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September 17-23

My Experience as a Hearing-Impaired Person

I want to add some of my thoughts to the discussion about the use of interpreters and personal assistants at workshops.

At the moment, RC is not well set up for including deaf and disabled people. Thus, if we decide that it is not rational to employ people to facilitate access, we will lose the opportunity to include people who are otherwise excluded. Heather Parker says that it feels to us in our desperation that the only people who understand our needs are professional interpreters and carers. I don't think this is just a feeling, whatever frozen needs may get attached to the situation. The objective truth is that I haven't yet met anyone in RC who knows about deaf issues on the level that a person who has trained in that area for several years knows about them.

The following is a reply I sent to Jo Saunders regarding her comments on the letter from Heather:

"I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say that the interpreters are working from a position of knowing something in their heads but not in their being. I've noticed with X - that he can discuss the theory very intelligently but he hasn't done the work of discharging, which he needs to do in order to actually use the theory. It is hard for me to sit and watch an interpreter for hours on end who is in agony, either because we are working him/her for too long or because he/she is feeling distressed about the material being discussed by the leader."

Although signers can look very "attention out" to people who don't sign, it is impossible for me to ignore the distress they are feeling when I have such a close connection with them. This makes me want to counsel them and makes them want to client with me. From my point of view there are two reasons to counsel them: one is to get them into good enough shape to be able to do the job as well as possible, and the second is that I simply feel connected to them and want to give them a hand with whatever is hurting. Interpreters tend to fall in love with me. This could be just because I am the most amazing person they have ever met, but I think there is more to it than that. I think that because they are having an emotional reaction to the information being put out, they hook that emotion onto me. In addition, signers get a lot of empty praise from hearing people who don't understand signing, and a lot of criticism from deaf people. I think I am a contradiction to them in that I am deaf and I also appreciate them - no wonder they fall on my neck!

I've noticed I attach a lot of frozen needs to interpreters. It is wonderful to have a hearing person around who is noticing what goes on for me around my deafness and who is aware of deaf oppression and angry about it. It's easy for me to get hooked into wanting to be with interpreters all the time and have them look out for me. Because we look so close in and happy together and are probably signing to each other, other RCers assume that all is well and leave us alone with each other. All is not always well. Sometimes we are struggling mightily and could do with a hand! It is a strange experience to be at a workshop surrounded by RCers who think everything is fine, when I am actually being attacked by the interpreter. I have found myself defending RC theory or myself from their misunderstanding of the information. I know other people don't know the language and therefore can't interrupt this too easily, but I think there is some nonsense that goes on for hearing people when they see sign language. They assume we must be saying nice things because sign language looks "nice."

Because I am hearing impaired as opposed to profoundly deaf, I am able to "manage' without an interpreter at a workshop by relying on technical aids, such as my hearing aid and induction loops. This means I need to sit near an ally who can translate for me or take notes as the leader is speaking, so that I can cue in if I get lost. It also means I have to sit very near to the leader and watch everything he/she says with great attention. This tends to ensure that I develop a good relationship with the leader because she/he can't fail to be aware of my rapt expression and continuing eye contact as I struggle to lip-read throughout the class. I notice very clearly what is going on for the leader and am able to counsel him or her in small ways throughout the workshop. I become very central to the workshop and connected to the people around me, but I am not always able to follow everything that is going on.

The reverse happens when there is an interpreter at a workshop. Although I still sit near the front, my eye contact is with the interpreter rather than the leader, and my attention is apparently on the interpreter rather than on the leader's information. This means that I start to become marginalised within the class and isolated with the interpreter. I lose a sense of connection with the leader and

s/he apparently with me, and it seems that others draw back from me physically. On the other hand, I do get to see/hear all the RC theory laid out properly.

I'm not sure how to resolve this dilemma. In some ways it is easier for me to have an interpreter present; in other ways it is disastrous. It is a good idea to have an interpreter because: 1) It reminds other people that I am deaf, and it makes them think about deaf issues. 2) I don't miss anything that is being said at the workshop. 3) I have an ally who is thinking about me at the workshop.

It is not a good idea to have an interpreter because: (1) I lose a sense of connection to the leader. (2) There are issues of confidentiality that I have to think about. (The deaf community is very small, and the interpreter community is tiny. I don't want to run across an interpreter that I meet in my wide-world work at an RC workshop without having the chance to decide whether or not this person is trustworthy. The interpreters are not, after all, RCers, and are not bound by our code.) (3) I am aware that RC sometimes has a reputation amongst interpreters of being "weird," and I don't want someone who is unsympathetic to our work watching me discharge. (4) Although I have an ally who is thinking well about deaf issues, it is part of disability oppression that we get to be closest to people who are paid to be with us. This is not the best basis for liberation and distorts the relationship from the beginning. (5) Other RCers tend to think that providing an interpreter is all they have to do. I need people to think a bit more than that and not leave the interpreter and me isolated together.

One particular part of my oppression is RCers' desire to "fix' whatever difficulty I am having with hearing. Whenever I try to discharge on it, people ask me what needs to happen and then want to rush off to find me a piece of equipment or an interpreter. The first thing that needs to happen is that I need to discharge and people need to listen. Then, if it is a technical problem, we can sort it out. But it may be that I just need to discharge in order to get my attention out and be able to follow what's going on.

I'm excited that so many people are thinking hard about this at the moment. As more and more disabled people move into RC and into leadership, it is something we will need to think about as a Community.

Chris O'Mahony
London, England

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00