Deaf Rights: Where Are We Going?

Posted on 14 February 2007. Filed under: Disability, International |

This blog is technically focused on the broader Gallaudet University community, both on campus and off, including for alumni. But sometimes I blog on matters of broader relevance to the deaf community in general.

The article included below is written about the disability movement in England. But many of the themes it touches upon are also relevant to the deaf/Deaf/hard of hearing rights movement (in any country), or to the United States (whether at Gallaudet, outside of Gallaudet, within the deaf/Deaf/HOH community, or in the broader disability movement).

In the history of ANY movement, it can be helpful to pause from time to time to take stock. Are we moving toward the right goals? Are we including input from ALL relevant people in deciding what those goals should be?

In the deaf community, for example, we often don’t listen enough to the needs and concerns of POOR deaf people who don’t have the money to pay organization membership fees. Instead of working with social service agencies to ensure that deaf people who apply for Medicaid can get the interpreters they need to get through the system, we focus on things like access to movies in movie theaters that poor deaf people cannot even afford. Which is not to criticize some of the excellent action taken by leaders such as Jamie Berke to push for better caption access, but it does reflect that many of the so-called priorities of the deaf movement in the United States are really only the priorities of us MIDDLE-CLASS deaf people.

Also frequently left out are deaf people of color; Deaf-Blind people; deaf/HOH/Deaf people with additional disabilities (students on Gallaudet campus, for example, complain that some teachers there don’t take their needs seriously–but too frequently they have been abandoned to fight those battles alone); deaf people of all sexual orientations and gender identities; deaf immigrants; and more.

Deaf people also tend not to ally ourselves with other disability communities on the assumption that working across disability groups somehow implies that we necessarily have to give up our cultural identity as “Deaf not disabled.” Why make this assumption? It is not so unusual for communities with disparate needs and concerns, and even diverse cultures, to cross community divides to work on common goals. The many communities of people of color, for example, find ways to work together on common issues. Why can’t we do it more than we do?

For example, many deaf people have had the experience of hearing people assuming that they are necessarily incompetent, with no thoughts of their own, simply because they do not speak. But this doesn’t just happen to deaf people. It also happens to hearing people with cerebral palsy. It happens to hearing autistic people, some of whom do not speak. It happens to hearing people with learning disabilities that affect their ability to process spoken language (but not their ability to think). Some of the discrimincation toward deaf people is actually based, NOT on our inability to hear, but on the inability of many of us to speak in a way that sounds “normal” to hearing people (whatever “normal” means). Wouldn’t we do better at changing attitudes if we could join efforts with other disability groups who encounter the same set of stereotypes and assumptions to educate the hearing, able-bodied public about our true capabilities?

One hearing, non-speaking autistic women blogs on disability rights. And she has a lot to say, including some things that non-speaking deaf people might want to listen to. Check her out at

Meanwhile, also read and consider some of the issues raised in the email message below:

Subject: [997] Identity crisis
Date: February 14, 2007 5:05:42 AM EST


The “Disability Information Dissemination Network” is managed
by the ”Centre for Services and Information on Disability”(CSID),Bangladesh


Identity crisis

By Peter Beresford

Reprinted from The Guardian, November 29, 2006

According to some activists, the disability movement is focusing on all the
wrong issues and has lost its way. So where next?

Excitement at the emergence of the women’s, black people’s, gay, lesbian and
bisexual movements has within a generation given way to talk of post-feminism,
the “equalities industry” and preoccupation with the pink pound. Now similar
concerns are being expressed about the disability movement and people are
asking: “Where did it go wrong?”

At first glance, great progress seems to have been made on disability, with the
biggest lead coming from the disabled people’s movement. We have seen the
extension of disability discrimination legislation and new disability equality
duties placed on public bodies by the end of this year. Independent living
legislation to ensure disabled people have the right to support is now going
through parliament. Disability issues have a new visibility, and so do disabled
people themselves.

Tony Blair has signed up to “improving the life chances of disabled people”, and
an expansion of local organisations run by disabled people is planned. New
approaches to support, such as direct payments and individualised budgets, are
making it possible for a wider range of disabled people to live on more equal
terms. All these achievements can be traced to the disabled people’s movement.

At the same time, life for disabled people may be getting worse. Support
packages are being cut and eligibility criteria for support narrowed.
Grassroots disability organisations are dying for want of funding. Service
purchasers have been switching from services provided by disabled people’s
organisations to cheaper, independent sector providers that frequently offer an
inferior service. Benefits reform and talk of taking a million people off
incapacity benefits is causing enormous anxiety among disabled people,
particularly mental health service users. And this year a report by the
thinktank Demos concluded that “disablism remains rife throughout Britain”.

One of the most strident critics of the disability movement’s direction is Tom
Shakespeare, a disabled commentator and theoretician, who is based at Newcastle
University’s policy, ethics and life sciences research centre. In his latest
book, Disability Rights and Wrongs, he argues that the movement has gone down a
cul de sac of its own making. He accuses it of getting lost in a series of
unhelpful dichotomies: disabled people versus non-disabled people,
self-organisation versus charity, the right to life versus the right to death.
And he rejects the reliance on “identity politics”.

But the evidence doesn’t support Shakespeare’s sweeping assertions. He
underplays the richness and complexity of discussion and developments from
disability activists, and their early awareness of the need to move on from
initial understandings of the social model of disability, which shifted
attention from individual impairments to social oppression.

More worrying, though, are the views expressed by two disability activists and
founding figures of the movement, Mike Oliver and Colin Barnes. They recently
published a substantial critique of why they think disability politics and the
disability movement in Britain have gone wrong. They criticise what they see as
a narrowly legalistic, rights-based approach to disability politics, which has
become an end in itself. They conclude that this tends only “to benefit those
people who work in the rights industry” and has led to the professionalisation
of disability rights.

Talk the talk

As they say: “Having legal rights does not mean that they will be enforced.”
They highlight the early deaths and burnout of many disability activists, and
the weakening of national organisations controlled by disabled people as
traditional charities have combined with government “to talk the talk of the
disabled people’s movement”. They are critical of the establishment of bodies
such as the Disability Rights Commission. They see these as unaccountable to
disabled people, whose own national organisations have seen their influence
diminished as they are starved of resources.

So where next? Shakespeare argues for a pluralistic approach to disability
politics that better acknowledges disabled people’s diverse views. Oliver and
Barnes emphasise the importance of disabled people becoming part of a far wider
struggle to create a better society for all. Few are likely to reject either of
these proposals, but how are they to be taken forward?

Movements are only ever as strong as their local grassroots organisations. The
government’s commitment to support a national network of local user-controlled
organisations offers a crucial lever for renewing the disabled people’s
movement. It must be grasped.

The disabled people’s movement has frequently been criticised for failing to
address diversity, but all movements struggle when it comes to doing so.
Ensuring the equal involvement of all people demands changes in understanding
and culture. It also requires resources to reach out and support such inclusion
– a hard job for disability organisations unremittingly strapped for cash.

Disabled people’s organisations must also consider the wide range of people and
groups included in the disability category. This includes people with learning
difficulties, mental health service users, older people, people with chronic
and life limiting illnesses and conditions, people with physical and sensory
impairments, and more.

Shakespeare sees the identity politics of the disability movement as one of its
fundamental failings. We are too different from each other, he says. Half the
people officially included as disabled don’t see themselves as such.

Perhaps, but unless we seek to reclaim negative identities imposed upon us, they
are likely to continue to restrict our lives, whether or not we accept them.
Thus, the many older people who understandably don’t want to see themselves as
“disabled” lose out on the entitlements they have and the support they may
need. As gay people and black people have learned, it is only by taking over
derogatory labels and categories that we are likely to transform them and

Members of the different disabled groups are beginning to recognise their
individual differences but also their common problems and barriers. Links are
developing between groups, rather than catering for only one group or
condition. Organisations, such as Shaping Our Lives, the national user network,
have found that it is possible to address diversity in involvement if trust is
allowed to develop and so long as such involvement is properly resourced and
fully inclusive.

This means taking on issues of cultural and communication access, as well as
physical access. Tackling the issue of diversity doesn’t detract from
solidarity, as is sometimes suggested. Instead, it reinforces it as policy
makers find it more difficult to divide different groups and set them against
each other.

Perhaps the answer is to be found in schools. A truly inclusive education
enables all children to learn alongside each other, with whatever support they
need, so that the kind of divisions between disabled and non-disabled people
that Shakespeare condemns are no longer routine.

Peter Beresford is professor of social policy at Brunel University and is
co-author of Making User Involvement Work (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 17.95).

A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views Issue no. 28
January 2007



– This is a posting from the “Disability Information Dissemination
– Postings should be sent to :
– For anonymous postings, add the word “anon” to the subject line
– To join or leave the network, add “join” or ” leave” to the subject line


[Be a guest blogger at Reunify Gally! Your essay submissions should be related in some way to reunifying or healing the Gallaudet community in the aftermath of the protests, or to diversity within the Gallaudet or wider deaf community. If interested, review my Guidelines for Guest Bloggers and submit your essay to ashettle (at)]


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2 Responses to “Deaf Rights: Where Are We Going?”

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You brought up the good topic regarding the current status of Deaf Rights within the United States of America. More and more organizations and governments and private sectors find the way to undermine our Deaf Rights under the existing laws and resolutions.

I really do not know if the United Nation monitor the status of disability rights and Deaf rights of all involved countries.

Many culturally deaf people really do not see themselves as “disabled”. Moreover, the Deaf and deaf community ought to be seen as a linguistic and cultural minority than dumping us in the category of disability community.

The Deaf and deaf community seems pretty fragmenated and politically weak. The large number of disability rights activists still really do not understand the aspect of linguistic and cultural minority status emerge within the Deaf and deaf community.

How true about the low income deaf individuals typiclaly struggle with the current system. The quick remedy for providing the subsidized government and charitable assistance often undercut the abiltiies of low income deaf individuals from climbing up the socioeconomic ladder.

I do not recall about seeing Jamie Berke call for better caption access. She is not really a leader in our eyes. Jamie Berke rarely engage in collabrative relationship with the Deaf/deaf leadership. She is more like a loner and go on her own without consulting and calling upon other deaf individuals to discuss strategy and implentation of related issues facing the Deaf/deaf community.

Jamie Berke kinda unforunately call for the captions within the world of vloggers which put such undue burden on vloggers themselves. Jamie Berke do not post the ASL translation on her own blog for ASL users. Captions within vloggers will wither the quality of pure American Sign Language (ASL). Deaf/deaf people tend to compromise their natural signing expressions when come to the pressure of providing captions and transcripts like word for word. Berke’s call surely constrict the beauty of American Sign Language (ASL)

More to life than improving caption access. Bread and butter issues for the Deaf/deaf ought to be addressed as top priority. Captioning television shows and other form of entertainment often isolate the Deaf/deaf community itself than getting Deaf/deaf people socially interacted and discuss in person on the better life for Deaf/deaf community.

Please do not give in to Jamie Berke’s request to delete my comment which she usually get some bloggers to censor my online comment to question and criticize Jamie Berke’s message(s) on her blog postings. One of Jamie Berke’s blog posting call for the “Comic Books Reading for University Students” which appalled me and other academic-minded intelellectuals of the low expectations for deaf and Deaf students within the world of higher education institutions.

Jamie Berke never calls for the excellent quality of deaf and Deaf education begins with the pre-school to the pre-college programs to enchance the improvement in reading and writing skills among deaf youngsters.

If my comment on this blog forum get deleted. That is definitely CENSORSHIP activity on your part. Freedom of expression and exchanges of ideas are the key foundation of our society at large for intelllectual conversation.

If you read more about past alliance of Deaf/deaf advocacy organizations with other disability organizations in the United States of America. You, Andre, would eventually understand why the Deaf/deaf advocacy organizations really do not want to do anything again with the disabiltiy advocacy organizations again. Within the development of the ADA federal legislation, many disabilty organization evidently dismissed the main concerns of Deaf/deaf advocates about the importance of captioning access and told us that those kind of access really were not necessary.

Jamie Berke never was part of the legislative development team or get involved with advocacy groups for strategy development. I personally knew Justin Dart, the prominent disability rights activist from my U.S. Senate years and past lobbying efforts.

I am looking forward to your future blog postings, Andre.

Warm regards,
Robert L. Mason (RLM)

Hey.. Lets make a movement as like MLK… look at robert l mason comment!!!
“The Deaf and deaf community seems pretty fragmenated and politically weak. The large number of disability rights activists still really do not understand the aspect of linguistic and cultural minority status emerge within the Deaf and deaf community.”

we have to make a movement.. as food hunger for our deaf rights. and other deep issues. let it growing bigger and make a movement turn strong and stronger politically. up to u deafies!! i am telling. you.. ” no But”

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