Censorship: How it hurts Deaf people

Posted on 20 June 2007. Filed under: International |

China continues to intensify their censorship of the World Wide Web. People in China can’t even look at innocous pictures that a friend has put up on “flickr.com.” Why? Because “flickr” has also been used to post pictures of the protests in Tinanmen square in 1989. Apparently, the risk that a few Chinese people might stumble across a picture or two of Tinanmen Square while looking for more prosaic images wouldn’t contribute to social harmony there.

So what does this have to do with the Deaf community? Or, given that most of the people who see this blog (or so I am guessing) are probably from the United States, with a handful from Canada and the UK: What does censorship in China have to do with Deaf Americans? Or Canadians? Or British?

Well, for one thing, consider the fact that China has roughly one-fifth of the world’s population. That means that probably roughly one-fifth of our global Deaf community members live under Chinese censorship. Poor Chinese (their numbers are declining rapidly, but are still counted in the millions, of course, have no access to the Internet at all. And Deaf (and deaf and hard of hearing people and disabled people generally) are more likely to be poor the world over. But the Chinese middle class is growing, and the numbers who join the Internet are exploding. When any Chinese person, Deaf or hearing, are prohibited from even looking at the very long list of web sites that are prohibited in China (including wikipedia), they are prevented from exposure to new ideas and invaluable sources of information.

For hearing Chinese, one of the consequences is that they might have less exposure to information and ideas that could help them learn more about the Chinese Deaf community. That includes information that might influence them to be more willing to consider hiring Deaf workers.

For Deaf Chinese, censorship might block them from web sites that could help them work together with Deaf leaders across their country and around the world to improve the living conditions of Deaf people in China. They might be denied the means for figuring out how to advocate for–and achieve–better access to educational, training, employment, and other opportunities, or better access to health services and judical services, or better-written, better-implemented laws that are more effective in protecting their rights. Hearing Chinese people, too, are denied these things–but I would suggest that Deaf Chinese are disproportionately affected by censorship.

Deaf people, as most of the readers of this blog likely know very well, tend to be cut off from more informal means of sharing and exchanging information. Hearing neighbors, relatives, and co-workers might not think to pass along certain information to Deaf people. They may simply assume they won’t be interested. Or it might not occur to them that Deaf people cannot overhear casual conversations and cannot listen to the radio–and therefore may miss out on important sources of information. (I don’t know if television is captioned in China or not. But I would make the guess that it probably isn’t, or at least most of it probably isn’t.)

When auditory sources of information are shut off, then alternate sources, like the Internet, can become even more critical. For hearing people, in some cases, the Internet may simply duplicate, or at most enhance, what they’ve already learned elsewhere. For Deaf people, if they can’t access it on the Internet, then in some cases that might mean they won’t access the information at all.

Ok. That’s Deaf people in China. What about Deaf people around the world? Well, first of all, we are denied the power that one-fifth of the world’s Deaf population could bring to our global movement to fight for Deaf rights around the world. Lack of access to information could hamper their ability to be strong allies to the broader, International Deaf community. Also, censorship that stops them from receiving information might also make them more hesitant to make their voices or hands heard or seen on the Web. What if the government decided that their blog/vlog, too, should be censored? What if they got into trouble just for setting up a blog/vlog? We all lose the richness of knowledge, thoughts, and insights that any person who comes from a different background from ours can bring to any dialogue.

Deafread.com is a great resource. But it IS currently a little homogenous in terms of nationality. I’m not pointing fingers here. I think it’s natural for ANY brand-new resource to tend to start off being heavily oriented toward its own country of origin. This is probably particularly the case for a resource like deafread.com that depends primarily on word of mouth for its growth. Deaf Americans tend to know mostly other Deaf Americans. I would say that pre-Gallaudet protest days were the infancy of Deafread.com, and the protests brought it into toddlerhood. So I still see tremendous potential for growth.

But as it grows toward adolescence and adulthood, I hope that deafread.com will become not merely bigger but far more international in scope, including possibly branching out into different languages. If China continues to block entire segments of the Web inside its borders, then deafread.com, and the Deaf blogsphere as a whole, will be sadly impoverished for it.


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

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3 Responses to “Censorship: How it hurts Deaf people”

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As mom to my 3 deaf children who were born in Korea and China, this article has captured my attention. Thank you! I hope to see the growth in Deafread among the Deaf Asians – it would be awesome for my children to see and appreciate their birth countries sign langauges. Yes, I agree about the deaf lives in China. I have visited the country twice and met some deaf people, and visited the deaf school. My good friend toured China for a month, and met so many deaf people. It’s always heartbreaking to see our people being uneducated, and ignorant of our deaf community.

Please let me and others know what we CAN do, what we CAN make differences for them, and what we CAN hope for. Thank you!

I have seen several foreigners looking at my blog. As for Asian countries, I have seen Taiwan and Indonesia and S. Korea checking out my blog from deafread.com. As for China, it remains a problem of inaccessibility. It is sad to say that deaf education there is almost like a century behind according to a couple who represented NTID traveled there last year. Perhaps I will share about their findings when attending to their presentation when I have the opportunity.

Andrea, I just wanted to stop by and say thank you to your response on Dave’s blog to my question regarding noticeable and un-noticeable disabilities. I have two daughters who both have Down syndrome (and we sign with them both.) I often wonder if they are cut too much slack because people can SEE they have a “difference”. This is a topic that really interests me and I appreciate your input!

Thank you!


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