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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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Brooke’s accounts of higher education illustrate the struggle she has experienced between her self-identity, as a member of a cultural and linguistic minority, and that imposed on her by the dominant group:
I don’t consider myself disabled, but I understand the meaning of the word “disability.” I understand that . . . and I understand the community’s perception of that word, and I accept that I have a disability in hearing, but I’m not physically disabled. Sometimes they treat me as being deaf first—I was about to say “disabled,” but no, I mean being deaf.

I had problems with one instructor last year. I found that she would put me down in front of everyone if I would miss a class [or] because I was late. She’d say something like—when she was calling the roll, in front of everyone that is—“Oh, you weren’t here last week.” And I know that she wouldn’t say that to other students. And she’d say, “Oh, do you have a medical certificate?” And I’d come almost every other time, and I’d say to her, could we talk about this later, and she’d say no, and she’d continue talking, and I couldn’t stand it. It was so embarrassing, and so sometimes they treat me as being deaf first.

Although she thought highly of a particular instructor, she gave examples of the way in which he focused on her difference and lacked understanding of how to treat a deaf student:
Every workshop, every lecture, he’d go to the interpreter and say, “Are you okay? Are you comfortable there? Are you standing in the right place? Do you want a break?” He was a lovely man, but it made me the focus of attention, and I didn’t like that. Or if I didn’t go to a workshop, in a lecture, in front of all the students, he’d ask me where I was, where I’d been. . . . He didn’t understand deaf students, or he’d say to the interpreter, “Tell her to do this” or “Ask her . . .” so he didn’t know how to be able to talk to me directly.
During the second interview with Brooke a year later, she told me she no longer had full access to interpreters. In fact, she was being provided with interpreters or note takers for only two of her twenty-one hours of scheduled classes. She believed the reason was that she had missed a number of classes the previous semester and had been working overseas (at a school for deaf children) when a meeting was held to organize her support services. She said she was being “blamed” by the disability liaison officer (DLO) at the university for her difficulties, which made her feel “rebellious, like I didn’t want to be at university.” She resorted to asking friends to take notes for her during classes, just as Sally had during her first year.

After Brooke’s first year at the university, she sought meaningful ways of dealing with the university curriculum. She planned to teach deaf children and believed that her instructors did not understand how she could obtain a regular teaching degree. She gave examples of her continued efforts to seek modified assessment and school practicum requirements to further her understanding and experience of deaf education. For example, she asked to be placed at a school for deaf children for practice teaching: “They said no, I had to go to a regular school.” Her request to be placed at a regular school with a deaf facility also met with disapproval:

I wanted to go to a school where they had deaf students integrated, and they said no, I couldn’t do that. I had to go to a fully hearing school because I’d already had my [practice teaching] at . . . [a deaf school], and I could do an integrated round in an integrated setting next year, but this year it had to be a hearing school. It was interesting because the first year I went to . . . [a primary school], and there were no deaf students there. It was fully hearing, but the teacher was really reluctant with me and didn’t allow me to teach the whole class. I was just teaching small groups, like reading groups and that was all. She felt that someone in my situation couldn’t teach the full class. But last year I felt very involved teaching at . . . [the deaf school], and I got . . . [the highest grade]. In the previous school I got . . . [a lower grade], so I know that if I go back to a hearing school, my grades will drop again. I want to build my confidence, too, and that’s why I’d like to go back to a deaf school. . . . I have to go to a school where I don’t know anyone, have no contacts, and I’ll just have to do my best there. They’re not seeing it from my perspective—being a deaf student, being isolated.

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