Ok! Time to whip out the ol’ dictionary again and read the definition of a word we’ve all used, and think we know!

Discriminate: to mark or perceive the distinguishing or peculiar features of, distinguish, differentiate, to distinguish by discerning or exposing differences, to distinguish from another like object, to make a distinction, to make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit.

So? Did you think of these particular definitions? Or have you only used the word in order to point out unfair treatment? I have to admit I have probably over-used the word before.

My trainer at Fidos For Freedom (http://www.fidosforfreedom.org/) is actually the Director of Training. She has probably seen it “all”, in regards to discrimination against those with assistance dogs. She has not only trained hearing dogs, like my dog Chloe, but also service dogs for clients with mobility limitations. On training outings, she has made the comment that she is surprised I haven’t been confronted by store personnel trying to deny access to me with a hearing assistance dog. I think the trainers would like for that first confrontation – which is BOUND to happen – to happen when they are present. Heck! I’d like that to be the case too! But we have used “what if” scenarios at the training center, too. Hopefully, I will be prepared when I am confronted and “discriminated” against by way of my having a hearing assistance dog.

However, sometimes discrimination comes from the least expected source. One would think that the culturally Deaf and those who are oral, late-deafened would always get along great. Unfortunately, both on the local levels and national levels there are differences of opinion. I think that MOST of the time all the groups work well together. However, sometimes there are misunderstandings.

Imagine my surprise when a culturally Deaf organization thought little about discriminating against a local oral late-deafened group here in Frederick. Even though space was reserved by the local chapter of HLAA here in Frederick, we were told that we would have to share the room with a culturally Deaf meeting. Granted… the room is huge, but it has about 12 foot high ceilings, and the room divider is 6 foot high. So the HLAA chapter in which I am involved in would have to share space and deal with the “noise”. People who are late-deafened and oral, ideally need a quiet room with little to no distractions. Background noise does not usually affect the communication of those who are culturally Deaf. Our chapter is a “baby” chapter and we do not have the funds available for CART. So any added noise will guarantee that some present will not hear as well. I did my best to explain the situation to the point that I was forced to be pretty blunt. It wasn’t until I got the national Director of HLAA involved (smile) and he wisely expressed that it was like asking the culturally Deaf to meet with the lights out, that we were finally given leave to have the reserved room for our meeting.

The culturally Deaf are often discriminated against. I’ve seen it happen time and again in public places, and even government meetings. Terry works with the leaders of many of these groups and is simply astonished at some of the things they have to put up with to “level the playing field” for the culturally Deaf in important meetings at places that SHOULD KNOW BETTER. These leaders only need equal access to the meetings.

I’ve also seen some HLAA people literally turn up their noses at some late-deafened people at the national conventions who have chosen to use sign language in order to facilitate communication. When I hear rude comments about an HLAA member who uses sign, I put that person in their place immediately. “Whatever works” has always been my personal mantra!

However, all of these stories have to do with only the very last definition given by Merriam Webster! It was: “to make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit”. Scroll back up and read the other definitions!

It is my opinion that there is nothing wrong with distinguishing differences. By noting the differences, I am able to appreciate the courage and discipline other clients at Fidos For Freedom have as they train for their own assistance dogs. Perhaps their hearing is worse than mine, but they communicate great thanks to the interpreter and people who simply care enough to try to talk to them. They laugh along with us at our signing mistakes… and advocate for themselves in a very positive way. Those with mobility limitations may get tired more easily or can’t do certain commands exactly the same way. They use variations that the trainers help them with to allow them to be able to do what they need too in order to participate in the training exercises.

I’ll never forget one of the training exercises last year where we were split up into two groups. Every single person on each ‘team’ had a different disability or limitation. No two were alike. We had to join hands and complete certain tasks together. Those in wheelchairs and/or walkers were the ears for those who could not hear. Those who could not hear, helped others around obstacles. It was a great lesson in appreciation of differences.

Some people think that if you identify differences you end up overlooking similarities. I disagree. I believe that by identifying differences, you still can easily recognize similarities. I enjoy meeting people who are different than I am. Especially people in various disability groups. I think folks in disability groups are the most “able” of all.

Denise Portis
©2007 Hearing Loss Diary

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