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.