I confess I’ve had it with being called “an older American,” “an ex-nun,” “hearing impaired/late deafened/hard of hearing,” “a divorcee,” or “a fallen-away Catholic.” I am, of course, all of these things, plus a few other choice labels, but none of them defines me.
Robin Roberts—and forgive me, dedicated sports fans and viewers of “Good Morning America,” but I had never heard of her until I saw her new book, From the Heart: Seven Rules to Live By, lying on the “New Nonfiction” table at B. Dalton’s day before yesterday—(pause for breath) Roberts has an interesting Rule #4: “Never Play the Race, Gender, or Any Other Card.”
She opens that chapter by saying that any time we think we can’t succeed because other people won’t let us, we’ve effectively “rolled a big boulder into our path.” Bingo!
I’ve been wondering why the whole notion of audism, the “ism” of the hour here at Gallaudet, bothers me so much. There are a whole bunch of young people here working hard at finding examples of audism from which they suffer now, have suffered in the past, or will suffer in the future. Audism, to this prevailing way of thinking, happens when hearing people dump on you because you are deaf.
Of course, they do. Hearing people, that is. Dump on us. In many ways. There’s no getting around it. Any time any of us deviates from any expected norm, whether it relates to our hearing status, our age, our race, our gender, our health and ability, our nationality, our religion, or whatever, we start getting those looks. And it doesn’t stop with the looks. Nobody denies that.
Roberts talks in the introduction to her book about her parents, who would never let her say, for example, “I didn’t get that job because I’m black.” Her parents never let any of their children complain about not getting anything they wanted out of school or life because they had been discriminated against. They’d say, “Maybe the other person knew more about the job than you did,” or when her sister, blessed with a beautiful voice, was in a school chorus and was sure, when she wasn’t picked for a special singing group, that it was because she was black, her mother said, “Maybe they wanted a different kind of voice—an alto or a soprano or just someone that fit in better with their plans.” Her parents instilled in them the importance of doing their best in whatever they were doing—at school or at home—and of being gracious, no matter what.
Roberts went on to become the first black woman sportscaster on ESPN—a daunting job for a woman, whatever her race. But she loves sports and then, later, news and is passionate about them. She says she has been in sports broadcasting for many years but never worked a day. She enjoys her job so much it doesn’t feel like work.
For deaf students to spend their precious youthful energy trying to combat audism is tragic. It’s a waste of time. The book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne tells us that whatever you focus on grows. (It doesn't matter if the focus is negative or positive--Want to stay fat? Keep saying "I hate being fat.") Deaf and hard of hearing students need to pour their hearts into learning and growing and having fun. No matter who you are or whatever life has thrown in your path, you can achieve unbelievable things with your life. Just don’t waste your precious minutes on this planet feeling sorry for yourself or bemoaning your victimhood or hating hearing people because they don’t understand. Roberts also tells us in the chapter on Rule #4 to do our best to think well of other people. (Well, I can think of a few people that are a real challenge to think well of, especially on the national scene, but it's good advice.) It's easy enough not to think well of others, at times, but it doesn't do us any good.
Actually, audism works both ways. The Deaf community has been the only place where I’ve ever run into roadblocks on a consistent basis because I am deaf. Why? Because I can talk. They think I’m hearing. And I’m a lousy signer to boot. I don’t fit the norm. Plus I can be a battleaxe of the first water, although I'm pretty much that way whether I'm dealing with hearing or with deaf people. No discrimination here! Equal opportunity to the core!!
I wanted to come to Gallaudet long before I actually did. The hearing person interviewing me for a deaf program (not at Gallaudet) was not impressed with a nonsigning deaf housewife with four small kids, so he rejected my application. Long story short, I got to Gallaudet, all right, but not until 16 years later. By then I could sign a bit, and I'd also acquired a profession that Gallaudet just happened to need at that very moment.
Do I hate the person who rejected me so long ago? Nope. The only thing about him that ever gave me pause is that after I got to Gallaudet, he was there, too. I worked in the office next to his, and his had a fireplace! Audism, pure and simple....