Deaf Consumer Support System: Do You Have One?

Posted by: Staff Writer on Dec. 11, 2012

Do you have a stride in your step, or are you dragging your feet due to the weight of an inaccessible universe on your shoulders? Sometimes, the difference between the two has less to do with the world you’re born into, than the support system you create for yourself.

That’s right, “create”. Just like job networking, this isn’t the time to be a wallflower, it’s a time to be pro-active. Support systems are like spider webs: They keep you afloat, sometimes in subtle ways. The resulting confidence is anything but subtle, though.

Daily, you as a deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing person are used to everything from mild misunderstandings to serious civil rights tramplings. But are you used to seeking out support from people who “get it" when you're flustered by the following kinds of incidents?

  • It could be that fraud-paranoid customer rep who hung up on your relay call, as you were l mid-sentence explaining your issues. Or the pizza place that hung up when you were trying to order a calzone.
  • It could be the delivery guy who kept calling you on your phone, despite explicit instructions on the package that said “DEAF – PLEASE TEXT ONLY!!!”
  • It could be that cash-strapped small business that can’t (or won’t) spare a dime to hire a terp. “We don’t have the budget for that,” they say apologetically.
  • It could be the convention you shelled over $600 on, only to find out they’ve put zero thought (or dollars) into being ADA compliant. Threads of exhausting emails follow, as you wrangle your way into a solution: “How deaf are you? Maybe we can hook you up to an ALD (assistive listening device) or seat you up front,” the organizer will ask. Um, no cigar for you.

Notice a common theme in all the above? Time. As deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing folks, we spend a tiring amount of time attempting to amend, prevent, and explain the situations that our deafness got us into. Or more specifically: The situations that hearing peoples’ ignorance got us into.

So in such cases, who is the friend, family, counselor, or acquaintance you reach out to? HINT: It doesn’t always have to be a deaf person! In fact, by reaching out to those not directly in the Deaf Community, you create a ripple effect in the hearing community. They begin to go through their daily motions with more consciousness of the hoops you have to go through and this shapes how they treat other differently-abled folks in their lives.

Now, let’s talk about different kinds of support. Sometimes, you just need a hug or sympathetic ear (or eyes) from someone who “gets” it; family and friends are great for this.

Other times, you need procedural/technical advice from someone who’s dealt with the system. We recommend that you bookmark our Tax Credits and Deductions Available to Businesses PDF. It’s a list of tax credits and deductions that most businesses may not be aware of (in a pinch, just forward it to whoever is in charge of arranging accommodations and dealing with customer issues).

Other times, you need a hard-liner buddy who refuses to let you accept anything but what the law says you deserve: Reasonable accommodation. The kind of buddy who practically shames you into firing up the video relay again and negotiating your way into a compromise. Their rationale: It’s not just about standing up for you, it’s standing up for everyone in your clan.

When it gets really hard, you just might need a discrimination lawyer. But let’s hope you don’t arrive at that point.

As we enter the home stretch of holidays and New Year’s, it’s a good time to reminisce about who these people are – and thank them with a note, a gift, or a gesture.

Is it your brother, who lives in another state but is always a text message away to hear about the waitress snub? Is it your CODA-terp friend, when you at the last-minute discover that your favorite author is doing a book signing tonight? Is it your next-door neighbor, who is kind enough to offer to call the landlord on your behalf when your Videophone breaks down? Is it that one co-worker with impeccable handwriting, who’s willing to write notes for the meeting when yet another last-minute, terp-less meeting pops up in your Outlook calendar?

Your support system is out there, if you look hard enough. Here’s an examples of real-life support systems: Deaf team USA volleyball player David Smith. He claimed “he never would have reached the London Games without his family: They’ve been my biggest support system my entire life”.

Family is one important anchor. But for other situations where you need a professional and/or technical environment to address your concerns, consider looking into your local deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing service agencies. Many of these agencies have advocates who can help you get through challenging situations in order to get your needs met. 

“Life is what happens when you make plans,” the saying goes. You can plan all you want down to a T, but you’ll likely run into a few potholes. That’s what our strong support systems are for: Getting through the occasional potholes without the weight on your shoulders.

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We’re aware that issues facing the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing Community can become quite passionate and divided. What can we say, we’re a group of passionate people! While we fully support a community full of passion, we also require that comments are respectful. We think negative attitudes and disrespect are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with people, you just need to do it respectfully. We reserve the right to delete or edit any comments we feel are judgmental, rude, or of attacking nature.

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