It's a word that means differently to different people but universally it means enabling themselves the power of choice on their ability to gain their freedom, acquire knowledge, acquire wealth, and even build self esteem and confidence. There are many sides to every perspective on who is taking advantage of who when it comes to obtaining empowerment or losing it. What I have to say here may make some people feel uncomfortable but it is my kind of truth I'd like to speak about though it's not to be construed as an absolute truth but a general truth. Offering a different perspective is good. There is no monopoly here on "empowerment" or truth but just my version.
Let's look at Trudy Suggs' presentation on "Deaf Disempowerment."
Before going further I recognize the fact that there are horrible interpreters, interpreters who are a god-send and those who fall in between depending on the circumstances. The hope is to have the very best and highly professional interpreters but that is not always the case, sadly, but the United States is experiencing a national shortage on interpreters. Here I'm offering a bit of constructive opinion regarding Trudy Suggs' "Deaf Disempowerment." Namely it's about true independence versus quasi-independence when it comes to communication choices and how some people deal with them. Sometimes the answer to a difficult or problematic solution can be easily solved. Other times it requires serious intervention and awareness building.
In Trudy Suggs' piece she discussed two kinds of disempowerment: situational disempowerment and economic disempowerment. What I'm about to explain in my blog will show you a simple way to reverse a certain disempowerment scenario into your advantage. You can still have control over certain things in life and not feel helpless in the communication department. Empowerment means you've come to realized certain things about a situation and advantageously learned to move forward independently benefiting yourself as a result. Suggs suggested that people do take advantage of deaf people, and that's true in many instances as in the case of interpreters taking advantage of deaf people by making money off of them. She provided a few examples of that in her piece. But in order to be honest people need to realize that deaf people do take advantage of hearing people. In this case taking advantage of sign language interpreters for their own gain whether it's social, financial, medical or what have you at no cost to deaf people in most cases.
Trudy Suggs explained that she live in a town of 23,000 people with 250 to 300 deaf people (I am assuming they are all culturally deaf people) which represents about 1.3% of the town's population. A town that is 7 times more populated than the "national average" on the ratio of culturally deaf people to hearing people which is estimated to be about 0.2%of the U.S. population. In Rochester, New York, for example, it has a much higher density of deaf and hard of hearing people. The number of deaf and hard of hearing people make up 3.7 percent (about 40,000) of the Rochester area's 1.1 million people (more here on deaf/hh population). Although no exact figures on the number of culturally deaf people who rely exclusively on sign language to communicate as their preferred mode of communication. In Suggs' town with 7 times more culturally deaf people one would certainly expect better interpreters. Interpreters who should be readily available at a moments notice, 24/7. Interpreters who are expected to hold a higher standard of professionalism in a town that have a lot of deaf people. Interpreters' reputations are at stake. If an interpeter fumbles then word gets around within the tightly knit deaf community like a bad gossip.
Let's consider for a moment the fact that there are more deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States that do not sign or know sign language than there are those who do sign (about 50 to 1 ratio or 30 million deaf/hh to 600,000 culturally deaf people). Or for those with more severe hearing loss you have people with severe to profound hearing loss numbering probably about 3 million or so. That would leave you with 1 out every 5 deaf people who know and use sign language.
Trudy Suggs described a story between about herself, her interpreter and a receptionist while waiting in a lobby for her orthopedic doctor for her son's check-up:
After about 45 minutes of waiting in the lobby—very unusual for a town of this size—I asked the receptionist about the severe delay. The receptionist never once looked up from her computer, saying that the doctor was backed up. I asked if we could see the doctor since my children were restless, hungry and my son, in a body cast from chest to toe, needed his medicine—which was at home. She said no. I said, “Could you please speak to the doctor or nurse?” She replied, “Oh, no, I can’t do that,” and I repeated my request. She adamantly refused.
I finally said, “Could you please look at me?” She looked at the interpreter, and I said, “No, at me.” Once she did, I asked, “Could you please offer a resolution? We’ve been here an hour.” At that very moment, my baby began crying, and the receptionist finally realized the extent of my situation. A nurse came out who was far more courteous and apologetic. After we talked about the delay, I asked how I could make a complaint about the receptionist.
A few thoughts come to mind.
You have a receptionist who is not familiar with deaf culture etiquette such as looking directly at the deaf person and not the interpreter. Most hearing people are simply not familiar on how to deal with a deaf person with their interpeter in tow. And then you have a situation where a deaf person is either seen as the "third person" or the interpreter as the third person. It becomes a perception issue not mention a certain amount of ignorance and unfamiliarity at play here,too.
Trudy then go on a spiel about "disempowerment" because she wasn't treated adequately by her interpreter and was seen as a "third person" by the receptionist and was not given the opportunity to be seen as an equal.
Let's change the picture here. Like the one below here.
Suppose at the receptionist desk sits a face to face communication device unit called the UbiDuo ready to be used by any deaf person who can use it to converse in real time with the receptionist. The unit is already assembled and ready to go by simply turning it on No third person is involved. Eye contact is easily done because the conversation is now between two individuals, a hearing person and a deaf person. The UbiDuo is a wireless communication technology that allow real time typed conversations between two people facing each other. Just like having two people talking or signing to each other face to face, uninterrupted with more meaningful eye contact, and done directly without feeling like a third person. No worry about having an interpreter carry YOUR conversations for you.
That's true empowerment.
Having the ability to carry a conversation with a hearing person using the UbiDuo, for example, where conversations can be done privately and directly is an example of empowerment. The chance for misunderstanding decreases because words are typed word for word with the UbiDuo. Conversations done in real time seeing what the other person is typing while responding at same time. Just like talking to each other. Just like signing to each other. No worry about the "lack of signing fluency" from interpreters. Face to face conversations take place fluidly.
A deaf person can have a choice between using an interpreter or a face to face communication device such as the UbiDuo. It is there for the taking. You have that choice. That's true empowerment.