Deaf Americans face disadvantages in school and work


In light of the recent release of the horror film “A Quiet Place” and the Broadway revival of “Children of a Lesser God,” the topic of American Sign Language (ASL) has become popular again.

According to the National Association of the Deaf, ASL is “a visual language. With signing, the brain processes linguistic information through the eyes. The shape, placement and movement of the hands, as well as facial expressions and body movements, all play important parts in conveying information.”

ASL is more than just signs that are made with the hands. The facial expressions are exaggerated to convey meaning. An example of this is that the eyebrows of the person signing often are raised when they are asking a question.

Knowing about ASL is a step in the right direction, but the real issue is the inequalities that deaf or hearing-impaired students face in education and the workplace. We often talk about diversity as a society, but this is usually focused on race and gender. Many people forget about students who are deaf or have any type of disability.

The statistics behind these inequalities are staggering. In the U.S., 18.7 percent of students without hearing impairments did not graduate from high school, but 44.4 percent of students with a severe or profound hearing loss did not graduate from high school. This trend does not end in high school, as graduation rates remain substantially higher in college for students who can hear as opposed to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Moreover, this trend also carries over in the working population of those who are 18 to 44 years old. The labor force has 82 percent of the hearing population but only 58 percent of the severe or profound hearing loss population. This needs to be rectified by eliminating audism, which is placing a higher value on hearing and oral education.

Audism is the key reason behind the inequality perpetuated in schools, and, if the students are not encouraged and helped to learn, then they will be more likely to drop out of school and have less luck in the work place. We need to work to break past this thought process and help schools to view deaf or hearing impaired students as just as important as those students who can hear.

While there are schools for the deaf in most states, these schools require a tuition. The Michigan School for the Deaf is in Flint, and the estimated tuition for the 2017-2018 academic year was $28,100. While these schools are amazing and deserve gratitude for their work in closing the inequality gap, students should not have to pay more to receive an education just because they are deaf or hearing impaired.

Next time you see ASL or hear about it, I hope you think of these inequalities and speak up to try and change them.