It is almost half a year since I left home to travel long-term. I was not only on the journey for self-growth but to see what the world has to offer, especially the Deaf communities. No matter where we are in the world, there is a sense of Deafhood* regardless how different our lives are. Since I’ve left home, I met several great Deaf people in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Nepal and now Taiwan. Because of all of Deaf people I’ve met, I came to learn how privileged I am in so many ways. And they don’t even tell me that directly but their stories did.
Although I have a lot more to learn, here are the privileges that I have:
I am allowed to travel
It isn’t because of my parents, school or work that allowed me to travel. It is the government of United States of America. They allowed me to travel outside of the country despite being Deaf. Am I being crazy for saying this? Actually, no. If you’ve read about my post of the Deaf Community in Nicaragua, then you would understand why I’m saying this. Some Deaf people around the world even have their basic human rights stripped away from them, even traveling. Some government think that Deaf people are “mentally ill” or seen as incapable of taking care of themselves, despite that it is now the year of 2018. Many Hearing* people around the world are still uneducated about Deaf culture, and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) community are fighting for their rights.
After I learned about what was happening to Deaf Nicaraguans, I realized I have this privilege of being allowed to travel. I won’t need to ask the government for permission to let me travel outside of the country. I wouldn’t get disapproval looks from the government or an official letter with a huge stamp of “DENIED.” I wouldn’t be experiencing building feelings of anything but bittiness and jealousy towards other Deaf travelers who could travel.
It is even crazy for me to say I have a privilege of this because it’s a pure simple human rights but that’s an unfortunate truth.
My parents are aware of the boundaries and do not see me as incompetent person
I’ve met some diverse parents who insisted that their Deaf adult children cannot travel unless they go with a family member or subtly imply that they need someone wiser, older, smarter and even “normal” to accompany them. It would be understandable if their adult children have additional medical conditions that are more severe, like cerebral palsy, but they do not. One mother practically took control of her daughter’s welfare (since no jobs want to hire her) and everything else because the mother was granted for her guardianship request (the adult child wasn’t able to share her responses due to no interpreter, therefore the judge naively concluded as she was incompetent). I cannot speak for parents, but I’m speaking for these Deaf young adults. They are incredibly smart adults who all have the desire to explore locally. They are capable of taking care of themselves. Another heartbreaking story is to hear stories that are far too common: there are some parents to practically hide their adult children (even children) in their houses who are Deaf, like in Latin America and Asia.
I am very fortunate that my parents aren’t like this. My mother first freaked out the idea of letting me travel. She was worried how I’d handle certain things that required hearing, asking me “How are you going to hear if -” type of questions. But she knew the boundaries and how I am capable to take care of myself by looking of all things I can do like any other.
Too often have I seen that parents don’t see what they can do, and only see what they cannot do.
I had better access to education
Quality education for the Deaf people around the world is usually almost always questionable. Too often have our Deaf and Hard of Hearing children were sent to mainstream schools where it doesn’t offer anything for them. There is a lack of awareness and effective education for them, especially in remote areas.
It just became no surprise to me anymore when some shared their terrible experiences of not having the access to education. Some Deaf people weren’t enrolled in schools because they are perceived as “too mentally ill” or just being a shame and an embarrassment to the family for being Deaf. Some need to get through on their own without appropriate accommodation and relay on classmates’ notes like the Deaf community in Malaysia or Indonesia. Another concerning matter is that many of their parents’ lacked support, Deaf culture awareness, and resources that tremendously impact Deaf people’s development.
I had an accessible education due to having interpreters or teachers who know sign language. Because of them, I was able to have 100% accessibility (although there are some teachers and interpreters who really, really suck). I was able to graduate high school, college and then university because accommodation wasn’t denied or forced my parents to pay out of their wallet.
I know and understand English
English is a glorified language and commonly taught in different countries. English is used to communicate with different people around the world. If you know English and planning to travel in Asia, you’d be hoping that someone would know English.
However, many Deaf don’t have that English privilege. Even if they were taught in school, some of them still don’t understand English. And that still happens in the USA! If you’re wondering about the hearing devices: wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants aren’t the solutions, because they are just tools. They need proper accommodation in order to enhance their English skills. We, Deaf people, often face communication barriers but can use gestures and other methods to communicate with local people; however, Deaf people with English privilege would also able to write down or type down what they want to say to local people. And I realized that I am one of them.
So, what about those Deaf people who don’t have that privilege? If some local people attempted to type or write down in English to communicate with them, this is where they will experience more particular challenge. They’ll have to have a translation app from their own language (such as Indonesian) to a local language in the country that they’re visiting. Another challenge is that if they don’t develop their own language skills, like Nicaragua, they understand better if communicate in gestures or sign language because it’s a visual language and easier to understand for them.
American Sign Language
I’ve lost count how many time Deaf people in other countries apologized to me for not knowing American Sign Language (ASL). Or how many time have they wished to learn ASL. I’ve seen many Deaf people who would proudly say, “I know ASL!” Like English, ASL is also glorified. But every time I’ve experienced these responses, I assure them that their sign language is also beautiful.
If you didn’t know, each country (even regions) have their own sign language, such as Taiwanese Sign Language or Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM).
Unfortunately, ASL colonized many countries, like the Philippines. Did you wonder why “unfortunately?” Because like many people would say but I always disagree: I don’t believe sign language should be universal. Why should they? Why isn’t there one universal spoken language then? Why shouldn’t they? See my point? There is a beauty in every language, and that also includes sign languages.
I later started to acknowledge that I have the privilege of knowing American Sign Language. When I meet other Deaf people, sometimes they’ll use ASL to communicate with me instead of their own sign language. But for those Deaf who don’t know ASL? They’ll have to use gestures or International sign* (IS) if both sides know IS or how to use gestures.
The USA is more accessible
Deaf Malaysians need to pay for their own sign language interpreters, and it is not only Malaysians. There are millions of others who must use their money to pay for the interpreters; otherwise, they are on their own. They can also have someone to accompany them but this affects their independent skills and still face little to no accessibility.
In the USA, we have Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)* laws where we have the rights to request for interpreters or other accommodation methods at institutions, yet many still failed to follow the ADA laws. We also have the right to request for closed caption at movie theaters (although it often sucks), but Deaf people in India and Nepal do not.
Although we still have problems here in the USA, we have privileges comparing to other countries. I don’t even need to pay for interpreters (except for personal events like a wedding). I don’t need to have a family member to go with me for everything, like job interviews or doctor appointments or being worried that there are no laws to back me up.
I don’t need to rely on earning money by providing tours for deaf
I once had a Deaf guy in Nepal who claimed that he guided us to the bus station and should give him money, although I actually had an offline Map ready and invited him along to chat with my Deaf friends and I. I also had another friend who had this terrible experience in Vietnam. She met a Deaf guy who was referred to her to meet up with her. He later insisted that he wanted to show her different places around, although my friend attempted to tell him that she only wanted to meet up. After he forced her to explore with him, he raised his palm up, demanded money for providing her a personal tour. She attempted to decline but he became hostile.
This is quite unfortunate but it can happen. There are some Deaf people that give personal tours (under no tour company) and would scam other Deaf visitors. As much I hate being scammed, I know that they are just trying to survive. If the society looked down upon them and wouldn’t really give them the opportunity, or if they are earning a low-paid job, what else can they do to survive? This is where I’ve learned my privilege.
Are all Deaf people who provide personal tours are scammers? Absolutely not! Don’t make a conclusion based on one or few incidents, because I’ve met many wonderful people who were happily insisting to show me around in Bandung, Indonesia, and Penang, Malaysia. I first asked if they are expecting to be paid, and they shook their head: “no, I want to welcome you to my country!” with their bright smiles. I thanked them and offer to pay for their meals for their kindness. Sometimes It was also hard for me to accept their kindness because they don’t earn a lot of money from their jobs either. There are some local Deaf people who would ask Deaf visitors for money, or have their meals and/or attraction fees covered, before giving them a personal tour, and that’s definitely better because it will be up to Deaf visitors to decide.
I have a better job opportunity
The society usually sees Deaf people differently than a “normal” human being, hence they have little to no opportunity of getting jobs. Deaf people generally get low-paid and low-level jobs. And it is actually easier to find jobs within the Deaf community or other places that hire Deaf people like Deaf Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Many people worldwide face unemployment and have little to no work experiences. This affects them at so many levels, and several of them cannot travel due to this. I often get the question, “how do you get money for travel?” because of the oppression they are facing in their countries, whereas some of them just haven’t really try budgeting and spend on luxury items.
The job opportunities for us, Deaf community, isn’t going great in the USA either, but it is certainly getting better compared to other countries, like Nepal, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Nicaragua. I actually had a difficulty of looking for a job back home, because I often get questionable looks from the manager or “so…how are you going to communicate if -“ type of questions. I was lucky to find a job with the Deaf Association in Los Angeles and saved up my money since then. But I won’t deny that there are higher unemployment rates for Deaf community in some other countries than the USA. So, I have the privilege to work, save up money and travel.
and I CAN travel.
And I used to think that everybody could travel. However, that’s privilege talking. After meeting Deaf people who really cannot travel because of having little to no money and learning the terrible fact that Deaf Nicaraguans need to seek permission from the government to fly out of the country, I learned the harsh reality:
How could one travel if the government stripped their basic human rights? How could one travel if the society refused to give a damn job? How could one travel if the parents take full control of their own Deaf adult children? How could one travel if they have improper and inadequate education growing up and did not develop basic life skills? How could one travel if they have to pay for their own interpreters for doctor appointments or courts? How could one travel if she/he/they are so fearful because of how the world perceives them?
Not everybody can travel. Yes, anybody “can” travel, figuratively speaking. I believe that we Deaf and Hard of Hearing are capable to travel despite our hearing. But not everybody could travel. A quite frustrating reality that is affecting our Deaf and Hard of Hearing in this world. And I am privileged.
These privileges are based on what I’ve learned from the Deaf community mostly in Asia and Central America. I’ve not traveled yet to Europe and other countries (you can see here.) and may make a new post if I’ve learned more new privileges I have. Although these privileges I’ve mentioned also generally apply worldwide.
Our Deaf and Hard of Hearing community are marginalized around the world. We generally have a mutual understanding of what is it like to be Deaf or Hard of Hearing, despite our backgrounds. However, we often also have different experiences because of where and how we live; therefore, within our own community, some are still privileged than the others which is imperative to acknowledge that. I’m sure I have more privileges within the Deaf community and have yet to learn.
did you learn about your own privileges within your community?
What communities are you relate to? How did you come to realize about your privileges? Share your thoughts/feelings in the comment below!