During my college career I have had to struggle against a stereotype about deaf people in general, fight against the common assumptions about a group of disabled people and constantly prove myself capable by shattering unfair but understandable generalizations.
After blazing a trial in my own limited time (by breaking the prejudices of others) it did became tiresome and repetitive, exceedingly redundant that I have nothing to fight but the extremely low expectations and that whatever I do already clears the embarrasingly low bar is simply taken as brilliant, impressive, wonderful, amazing, or [insert any superlative here]. This is not a cry for a universal standard, fairness, but that the concept of low expectations does result in low results. It is somewhat a self-defeating prophecy, if you look at the results without any preconceived notions.
The unexamined prejudice, or stereotype I am talking about is that because of common connotations about the disability, a deaf person should not be able to articulate speech consistently well, even write eloquently in English, and/or specialize in non-visual training (i.e. abstract studies such as that of mathematics or philosophy).
The first stereotype is not too much of a problem. Once I open my mouth and ask for something in the public arena, say, ordering food, sometimes I’m taken for a hearing person pretending to be deaf in order to get away with things. Other times incredulity is written allover their faces that a deaf person can speak at all is embarrasing to the degree that those preconceived notions are just exactly what we all are guilty of when we meet the strange or the rare, or the different, those of unlike bent – whatever it is, disability, cultural differences, or social classes – whichever we have limited experience of we unfairly make quick judgments and assessments that are actually a short cut for true knowledge and understanding. Is it human nature to make shortcuts with stereotypes so we don’t have to waste time in the future?
The second stereotype is even more troubling, because my major requires that I write a lot of papers, essays, summations, reports, analyses, critiques, and etcetera. I remember my first semester at the local college, I was enrolled in a course on Folklore & Mythology. During lecture I had been constantly keeping my arm up and answering the posed questions or adding extra information, but alas! That was not sufficient grounds to keep the professor from doubting the true authorship of my papers. He even had the audacity to ask whether I did write my essay! At first I wasn’t too worried because I assumed that the professor was concerned about the quoted material or sources I had worked with. But it slowly dawned upon me that he was laboring with assumptions that I could not have written that paper precisely because of my disability. Not that he came out and said it, for he was too smart to paint himself in a corner like that. My interpreter found this so insulting that during the interrogation she broke down and cried like a baby. The professor defended his charges by saying that in 35 years of teaching he had never came across a paper that technical, so he had grounds to doubt the abilities of a lowly freshman. More similar incidents followed, until I built a reputation of producing well-written papers in the philosophy department was I able to dispell that sort of low expectations. About time!
To this day I keep surprising people on the internet with the admittance that I am hearing impaired. Sometimes I can interpret that as a compliment. For example there is this intelligent, talented thinker who frequents over at darwinawards.org I have had the courtesy of befriending. After I informed him of my disability, he exclaimed that he would have never guessed! Sort of nice, but at the same time, also, damning.
The third stereotype is the choice of major- since the most common major for the deaf student at schools like Gallaudet, NTID, or CSUN is ‘deaf studies,’ it stands to reason that there are exceptions who do not fall into any homogenized categories. However, the assumption that a deaf person is exceeding expectations if he focuses on something not necessarily visually aided (technician, auto mechanic, art) he is bound to fail or be doomed to a life of misery or frustration is unfounded.
Perhaps this is a matter of semantics, that the people who happen to be deaf is actually a microcosm of the population at large, that the ratio stays fixed, that the majority of the people are not devoted to high-brow intellectual pursuits, but in more practical matters, and that the categorization of deaf/hearing is spurrious and unnecessary.
For subjective purposes, I do not find my disability a source of pride because I did not chose to be deaf. That may be a fundamental problem of my own, that I refuse to participate in a social thing that stems from an accident of nature (that translates as well to other elements such as those of racial origins, cultural background, social status). If I didn’t choose my ethnicity, my parents, my social class, my history, how can I take the credit for any of those?