What Centering of Deaf and Disabled People in Post-Secondary Academic Environments Looks Like

So, since after 2010 or so, I’ve been in hearing abled post-secondary academic environments after graduating from high school. Due to audism, phonocentrism and ableism, the times there have not been as good as they would be for hearing abled people, all other things being equal.

Why? What can be done to fix this? Before I get into that, I just want to explain who I am.

By the way, if you need help understanding terms that I use in this article, the definitions are at the end of this article. Please e-mail or tweet me if you still need more help.

My context

I am a Black non-binary queer trans woman. I live on stolen Mississauga New Credit land in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I live on the parts of the supercontinent that the White invaders call United States and Canada, collectively called North America by them. I am Disabled (Deaf, Autistic, ADHD, CP). I sign – American Sign Language is my first language. I am a student at Humber College in the Computer Programmer program.

In this post, “society” refers to the society in US and Canada. “Post-secondary academic environments” refers to the same in US and Canada. However, audism and phonocentrism can exist everywhere in the world so I wouldn’t be surprised if your non-North American experiences line up with this article.

Why Post-Secondary Academic Environments Have Sucked For Me As A Deaf and Disabled person

Non-Deaf and Disabled centric academic environments

Academic environments nowadays do not center the needs and realities of Deaf and Disabled people.

The words “Diversity/Inclusion”

These two words are popular buzzwords that make privileged people (in this case, hearing and abled people) feel good but do not encourage structural changes of academic environments to serve the needs of Deaf and Disabled people.

These concepts should no longer be used to indicate affirmative support of marginalized populations as too often, these words have connotations showing non-centering of marginalized populations in academic life.

For example, my school claims to be against racism but it is on stolen Indigenous land.

Social isolation

It is commonly understood that the experience of schooling goes beyond the classroom to extracurricular events, class events, clubs, etc. Why, then, are Deaf and Disabled people allowed to be left isolated in academic life due to cultural ignorance about the needs of Deaf and Disabled people and how to interact with them? Why is the responsibility left solely to individuals themselves to meet their human need of social interaction?

Lack of contact with Deaf and Disabled people

In our society, prejudices affect the ability of abled and hearing people – who compose the majority of the world – to appropriately interact with Disabled and Deaf people. Also, abled and hearing people are not always aware that there are Deaf and Disabled people around them.

Over-reliance on professionals to accommodate Deaf and Disabled people outside the classroom

As appropriate and relevant, outside the classroom everyone in an academic environment should be prepared to learn how to interact with Deaf and Disabled people without always needing professionals such as, but not limited to, hearing ASL interpreters to accommodate them.

What Centering of Deaf Signing and Disabled People in Post-Secondary Academic Spaces Looks Like

So how can we fix this messed up situation?

My suggestions are …

Before entering post-secondary academic environments:

Students should learn about and be given opportunities to interact with Deaf and Disabled people in elementary and secondary school

All students in elementary and secondary school should learn about Deaf and Disabled people and be given opportunities to interact with them, including teaching them how to communicate with Deaf and Disabled people in our varied ways of communication. Students should also learn how to interact with them, including not leaving them out and having them learn how their interactions are not “special” – indeed, they are just very mundane interactions.

In elementary and secondary school, all students should learn the relevant local signed language that local Deaf people use

Formal classes in said language should be mandatory. No exemptions should be given unless the student absolutely cannot learn the language in any possible way that supports their needs. These classes should be equal in quality and meaning to the classes that exist for the relevant mandatory local spoken and/or written language class(es).

In post-secondary academic environments:

All students should learn and/or continue learning the relevant local signed language that local Deaf people use

These classes should still be mandatory. If an exemption was given in elementary/secondary school, it should still apply now. These classes should still be equal in quality and meaning to the classes that exist for the relevant mandatory local spoken and/or written language class(es).

They should have something similar to the D Center at the University of Washington.

When they have a student newspaper and/or Journalism programs, Deaf and Disabled people should be reported on. Also, Deaf and Disabled people should be able to be the reporters.

Personal experience: I have NEVER been approached by a student journalist. NEVER. Not in all of my years of being in post secondary education.

Students should be given constant opportunities in all courses to think about what being hearing and abled means and how Deaf and Disabled experiences can apply to their programs and/or courses. Equally important are opportunities for application like clubs, social interaction, etc.

All school posters, videos, etc should have positive and varied representations of Deaf and Disabled people.

This includes all other identities (race, gender, etc) and all possible mobility aids. Also, a balance needs to be struck between talking only about the Deaf/Disability experience and all other topics.

Discussion of conflicting access needs

Sometimes conflicting access needs come up, and students should be prepared to understand that and know how to work through these but also recognize that it is OK if a solution cannot be reached.

Discussion of human needs and specific manifestations

Students should know that all humans have human needs, and that no one’s human needs are “special.”

This list is inexhaustive and if you have any thoughts about what should be included here, feel free to email me or tweet me!

Glossary of terms used in this article

First three definitions from sordxradical’s article What Genuine Inclusivity of Signing People Needs To Be Like In Social Justice Circles/Events. Rest of definitions from me.

Audism: the systematic oppression of Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of Hearing, Late Deafened, and Cochlear Implant Using Signing people.

Phonocentrism: the widespread, if not global, supremacy of hearing and speaking above all other expression and existence.

Hearing people: people who are not Deaf, DeafBlind, DeafDisabled, Hard of Hearing, Late Deafened, and Cochlear Implant Using Signing people. (Note from Kylie: people who can hear, but in identity first language because hearing people are their ability to hear.)

Deaf people: People who cannot hear enough on a functional basis to communicate the way that hearing people do, especially in this phonocentric society. Sometimes the big D is used to ALSO signify the fact that someone is part of a cultural and linguistic minority involving the usage of a local signed language and cultural norms that differ from hearing norms.

Ableism: the systematic oppression of Disabled people.

Abled person: Someone who is all of these:

  • hearing (able to hear, but as I said, hearing people are their ability to hear)
  • ambulatory (able to walk – ambulatory people are their ability to walk)
  • allistic (non-autistic – allistic people are their non-autistic neurology)
  • neurotypical
  • sighted (able to see – sighted people are their ability to see)
  • able bodied
  • able minded

Centering a marginalized population means that cultural, communal, institutional and systematic changes are made so that the marginalized/oppressed population is treated equitably to the relevant privileged population meaning that they experience what the privileged population experiences in all contexts daily – except, of course, for things that the privileged population really shouldn’t be doing anyway. Eventually, the marginalized/oppressed population will no longer be oppressed. They will still have underlying identities that they were oppressed for (e.g. African, wheelchair user, etc).

Marginalization: In context of this post, synonymous to oppression.

Oppression: When a group of people are disadvantaged by prejudice in society from a relevant privileged group and this prejudice causes the disadvantaged group to be denied benefits, advantages and opportunities that are granted to the privileged group, the disadvantaged group is oppressed. An important determiner of this is that the oppressed group does not have the legal, extralegal, medical, media-representative and authoring, governmental, linguistic, cultural, social, etc power to grant themselves those  benefits, advantages and opportunities because of the same prejudice that disadvantages them.

Note: For me, this definition does not apply to race or class, since these are created social realities that people disadvantaged on. This definition applies to everything else, because these are differences based on who you are.

Privilege: When a group of people in society receives benefits, advantages and opportunities that are denied to oppressed people and when they have the legal, extralegal, medical, media-representative and authoring, governmental, linguistic, cultural, social, etc power to deny these benefits, advantages and opportunities combined with prejudice that everyone has, that group of people is privileged in society.

Prejudice: In context of this post, beliefs about a group of people that are internalized from aspects of society (social institutions) like law, government, media (TV, books, the Internet, video, etc), family, education, religion, etc. These beliefs are subconsciously applied to this group of people by everyone in society and determine the way they are allowed – or not allowed – to be human, have dignity, etc in society.

Intellectual exercises are messed

TW: brief right wing discussion

I was just on the National Organization for Marriage website, and an observation I made is that the people who are involved in this organization are fixated on “same sex marriage” as an idea. As in, to them it does not affect people. They want the freedom to broadcast those kinds of ideas as merely abstract realities, disconnected from the people who these ideas affect.

This kind of idea-people disconnection is usually called an “intellectual exercise.” It is the exercise of privilege, and it is important to watch out if this happens to you and work to connect the two.

An example of an intellectual exercise could be the oft quoted male-saying: “Since you’re saying that men shouldn’t hit women, what if a woman were to hit a man?”

Power imbalances DO nullify enthusiastic consent

Tonight I’m feeling a bit annoyed by some of the responses to someone I’m following. They were discussing how power imbalances effect consent and there was some resistance to that info.

Consent (not only sexual or romantic) is a lot more than a yes or no. It is informed by context. One piece of that context is whether or not one party has the ability to exercise power over the another. Consent must be freely given and enthusiastic – power imbalances in a given situation can significantly affect the ability to give freely given and enthusiastic consent to such a point where consent cannot be given.

Examples of power imbalances:

  • Teacher – student
  • Employer – employee
  • Police officer – civilian
  • Oppressor – oppressed

A thing re tipping:

Just now I had a Pizza Pizza order delivered. I paid for the order online. When the hearing delivery driver came,  they had me sign something to confirm my order. Above the signature area was a tip amount and total.

I was writing in the tip amount first. When they asked me to sign, I thought they meant to sign instead of writing in the tip amount, so I wrote over the tip amount and did the signature in the usual area. They said “no tip?” I realized and put the tip amount above the area where I had written over it initially.

It was a misunderstanding – but not a great kind because of audism and phonocentrism and marginalized people not being allowed to make mistakes. Hearing people, please work on your communication with Deaf people. And stop expecting us to accommodate you.

What is social privilege?

i’ve seen this term quite a few times in my activist life.

Social privilege is a privilege that refers to other privileges and how these privileges impact interaction with other people, making friends and the like.

These privileges include but aren’t limited to …

  • abled privilege (including being hearing, ambulatory, allistic, sighted, neurotypical, able bodied and/or able minded)
  • cishet privilege
  • male privilege

Yes, these all do affect interaction with others!

Double standards + respectability politics: #OregonUnderAttack

TW: mention of rape, colonialism

I recently wrote about respectability politics. The situation symbolized by #OregonUnderAttack is an excellent demonstration of what I mean.

When marginalized people are viewed in prejudiced ways and privileged people in superior ways, a lot of strange things happen.

In this case, nothing is happening to the White people who are shutting down a US Federal government building. Nothing. Zero. It’s seen as a peaceful protest.

Yet, when Black people try to do the same thing – peacefully shut down cafes and malls – they are arrested.


Black people are seen as criminal.

Anything Black people do is seen as criminal.

Even Black people existing is criminal.

But White people have done criminal things to Black peoples, Indigenous peoples and other peoples of color globally. Historically to the present day, they have done these things to us – and continue to do so everyday:

  • colonize our lands
  • destroy our cultures
  • kill off many of us
  • rape our women
  • impose colonial languages on us
  • steal from our cultures
  • impose their culture on us

Therefore, White people are criminal.

They are not viewed this way because of White supremacy. They say they are not criminal, that imperialism has improved the world for the better, etc, but that is not true.

Actions and their multiple steps

Though most people don’t realize it, actions like “cleaning,” “typing,” and on and on have multiple steps.

Removing dust from the floor

  1. Go over to the closet.
  2. Open closet door.
  3. Look for the broom and tray.
  4. Take the broom and tray out of the closet.
  5. Move the broom and tray to the floor.
  6. Close closet door.
  7. Start in one section of the floor.
  8. Place broom on floor. Place tray near broom.
  9. While holding tray near broom, move broom on floor. Move visible dust from the floor to  the tray.
  10. If section is completely clean, discard dust in garbage bin
  11. Repeat numbers 8 to 10 for another section and so on until the floor is completely clean.
  12. Go over to the closet.
  13. Open closet door.
  14. Place broom and tray in closet.
  15. Close closet door.

Typing (with vision)

  1. Open typing application / turn on typing device.
  2. Think of a word to type.
  3. Look at keyboard for the first letter of the word you thought of.
  4. Press the letter.
  5. If it is not yet the last letter of the word, go back to number 3.
  6. If you are typing another word, press space. Go back to number 3 for the next word.

See these multiple steps? The extent to which people perceive multiple steps in a specific larger action is a spectrum. Most people perceive a larger action as a single step, but not all do. Indeed, it can be difficult to do certain things if you’re Disabled because you cannot do certain substeps very well or at all. Or, you may not be able to process those substeps.



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