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Mod. 6 Reflection - Disability Justice

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

If you have any favorites, please share with colleagues any “go to” services, apps, or approaches that you use to make your services or offerings more accessible and inclusive. Please share it in Canvas with the group. If you don’t have one, what do you think would be helpful to you and your work?

 

Reviewing this topic two elements stuck out to me. First, the importance and the power of language. Second, how elements of my home life growing up equipped me with a foundation for accessibility work. As we've discussed on a few occasions in this program and in this course, making time and space for one's team to share their own definitions of certain words can not only provide insight into where they may be coming from or what their experience might be, but also show different ways to help them advance and align themselves with their coworkers in a way that benefits the entire company culture.


My mom's parents were both deaf, so I grew up signing in a version of ASL with them. I was around deaf people on a regular basis and we would prioritize going to deaf gatherings and would take pride in prominent deaf figures achieving success. I remember when Heather Whitestone won Ms. America in 1995, and when Marlee Matlin had a recurring role on The West Wing. My family made it a point to tell everyone we knew about them. We had "Silent Mondays" where we could only sign to each other between 8am-1pm every week to encourage us to practice using our sign language on a regular basis. My mom and my aunt would serve as translators for my grandparents at every event they attended. I recall Christmas programs growing up where me and my siblings would perform and my mom would stand at the side of the stage and sign the words for my grandparents.


I share that as relevant context because I don't have "go to" services or apps that I use to make services more accessible and inclusive, because I was raised in a home that required an accessible and inclusive approach. That's not to say I don't have my own points of ignorance, but that experience gave me a skillset that I have transferred to other areas of accessibility and inclusion.


While it may seem obvious, the two most applicable skills in my adult like that I learned growing up with deaf grandparents are listening and patience. Similar to Spoon Theory, we often don't consider how much of our society and world is designed for a certain type of person to be successful. As life becomes progressively faster, accessibility and inclusion work can be a good reminder to slow down and see the world from a different POV. I saw the negative impact of a lack of listening and patience first hand during an important moment of my young life.


When my mother's father, my Grandpa D, passed away in 1999, a number of his deaf friends got confused about the location of the funeral service and ended up at the funeral home where the visitation had occurred the day before, rather than the church. The attendant at the funeral home who encountered these deaf folks didn't know how to engage and called my mother at the church in a frenzy unsure of what to do. My mother calmly replied "All you need to do is write a note that gives them the correct information." The attendant had been so worked up about their inability to communicate audibly, that they had forgotten about other means of communication.


This lesson is much more easily applied in 2022 where texting has made communicating much easier for deaf people to speak with hearing people. The recent Oscar winning film CODA showed this put into practice through the relationship between the protagonist's deaf brother and a hearing girl who becomes his girlfriend. But the difference between the hearing girl in CODA and the attendant at the funeral home, besides 23 years, is the context of urgency. What I've seen repeated on numerous occasions is that in high pressure or emergency situations, people with a higher need for accessible resources are often disregarded. While it's only human for self-preservation to take over, it's an important reminder that having a design lens for accessibility and inclusion in the workplace and other social centers, can be the difference between life and death, in addition to making the workplace a better place for people with disabilities to exist in daily.


As a final thought, in my experience a beautiful byproduct that emerges out of listening and patience is gratitude. Before my Grandma D passed away in 2017, my siblings and I would take turns picking her up and taking her home from different family events. While I was driving it was difficult to sign, so she would point out all of the things she noticed along the drive. "Beautiful trees!" she would say. And I would simply nod or sign "Yes they are." About a minute later she would remark again "Look how big that tree is!" And I would nod or sign "Yes it is." On the third occasion I finally saw what she was seeing. I'd driven her home down familiar streets on numerous occasions, and I'd never noticed the trees in the way that she did. All of the sudden, my eyes were opened to the natural beauty of the area where she lived and it was all I could see. I've never forgotten the irony that my deaf grandma showed me how to see the beauty that was right in front of me. That experience serves as a regular reminder that while someone we know may have fewer spoons, they may appreciate those spoons far more than those of us who assume we have them.


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