There is a debate taking an online deaf community forum by storm regarding whether deaf people really need concessionary discounts whenever they visit places of interest, entertainment or services such as the cinema, amusement parks, nightclubs, museums and public transport, and this has got me thinking. Do deaf people really need concessionary discounts? And welfare benefits? And should we expect to be treated like VIPs in certain situations, such as jumping the queue just because we’re deaf? These issues always generate such lively debates among deaf people.
Many people raise good points both for and against the privilege. Personally, I consider such things a privilege because our deafness (which is a sensory impairment or disability according to the Disability Discrimination Act (UK) offers us the opportunity to take advantage of these things if we so wish whereas hearing people cannot (unless, of course, they act as carers). However, as the poster from the forum argues, if we all continue to take advantage of these then the government will begin to view us as a minority who are in constant need of care, rendering us incapable of leading an independent life in the hearing-majority world and become too reliant on the welfare benefits. We need to show, he argues, that we are as good as the rest.
I feel compelled to agree, in part, with this point. Personally, I have a full-time job and I am not reliant on any benefits (though I used to have Disability Living Allowance but the Department of Work & Pensions cut them three years ago on account of their arbitrary decision that my condition was somehow curable despite a torrent of evidence stating otherwise). Everything I now pay for I pay with my own hard-earned cash. Ironically, in a way, this has made me feel somewhat more independent than ever before as I take sole responsibility for my own well-being and I feel a resulting sense of pride because I work for my own money. Although I do realise that this may not be the case for some deaf people because the degree of their deafness or hearing loss presents them limited capabilities. Additionally, we as a deaf community, are unique in that many of us do not consider ourselves as a disability minority because we have our own language that’s intertwined with a rich cultural history that we so embrace. We consider ourselves a linguistic minority. This, I believe, plays an important role in defining our unique identity and sets us apart from other disability minorities.
However, in a society that is based on the concern of the hearing majority, our undeniable inability to hear is a stark reminder of the struggles we still face in everyday life. There are still far too many services that fail to cater to us – the 8.7 million of us with some form of hearing loss. The lack of these deaf-friendly services means we miss out on their benefits, which are often taken for granted by those who can hear. This is where the concessionary discounts could be considered a necessity because we are expected to pay for useless services.
Moreover, what about those who are unemployed? Consistent surveys reveal that too many deaf job-seekers are still unable to find a job after more than one year due to discrimination. In the current financial crisis, job-hunting is a far, far bleaker and often very demoralising prospect for deaf job-seekers. Their hearing counterparts are also more likely to be selected by employers over the deaf ones despite having the same qualifications in many cases, or even possessing more than their hearing counterparts. As a consequence, deaf people struggle financially.
Unfortunately, while some deaf people struggle, there is a small but annoying minority who go too far in taking advantage of the whole system by looking for loopholes in it and giving the rest a bad name. These are the types of selfish deaf people who can spend the entirety of their lives on benefits alone and can afford many long-haul holidays each year. These are often the same kind who also refuse to pay full prices when they clearly can afford them, expect to jump the queue and use their deafness as an excuse and accuse service providers of blatant discrimination whenever they feel their own needs are not satisfactorily met. So much so that the word “deaf” is often an abbreviation for “Deaf Expect All Free” as a joke. I find this absurd and embarrassing. They fail to consider the serious implications of their actions on the deaf communities as a whole and the hearing people’s perception of us. Further to this, it makes it quite difficult for genuine deaf people to feel they can openly ask for discounts for fear of being tarred with the same brush.
On the whole though, I believe that until service providers cease discriminating against deaf consumers, whether unintentionally through ignorance or lack of awareness, or otherwise, and employers cease taking part in deliberate discrimination many genuine deaf people will feel the need to continue asking for concessionary discounts. Deaf people will need to be financially stable, or have some kind of financial security, before they can start paying for such services themselves. As for those who play the system, they really need to get a reality check – it will not be long before they are caught committing frauds.
– Daniel McManus