A new minority?

Yesterday I spend time catching up with a friend. Besides being absolutely hilarious with a strong critical mind, she’s also one of those people you don’t easily forget once you’ve met her. We got to know each other in my first job and shared a room. I was working on my projects, she was supporting the IT facilities of the organisation. Being a woman in IT is quite exceptional, but she also has the outstanding quality of being able to explain what you need to do when your computer crashes – instead of giving you the ‘oh, you really don’t know anything and yes I’m the IT expert that will save you today’ look.

She does give you another look when you speak: one of concentration as she is hearing impaired and in part lip reading what you’re saying. Her hearing is slowly deteriorating and most likely in the end she will be able to hear next to nothing. At the moment, she does have hearing aids and when we worked together she could pull off a nice trick. She would switch off her hearing aids, to totally focus on her work and leave me jabbering in thin air when I was complaining about work or life in general.

Next to her hearing, she also has a body that is not totally up to speed as she has a condition called spasmophilia, which can manifest itself in different ways. For her it comes with chronic muscle pains, tiredness and in combination with the hearing problem balancing issues.

It hasn’t prevented her from doing what she wants in anyway when she regularly updates me on her membership of the ‘Deaf Adventure Club’. I always laugh at the excellent name, because I wonder what the ‘morbid’ th-version of this club would do. Their version, however focuses on undertaking activities with deaf people – they went canyoning in Spain the last weeks, but also promote deaf culture of deaf people as a language minority.

Before I knew her, I had little knowledge of this perspective as I was taught that being deaf is a ‘disability’. And indeed you are ‘disabled’ if you have to do everything according to the more regular ‘hearing world’. Learning how to speak for example instead of being allowed to learn and use sign language. What I also never realised is that reading for many deaf people is not as simple, when you don’t speak. Efficient sign language doesn’t require the clutter of different spellings and complicated grammar and you think much more in ‘visuals’. That also means that written text isn’t too logical for a deaf person and reading becomes much more difficult.

We’ve discussed now several times the idea also to do some human rights training from a minority perspective and I hope we will get that opportunity. It’s more a matter of time than that it won’t happen, but I still have a lot to learn from her in the meantime, as I said yesterday: ‘Oh, but I will need to learn sign language to be able to communicate.’ To which she answered laughingly: ‘We can get a translator.’ And I realised, ah, yes, like you would in working with any minority!

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