The privileges I’ve learned from my travel when meeting the Deaf community around the world

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:

deaf travel
Joshua Tree National Park, CA, USA

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. 

deaf travel bali
Exploring Bali, Indonesia | Photo credit: Nomadic Deaf

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.

deaf children in school
A Deaf child at school in Malaysia

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.

Bali, Indonesia. | photo credit: Nomadic Deaf

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.

Presenting cultural exchange & Deaf community in USA at a Deaf Association in Nepal | photo credit: Nomadic Deaf

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.

deaf indonesia travel
Deaf Art Community in Indonesia | photo credit: Nomadic Deaf

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.

deaf nepal
Deaf association in Pokhara, Nepal | Photo credit: Nomadic Deaf

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. 

Deaf Nepali is working with an organization that helps Deaf, Blind and other Differently Abled people.

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. 

Pokhara, Nepal.

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! 

Hover the image on the left, you can repin this post if you can relate or enjoy this! 

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Hey! Super story! I had a privilege to travel back in 1988, 1990 and 1992 mostly in Europe but 1990 I took Tour the France that I felt in love that country and only once I met a deaf couple there and their sing language is quite different but understood some. 😀 Because I know , English and some basic French as we do in Canada. Thank you for the great story!

    1. Thank you, Scott! 🙂 haha yeah! It seems like it brought you back great memories for you!

  2. This was such an eye opening read. I never knew the deaf community of Nicaragua experienced such hardship (I feel really naive!) Props to you for seeking every opportunity you can in life and not letting your limitations stop you. I am hearing, but have some experience with the deaf community as an adult (my partner for 3 years had two deaf parents) which has really made me feel that so many more changes should be made to assist those fantastic people like yourself with so much to offer the world.

    1. aw thank you, Stephanie! I was pretty naive too about what happens to the Deaf community around the world until I started traveling. And yes, so many more changes need to be made! <3

  3. Wow, Stacey, I really loved reading about your experiences! Learned a lot. For one, I never knew that each country has its own sign language. Thanks so much for sharing about the privileges you’ve learned from travelling around the world. Great read.

    1. Thank you so much, Louise! And you’re not the only one who also thought that way that sign language is universal. 🙂

  4. Can’t believe some countries ban traveling for deaf people. That’s outrageous. Anyways you seem so grateful for the opportunities you’ve come across and earned. It’s great that you are spreading awareness for this topic and we loved learning about your experiences.

    1. It was unbelievable when I found out too! I just couldn’t understand it. Indeed I’ve been learning to be more and more grateful. Thank you, you guys! Keep on exploring! 🙂

  5. It’s very interesting to read more about the deaf community around the world as its not something I have really thought of. Travel has taught me that I am privileged to have grown up in the US. I also recently had to travel injured and that opened my eyes up to what it is like to be physically disabled. So much more needs to be down in the US and even more in the rest of the world to help out those with disabilities whatever those disabilities are.
    Anisa recently posted…Salisbury Cathedral and the Magna CartaMy Profile

    1. When experiencing like that, it really opened up your eyes and really taught you, “wow, I’ve taken this for granted.” It’s great that you’ve learned your privileged (including that you’ve grown up in the US) and being abled-bodied. I agree that there is a lot of work to do for people around the world who are differently abled!

      Thank you, Anisa, for reading!

  6. What a great insight you provided into travelling deaf. I had no idea that travel was limited in some countries. I actually did not really understand that ASL was not universal – although it makes sense. We do sometimes take it for granted that we can travel. I am glad that being deaf has not stopped you.

    1. Thank you, Linda! Being Deaf has not stopped me, or many other Deaf people in my community, including DeafBlind 🙂 Glad to know that you’ve learned something new! 🙂

  7. I had no idea that there are different sign languages all over the world! Thank you for such an in depth read and expanding my knowledge of this world.

    1. Happy to know that you’ve learned about this! Thank you, Jin for being open-minded and reading the post!

  8. Wow, I cannot believe that there are governments around the world that believe deaf people cannot travel because it is some form of mental illness! I am happy for the privileges you enjoyed over these communities from across the world, and that your parents understood your limitations and accepted them rather than letting you believe that you cannot travel. Also, that the sign languages differ across the world – this isn’t something I knew! This was an interesting and information read, thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Medha! Thank you for reading! Actually, I want to clear something up about your comment. Being Deaf isn’t a form of mental illness. It’s nothing close to it. The only difference is that we cannot hear as Hearing people (referring to those who are not Deaf or Hard of Hearing). The world perceives generally see it as a disability; whereas some countries see it as a handicap, mental illness or even seem them less than a human being. Those who are culturally Deaf, referring to those who are involved in the Deaf community, some of us don’t identify ourselves as disabled even. Just so you know 🙂

  9. Great article. It was a really fascinating read and gave me some insight into what it’s like to travel when deaf – something as a hearing person I’ve never had to think about. It really puts into perspective all the fortunes a individual can have.

    1. Thank you, Adelina! Thank you for reading and being open to this new information from a Deaf perspective.

  10. I can’t believe governments would actually strip their citizens of the right to travel (among other basic human rights) because they’re deaf. That’s insane. Thank you for sharing your insights into the experiences of deaf people around the world!

    1. Believe me, I couldn’t even understand it myself. It is definitely outrageous. Thank you for reading, Carrie!

  11. This is such an eye opening article. Before reading this, I’ve never knew there’s deaf community all around the world. It such a relief to know that being deaf doesn’t limit their activities. I’ve always fascinated when I see people doing sign language and sometimes I google what it means. Thanks for sharing this with us, Stacey 🙂

  12. What an amazing post. Thank you for sharing. I don’t know very much about the deaf community in my own country, let alone from around the world. I had no idea that some countries require you to ask permission to travel! That’s just so crazy to me. Thank you for shedding light on even more of my own privileges.

  13. Thank you for sharing this unique point of view of traveling as a deaf person. It is fascinating to read about the differences between countries and cultures. It’s surprising, though not shocking that some governments would treat hard of hearing as a mental illness. Glad you are out there sharing your story and breaking down stereotypes in all communities, deaf and non-deaf. Great article!

  14. It is really great that you make people aware of this – I did not know that there are countries that ban deaf people from travelling, that’s beyond words! Good on you that you keep doing what you love and don’t let others or seemingly limitations stop you! Best of luck to you and enjoy your journey!

  15. That sounds crazy that some countries treat a disability like deafness as a mental illness. Your post also really made me stop and think about all the tours and activities that I do while traveling and I can’t think of many that cater to a deaf person. So I imagine that is frustrating when you’d like to be able to take a tour or do an activity. I also never thought about sign language not being universal. I sometimes have enough issues with language barriers and I can hear. Kudos to you for forging on and traveling regardless!
    Jennifer recently posted…Sleep in a Wine Vat at Château de BonhosteMy Profile

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