By Jesse Lewis
Take a look around you today as you go about your daily business. When you go to work, to school, to the store for groceries, to the movies. Do you see all those people? Most of them are hearing, and they could be your allies.
What is an ally?
One of the dictionary definitions of an ally, from dictionary.reference.com is:
“A person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose.”
In other words, a person that is connected to us, the deaf community, for a common cause or purpose? How about equal access for the deaf and hard of hearing as a purpose? How about our appreciation of ASL and our common desire to promote its use for those who need it? We definitely could use allies for these reasons, and we are surrounded by so many potential allies.
Your obvious hearing allies will be, among other things, interpreters, teachers of the deaf, CODAs, employees of agencies like Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center, ASL students, and more. We know about these hearing allies; we interact with such allies every day and we usually show them how much we value them.
What about those that are not so obvious? Your hearing allies might be people that have not learned a single word or phrase of ASL, but they are ready and willing to do whatever they can to support you. Or perhaps these people really don’t know anything about us yet. They don’t know what our needs are. They don’t know how to communicate with us. They make assumptions like raising their voices is enough, or that all of us are skilled lip-readers. Not knowing about the deaf community and our needs does not automatically remove these hearing people as allies.
Instead, we have a choice. We can treat them as obstacles or frustrations, or we can make our own personal effort to turn them into allies.
How can you turn a hearing person into an ally? We all have it within ourselves to find ways to make this possible. It begins with treating the hearing people with respect, regardless of whether they already know about us and regardless of whether they know ASL.
A few ideas for turning hearing people into allies and for strengthening support from those who have already taken steps to be allies:
1) Remember that ASL students need our patience and encouragement. Taking a few minutes to chat in ASL with these students, even when they are just starting, will boost their desire to be involved with our community. If we turn away from them, they turn away from us.
2) Remember that not everyone understands our needs, which means YOU can be the one to explain your needs. We can’t expect people to automatically know. If you need an interpreter, you can ask politely. The more you make requests with respect and kindness, the better the chance they will work with you. If your requests are declined, the best course is to handle it with civil behavior, and if you need advocacy, feel free to ask DHHSC or other agencies for support.
3) Take the time to teach ASL vocabulary, just a word or phrase here and there, everywhere you go. If you’re at the store, you can teach them the signs for “Paper or Plastic?” or “Thank you.” You are planting seeds of language in their minds that might, just might, eventually blossom into a real interest in learning ASL.
4) Invite your neighbors to come to a deaf social event, just for the experience. You could tell them that it would be a memorable experience for them, which will definitely be true. If your neighbor comes, take the time to introduce your neighbor to some friends. You never know — what if that neighbor decides to become an ASL interpreter or a volunteer that helps support services to the deaf? What if that neighbor feels inspired to share about our community with others? They can be fantastic allies, if you take the time to turn them into allies.
5) Ask a hearing person for support in some way. This does not mean asking for money, unless you are fundraising for a cause. You could be making a request as simple as going to a movie theater that does not have captions and talking to the manager, saying, “I am deaf and I love movies, but this movie theater does not have captions. Would you be willing to make it possible for me to enjoy the movies here like everyone else does? I would be thankful!” When you ask with respect, it is so much more powerful than getting angry at the theater for not having captions. A movie theater might provide captions after an angry demand, which they have, but no allies will be won.
An ally WANTS to be involved with us. An ally feels welcome as a partner in our causes. An ally is not a true ally if he or she feels forced into something that supports us.
We encourage you to go out today and start making new allies for our Deaf Community.