How To Be A Good Ally To Deaf People

Mother and two kids wearing statement shirts. Mother's shirt reads Advocate like a Mother and the kids' shirts read Be Kind finger-spelled in ASL

I’d have people ask me how should they support and help d/Deaf people (why d/Deaf?). There are SO MANY ways they could spread awareness about deafness and support the Deaf community. However, I’d start off with encouraging them to be a good ally to d/Deaf people.

What exactly does an ally to d/Deaf people mean and what do they do?

No worries, I will explain below exactly what does an ally mean and what they do. I will also explain the difference between an advocate and an ally because the line between those two can blur sometimes. Hence, the reason why I am covering this post and explaining the difference.

This topic will be covered in two parts. The second part will have more ways to offer support, evaluate/reframe how you think and act, and lastly, feel confident in your part as an ally! Go see the second part here.

Definition of ALLY: “One that is associated with another as a helper a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle”

d/Deaf people, in general, can advocate for themselves and other d/Deaf people. Needing others to advocate for d/Deaf people rarely happen with d/Deaf adults. However, it does happen with d/Deaf children because they are still learning how to advocate for themselves.

People with close ties to the Deaf community would be the second-best people, the first being d/Deaf adults, to advocate for the d/Deaf children. The close ties can be being culturally Deaf as a hearing person like having a Deaf family (deaf parents, child/ren, and/or siblings), or maybe they have heavy exposure and involvement in the Deaf community like being an interpreter, a teacher for the Deaf, or with their events.

If you are not d/Deaf and/or don’t have close ties to the Deaf community, you can still offer support by being a good ally to d/Deaf people! Like I’ve mentioned above that d/Deaf people can advocate for themselves but we will ALWAYS need allies.

 

 As an ally, you follow the lead of the Deaf community.

Together you create solutions or spread Deaf awareness. Together you eliminate the struggles and celebrate the triumphs.

Being an ally means you understand your hearing privilege. Being an ally means you are telling d/Deaf people that our problems are your problems, too. Being an ally means you are intolerant of injustice being brought upon the Deaf community.

Mother and two kids wearing statement shirts. Mother's shirt reads Advocate like a Mother and the kids' shirts read Be Kind finger-spelled in ASL

Do you want to be a good ally to d/Deaf people? If so, keep on reading to find out how to start.

 

  • Firstly, ASK a d/Deaf person about how to support them and follow their lead.

Ask them, “What do you need? How can I help you? How can I support you and/or the Deaf community?” Treat them as equal peers. Not all d/Deaf people have the same needs because they have different levels of hearing loss. They also have various ways to stay true to their identities. So, it is best to start off by asking what do they need from you rather than assuming.

This is basically the very first thing you should do and probably the only thing actually. Follow the d/Deaf person’s lead and don’t take upon yourself to take authority and speak up for him/her. JUST because you know sign language or some things about the Deaf community doesn’t mean you could speak on behalf of d/Deaf people.

  • Make an effort to make d/Deaf people feel included, always.

Nothing is worse than being told, “Nevermind,” “It doesn’t matter,” and “Oh, it is not important!”

Please take the time to make sure they understand what is going on. How should you do that? By asking that d/Deaf person what should you do to help them feel included! What is their preferred communication method? Then work a solution out on how to provide alternative methods together.

The alternative methods could be writing or texting everything down, gesturing or using visual cues, rephrasing sentences if not understood the first time, tell everyone in the group to speak up clearly if requested, etc.

Not all d/Deaf people are profoundly deaf. If someone tells you they are d/Deaf and could still hear some things, BELIEVE THEM. They are not playing games with you.

  • Recognize ASL as a complete, living, and breathing language with its own grammar and syntax rules.

Sign language is not performance art as stated in this CNN article after a music video of Amber Gallego interpreting went viral.

Yes, ASL is such a beautiful and visual language. However, it is an ACTUAL language we use to communicate and to get our needs met every single day to break through the language barrier. Acknowledge that sign language is the Deaf community’s own language, not spoken languages. Understand that d/Deaf people holds sign language so dearly to their hearts because many people fought to take their language away from them.

“Sign language interpreters do not exist for the amusement of hearing people. They exist to translate for deaf and hard of hearing people. That’s it. Period.” – Lilit Marcus

  • Avoid saying or doing anything that frames deafness in a negative way.

Avoid using phrases like “Falling on deaf ears,” “Deaf as a post,” “Deaf to our pleas,” “Are you deaf?!”

It may not seem like a big deal, but it is negative. Be conscious of the language you use and avoid being an ableist.

One thing to keep in mind is that many disability rights organizations prefer the use of person-first language like saying a person with disabilities rather than a disabled person. However, in the Deaf community, we prefer you to say a d/Deaf person rather than a person with hearing loss.

Avoid saying that you wish or hope one day d/Deaf people could hear music, laughter, or any sounds that bring joy to you. Many d/Deaf people like myself, our brains are wired differently than yours. Our brains do not have the memory of sounds so if I do happen to magically hear music, I WILL NOT hear it the same way as you do.

My comeback, “One day I hope you could see the world through my eyes. It is vastly different from how you see it.”


Mother and two kids wearing statement shirts. Mother's shirt reads Advocate like a Mother and the kids' shirts read Be Kind finger-spelled in ASL

Littlest Warrior gifted the kids and I these tees to go along with this topic. Don’t you just love the designs?!

They spread awareness and inclusion inspired by Eli, their son with Down syndrome. However, they don’t only focus on their son’s special needs, they also bring attention to others like ASD (autism spectrum disorder), CF (cystic fibrosis), CP (cerebral palsy), microcephaly, muscular dystrophy, preemies, scoliosis, SPD (sensory processing disorder), usher syndrome, and so many more!

The BE KIND fingerspelled tees started when Eli, their son failed the first SEVEN hearing tests, so they started to learn ASL in order to help him understand and be understood.

We donate 10% of sales each month to a family adopting a child with special needs, to a family in need of help with medical bills or to a foundation. – Littlest Warrior

In February, they will be donating 10% of sales to a non-profit organization, ASDC (American Society for Deaf Children)! ASDC works on empowering families with deaf children by providing total access to language, support, education, and advocacy.

Both advocators and allies help to reframe the Deaf community. They change the stereotypical ways people think when they hear about d/Deaf people.

However, the difference between advocators and allies is that advocators can step in and speak up for the Deaf community as a whole. Allies work WITH d/Deaf people by supporting them and their community.

Want to do more with your part as a good ally to d/Deaf people? Want to learn why it is important to learn about and recognize audism, why we hate being called inspirational and/or brave, and the reason you need to be mindful of the sources you utilize to learn ASL among several other ways? Go see the second part of this topic.

By being aware of the issues and struggles in the Deaf community, you can feel confident that you are doing your part as an ally to d/Deaf people.

Help to reframe the Deaf community and follow d/Deaf people's lead to create solutions by being an ally to Deaf people. What is the difference between an advocate & an ally? What can you do as an ally to d/Deaf people?

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