You’re not my dad.

The hearing world does not think about people who are deaf very often and the deaf get along fine. Any time there is a pivot to considering the Deaf, the first impression tends to be “Unique, but also just like me.” Without intervention, inclusivity from this premise is not inclusive.

This is “paternalism”, a flavor of oppression the Deaf know very well. Paternalism is finishing this sentence–“If I were someone I cannot relate to, I would…” — and then doing it. Paternalism happens wherever one identity makes decisions about or for another–even (especially) with good intentions.

The alternative response is “Ask them.” There is nothing else you need to know, except that the problem is likely to get worse as society becomes more ‘inclusive’. Here are two big-picture examples.

First, hearing people who do not know ASL are nonetheless happy to endorse ASL interpreters. Why? “It is beautiful to watch!” This reinforces low (or no) standards for a very skill-demanding and usually critical job. I’ve witnessed and intervened on unacceptable interpreting in the face of innocent but uninformed compliments from by unqualified talkers. In these cases, without my intervention the interpreter would have been hired again. This is a recurring problem because hearing people in charge of publically held events often hire ASL interpreters to be ADA compliant.

Another common incident of paternalism deals with schools teaching ASL, Deaf culture and deaf -rehabilitation or -therapy. For example, a big 10 University is in the process of developing an ASL program (at the time of posting this piece), yet I have not heard of their inclusion of any fluent signers or Deaf people in this process.

What I HAVE heard are tell-tale signs of bad decisions. Two people discussed whether Special Education or Rehabilitation Psychology might be good homes for such a program. Some from Communication Sciences and Disorders would like to participate. Yet I’m willing to bet most Deaf consultants would sooner say, “You don’t want an ASL program” than allow continued mention of one of these departments as part of the program’s development.

If the consultants are authorities on the matter (or representative) and the objective is meaningful inclusivity, then their opinion is exclusively relevant. In other words, factors an outsider may consider important, and even “why” and “why not” are irrelevant.

I’ll go just a little further: it is probably not inclusive unless the decisions appear paternalistic in the reverse direction.

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