(Thank you Henry Frost for the input on implants, hearing aids and how Deaf students need more accessibility)
I wrote about how attitudes toward disabled people can help or hamper us.
I want to talk about attitudes in communication, or how non-disabled people need to understand a few things.
First thing, everybody communicates.
I will say it again: everybody communicates.
If you don’t understand the method, this only means that you don’t understand, not that there is no communication.
Disabled people who have difficulties with expressive language, or who are non-speaking are often thought of as not being able to communicate. This is because the majority is sometimes too lazy to think outside the box. Yes, I said lazy. We also find it hard to understand the majority’s language but we are pushed and forced to learn it, and to act in compliance. Even when we are only a few steps from the majority’s way, it is never good enough. We are consider to be “able to communicate” only if we speak, and act in accordance to, the language the majority chooses to know.
This attitude, seen in parents, teachers and other professionals is one of the things that need to change.
I am a non-speaking Autistic who has learnt how to communicate in a way that the majority is able to understand. It was not easy, it still isn’t. Even after I had shown how much I knew, how much I was learning, despite not being formally taught, even if I no longer cried as a way to let people know that I was trying to convey a message, the default attitude of teachers, doctors and others was still dismissive. The attitude of the groups I mentioned are still dismissive.
I believe this is also true for other disabled people who don’t communicate in what is considered “the normal way”.
The damaging attitudes toward different methods of communication hurt us not only when we want to be heard, but also when we want to participate, be social, or when we want to listen.
Attitudes toward communication reflect the big problem of non-disabled people regarding disabilities: there is too much “awareness” but too little understanding.
Even the Deaf community, which has been so loud for a long time, and has seen their rights to use its own language more broadly accepted, still faces obstacles when captions and interpreters are not offered as a matter of course.
Deaf children in schools have to fight to keep up with the content of lessons if they are expected to access the instruction without the accommodations they need. Without access to captions, interpreters, or note takers they do not receive the same information about the lesson as their classmates.
It doesn’t seem to be better if a Deaf person has a cochlear implant or hearing aids. There is a false belief that the implant “cures” deafness, when the truth is that the ones with an aid or implant still need accommodations to fully participate: many words are hard to understand and environmental noises are amplified.
Communication is not only speaking, through speech, signs, text or typing. Gestures, eye movement, body language or any sound, are also forms of communication.
Communication is also listening and interacting, allowing the necessary time for the interaction to happen.
As someone who types and who can have conversations using my AAC device, I often experience what I call a “bad attitude” from the ones interacting with me: many don’t wait for me to finish my typing, they get impatient.
Typing is not just strokes on a keyboard. It takes us a lot of effort to make the command given by the brain travel to the hands and fingers and hit the right letter. The process does not get easier as we type letters and words. It is still the same hard work, letter after letter, word after word, sentence after sentence. And most of us use only one finger to type, which makes the whole process even slower.
Besides the extra time required, we might also need breaks from time to time, we might need to walk a little, move, flap or jump. Those things help us relieve the anxiety, they help us recharge the brain for more work. Those things are part of how we communicate. If you want to understand us, interact with us, you need to know that, respect that.
Attitudes about disabled people who communicate differently need to change in many levels.
We need time to process the information and to express our thoughts.
We need access to caption, devices, interpreters and facilitators.
We need access to a proper environment where we can truly communicate, meaning being heard and being able to listen and to understand.
We need to be not only respected, but also included. This means being part of conferences, board of directors, opinion pieces, plays and TV shows, where our chosen method of communication is fully embraced.
We need to be respected as fully humans because even as we prove our competence, some people still refuse to approach us, choosing instead to communicate with our support friends.
We need to be respected because the way we communicate might mean doing things and acting in ways that might not seem to be related to communication.
We, the ones outside the majority’s definition of “normal and acceptable communication” have been learning your methods since ever.
It is time for the majority to take a few steps toward us and embrace our methods.
I know there are improvements but disabled students still struggle to be included, disabled workers are not accommodated, only because their method of communication requires the majority’s to take a step toward them.
That is what I mean by changing attitudes regarding communication and disabilities.
It is time for the majority to learn, respect and embrace how each one of us communicates.
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