasons, but the primary reasons were simple.

First, I had the goal of seeing the company expand within five years. If it did not, I would change careers. Second, I believed that with modern-day accommodations such as video relay services and online messaging, people would be comfortable in communciating with Deaf people like me. This was not the case.  For example, some companies were uncomfortable talking to me via video relay services.

Third, my assistant, who was hearing, blatantly overreached his position by using his hearing status as an advantage. I at first respected his opinions and input, especially given his older age and professed wisdom. However, now in retrospective, I realize I engaged in dysconscious audism — internalized attitudes that the hearing way is superior and better because I am Deaf. I was, simply put, steamrolled and bullied into thinking my expertise, knowledge, and skills were worthless because I was Deaf.  Every time I asked my assistant, “What happened?” the answer I got was, “We have to work harder.” In reality, my mistake was putting all my trust in him to handle all calls, contacts, and so on. I should have had a check and balance system in place. It was a very difficult lesson for me, but one that will serve me well in my future endeavors.

After seven years, I was no longer interested in repeating this cycle, and I was miserably burned out. As a CEO, I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I felt as if I was wrong all the time, and I was embarrassed by my self-perceived weakness in allowing my staff to run the business without my discretion and final say. So I made a decision: I closed the company.

Although it was a very difficult decision, one that I still think about, I believe steadfastly that it was the right decision. As I watch Sophia learn from her experiences, I laugh not because it’s comical, but because I can absolutely relate and affirm what she experiences. I am grateful for the lessons I have learned, and I look forward to being a much stronger, more confident business owner this time around.

Respectfully, Robb