FlashBACK Friday: “Deaf Peddler: Confessions of an Inside Man”

Posted by: Staff Writer on Aug. 30, 2013

Anyone who has seen Slumdog Millionaire remembers the painful scene where an orphan is intentionally blinded with candle oil. Why? Because disabled beggars out-earn the non-disabled ones.

Shift from blindess to deafness, and you have the premise behind Dennis Buck’s book Deaf Peddler: Confessions of an Inside Man. Take his deafness out of the picture, and you would agree that Buck is an unlikely person to peddle for 11 years. For one, he has a degree in computer science (one of the fastest-growing, most lucrative career fields). For another, he was receiving Supplementary Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance  (SSDI).

But at Gallaudet University, he became paralyzed by a motorcycle accident. That’s when he found the dark side of profiting from pity: Handing out sign language cards while asking for donations.

He learned that to make mad money in a jiffy, a weekend in Chicago at O’Hare International Airport would net $750 to $1,000. Peddling paid better than his $8/hour jobs – and helped fund his grad school bills.

The narrative is as candid as it is disturbing. The one-man confessions also paint a historical picture of how far deaf people have come. We’ve gone from peddling, to getting respectable jobs, and now – becoming respectable tippers. We still have a ways to go.

Fact: The Social Security Act was signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on August 14, 1935. Before such safety nets came into being, “peddling” was one of the few ways for under-educated deaf people to survive. But the Deaf Community became self-aware. In the 1950s, the National Association of the Deaf launched an aggressive campaign to discourage peddling.

As for Dennis Buck, when did he finally retire his peddler status? As his book puts it: "Money given under the false notion that deaf people can't, financed a book telling everyone yes, they can."

Have you ever seen a deaf peddler “at work”? How do you react?

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