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American Annals of the Deaf

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Social Constructions of Deafness: Examining Deaf Languacultures in Education
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I found myself reverting to the hearing world—the world that I felt I knew the most, not necessarily the most comfortable. Thus, I joined Sigma Nu, being the only deaf fraternity member, but took a lot of pride knowing that all 50+ active members of the fraternity unanimously accepted me as a brother (if one dissented, I could not become a brother). It was during this time that I met my future wife, only we did not know it at the time (we would get married nine years later). When we first met, she asked what was with my accent, and I told her that I was deaf. She did not believe me, saying that she had met a few deaf people before and none spoke as well as I did. I proceeded to show her my two hearing aids and jokingly asked, “Do you think I would wear these hearing aids to pretend that I am deaf to impress you?” She was convinced. I also hung out with mostly hearing people. Although I knew there were a large number of deaf students, I stayed away from them, but did occasionally become involved in some of their Deaf club meetings (Collegiate National Association for the Deaf) and functions. I was going back to being a commuter— commuting between both worlds, leaving one identity behind as I entered a world. I still relied heavily on my fluent interpreters to convey academic information, which was one of the few connections to ASL and the world of sign during this time.

It was toward my junior year in college that I would meet Pat, who would become a lifelong mentor for me. I took his “Political Deviance” course and remember clearly that he was very reluctant to accept me as a student because he felt that the interpreter would not be capable of capturing essential information and effectively being able to convey it to me. Although he would not admit it, I think he was concerned that I, as a deaf person, could not succeed in his class. After I aced the midterms, his concerns went away and he realized a lot of things. I became empowered as an equal, but that did not last long.

I decided to apply to study abroad in Ireland for one year; I got accepted to University College Cork, and all of the courses I took there would fulfill all of the credits I needed to graduate with a B.A. from Arizona State. I had gotten initial approval from Arizona State, and they were going to provide and pay for an interpreter. Things were looking up until a few months before my departure to Ireland, when I got a letter from Arizona State deciding to reject my request for accommodations to study abroad in Ireland for one year. The letter still encouraged me to go and proceeded to outline how much money I would have had to pay out of my pocket for these interpreting accommodations—a total of $30,000. This traumatic experience immediately crumbled any notion that being deaf was a positive gift. I was shocked that Arizona State would view this opportunity as a financial burden and that it would consider that anybody going to study abroad representing the university was a bad thing. I was immediately back in the mind-set of having a disability, realizing that they were looking at the financial “hardship” of having to provide an interpreter rather than looking at the potential positive benefits of my being able to study abroad. I was extremely angry at myself, at God (once again asking whether this situation was his idea of a sick joke), and at the rest of the world. I was no longer successful and no longer “normal,” and I felt that I was just an expendable commodity. My dream of studying abroad was gone, but I finally collected myself to write a complaint to the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights; surely, they would side with me and cast Arizona State as being wrong by unethically overlooking my human gifts and justifying their actions in terms of only financial reasons. Legally, I felt that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 could have been applied to my case because ASU was my primary university and the International Program office [IPO] was run by ASU. All of the credits I would take in Ireland would be considered ASU credits. I could not understand why ASU ought to be exempt from the ADA even though I would physically be in Ireland, my credits and my financial payments were being paid directly to ASU, not overseas.

A few months later, I got a copy of a letter[2] (sent to me as a third party) from the Department of Education, which was addressed to Dr. Coor, then president of Arizona State University. In it, OCR described my situation in detail, saying that I had applied for the Study Abroad Program at University College Cork in Ireland, had been accepted, and was expecting accommodations to be made for an interpreter but had been turned down by Arizona State. However, after studying the situation, OCR analysts had concluded the following:

Upon reviewing the information provided by the complainant and the University, as well as current OCR policy information, and available case law, it is OCR’s determination that Section 504 and Title II protections do not extend extraterritorially. In other words, it is OCR’s position that neither Section 504 nor Title II requires the University to provide auxiliary aids and services in overseas programs. Nor does either statute otherwise prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in overseas programs. As such, we have concluded that the University’s refusal to provide and or pay for interpreter services for the complainant while participating in the Study Abroad Program in Ireland is not prohibited discrimination under the laws OCR enforces.
I thought to myself, “What in the hell is going on here?” I would have to bear the expense of these interpreter services—something that a college student could not afford. I would learn much later (approximately 8 years later, in 2009) that the letter became a standard for other universities to follow, but I did not know until later. Immediately, I felt that I was being put in my place as a disabled person and told not to challenge long-standing policies that I felt were not justified. It was then that I realized how powerful ideological beliefs were—not only of certain individuals who questioned me at first but also of larger institutions such as schools and much more powerful institutions such as the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, the same institution that was supposedly established to foster justice! During my senior year, I became a realist real fast; I had to stop worrying about my stigma on a microlevel and start figuring out how I was going to make it in the real world, which was full of Kafkaesque processes that would continually speak for me and claim authority over my life. I envisioned myself getting a job and having to “educate” everyone else that I was just normal, but at the same time, fear that I would be their Quasimodo. I considered passing as “hearing” and not requesting any type of accommodations to get by, but I realized that I would lose valuable information. Was it worth the sacrifice? It was fifth grade all over again.

Pat saw my frustrations and convinced me to apply for my masters at Arizona State. He knew I was not done with Arizona State emotionally. Once I got accepted, he became my academic mentor. During these two years, he carefully and slowly helped me realize that I was not the problem; it was the social circumstances that continued to exacerbate my disability as being a problem. Throughout the many nights of long conversations in his office and home, he was able to help me deconstruct my identity; by doing so, I was able to analyze the deep-seated ideologies that I had established pertaining to who I constructed myself to be. Pat provided me with academic resources and then discussed at length with me these important theories and concepts to make the connection between the academic and my personal understanding of myself.

Work in the Deaf World

After my masters in Justice Studies, I was ready to work, but I no longer wanted to associate myself with hearing people because they had abused me to the point where I could not handle it anymore. I was ready to encounter the “deaf” world. I wanted to work for (and with) deaf people, so I moved to California to work as a community advocate for one of the largest deaf agencies in the United States, which proved to be a very powerful experience for me. Almost everyone at the agency was deaf—the CEO, the human resources director, the payroll specialist, and even the janitors. I was baffled, but in a very good way. Whenever I had a payroll issue, I could easily go to that person and converse in sign language; my offi ce had no telephone, but it had video phones that enabled me to contact an interpreter virtually to make calls; and my office door was equipped with a “doorbell” that would fl ash the lights in my offi ce to get my attention. My job was entirely accessible, and the main form of language used in my workplace was ASL. I would provide speeches in ASL for work-sponsored events. I was breathing ASL everyday (Figure 1.9).

2. The full letter can be found at http://www.nacua.org/documents/OCRComplaint_SignLanguageInterpreter.pdf.


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