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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Disabling Pedagogy: Power, Politics, and Deaf Education

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I think Student Services should promulgate something about deaf students’ needs—to explain to instructors about interpreters’ roles so that instructors understand that and don’t get the wrong impression of what interpreters do.
It is no coincidence that Sally found the most support and got her best grades in a women’s studies class. She felt that her experiences as a Deaf woman were both valued and valuable in a class that focused on minority politics and differences. She felt respected and affirmed by her tutor and peers and enjoyed the opportunity to raise hearing people’s awareness of her identity. She told me she felt “the same as everyone else. . . . I found people respecting who I am, not that I’m deaf . . . but respecting me.”

I asked Sally how she felt about entering a profession that was dominated by hearing teachers. She replied, “[I’m] wondering if some teachers will accept a deaf teacher, or will they back off from me? Some teachers have been good. I think it’s possible for me to be assertive and for them to have to need to change their attitude. In the past I’ve had to change my attitude; I’ve had to use speech and do all the changes for them, so why can’t they change for me now? I think that would be fair.”

After completing her practice teaching at the school her deaf children attended, Sally reported that the teachers said “they’re looking forward to me coming back to work there again. I drove home thinking . . . just because I’m . . . going to be a teacher. Why didn’t they think that in the past? Why didn’t they respect me when I was [just] a parent?”

Her comments are directed toward teachers of deaf children and the system of deaf education rather than toward university staff members and tertiary institutions. However, an incident at the university again raised the issue of identity politics and difference. Sally came to me one day, incensed that a tutor had crossed out the capital letter in the word “Deaf ” and rewritten it as “deaf.” She insisted that she had explained the meaning of this widely adopted convention among writers in the deafness field and had correctly used it to indicate cultural allegiance to the Deaf community rather than a member of the dominant “hearing” culture. She was hurt and angry and had erased the “correction,” a symbolic act of defiance in which she resisted the identity that had been ascribed to her.


Brooke, the second participant in the study, had a very different experience of university life—at least, initially. Provided with interpreters and note takers for almost every lecture and tutorial, she focused her comments on her desire to be treated equally, even if this meant missing out on what she needed as a deaf student:

The classes were good, and the tutors would treat me equally. They don’t give me extra help, and sometimes if I ask for it, they’ll say, “You need to go to the Learning Services area,” and I think, oh well, they’re treating me equally. Sometimes I might have a question about the essay and wonder if I’ve gone off the track because sometimes the English is a bit challenging, and I’ll ask if they can read through my essay, and they say no, they’ll answer my questions, but they won’t read through my draft, and I asked my friends if they’d said the same thing to them, and they said yes. So I think that’s good.
Having integrated easily into mainstream schools for primary and secondary education, she resisted being treated as different or positioned as “deaf ” rather than as an ordinary university student:
The instructors and the tutors were good, but they knew me as a deaf person. They wouldn’t know my name, but they remembered my face, and it was a bit embarrassing because sometimes—like at my old school, there were at least two or three other students who were deaf—but here I’m the only deaf student in the university studying education, so I kind of stand out, and I found that a bit embarrassing.

Sometimes in tutorials when we’re having group discussions I feel the instructors talk to the interpreters rather than to me. Some of them do that. Some of them are great; they understand and accept who I am, but some of them, like when we’re filing out at the end of the class, they’ll say “How are you?” and “Things going well?” but they’ll say during the class, “Oh, could you please wait so I can talk to you?” . . . Sometimes like at roll call . . . they’ll be going through the names, but they won’t call out my name because they already know I’m here. I’d rather that they said my name so I could say “yes” through the interpreter.

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