Deaf Culture Hijacked: The Hearing-Minded Taking Advantage of the Word “Deaf”


By M. Richard Horrell-Schmitz from


The word Deaf is OUR word.  It is OUR definition of OUR values.  Deaf is OUR chosen moniker to signify OUR wholeness in a world that constantly tells us we are broken. 

There are millions of people in this country, hundreds of millions, perhaps, who look at us as if we have gone mad for being proud to be “broken.”  Yet they have consistently hijacked our community and run it their way!  When we speak out and try to take back what is ours, when we stand up for our Deafhood, we are called “militant,” “aggressive,” and “jealous.” 

There are many, many, ways in which the hearing and hearing-minded are using OUR word to their own ends: 

  • They deny the Deaf ASL as children, but produce the multi-million dollar Baby Sign video series for hearing babies.  (Are there any Deaf people reaping such profit?) 
  • They force speech and hearing aids on us as children when we cannot fight it, then mock our “deaf-voices” as adults when we don’t sound as pretty as they would like.
  • They make us take music to be more like them, yet they don’t take ASL poetry to be more like us.
  • We are forced, OFTEN, to go without interpreters as children, yet when they take ASL Lit, and Deaf History at the college level they expect an English interpreter.  (Yes, this is based in factual experiences for at least one California University.)
  • They take HIGH paying VRS jobs and sit back and smugly “interpret” for our calls to employers who, if they hire us, do so grudgingly and pay us a fraction of what they make—capitalizing on OUR language and doing so as if they are better than us.  (Note: there are MANY great interpreters who work for VRS, but FAR TOO MANY who have attitudinal and linguistic deficits.)
  • They complain that the Deaf get “free tuition in college” yet, we are educated by THEM all through elementary and secondary school and are not prepared for college.
  • They say that SSI is an abuse of the system and many Deaf “could work,” yet they do not hire us except for the most menial, lowest paying, and isolating jobs.
  • They take university level jobs teaching ASL, but do so with an English-based or hearing-minded approach, and tell Strong Deaf people they are not qualified because they were not fortunate enough to be able to complete a PH.D. program at a hearing university.
  • They teach ASL, yet speak English with their supervisors, students and each other thus alienating the Strong Deaf.
  • The anti-ASL and anti-Deaf have taken over websites that were supposed to have been a haven for US to use and immerse ourselves in OUR language. 
  • They teach Deaf Education yet do not know ASL. 
  • They teach Deaf Education yet use an interpreter for meetings, IEP’s, and any chance they can so they don’t “have to” sign.
  • They run Deaf Education programs—the interviews for which require one to SimCom for a requirement to teach, thus alienating the Strong Deaf from making an impact in mainstream Deaf Education programs.
  • They run websites that are supposedly Deaf Centered, yet consistently compare themselves to other websites that are geared toward mass appeal—hearing websites with hearing values.
  • They force us to behave in ways that are fitting with mainstream culture—hearing culture.
  • They have a BILLION-dollar industry of hearing aids, cochlear implants and speech services . . . how much of that money ever goes into the pockets of the Deaf?
  • They take roles in movies playing deaf (and dumb!) like a caricature of Deaf.
  • They buy up and run companies that are service providers for the Deaf, but do not hire Deaf people to work there, except for the most menial of jobs. 
  • They run Deaf Studies and Deaf Education university programs and never set foot in a Deaf Culture center, school for the Deaf, or Gallaudet.
  • ·         We are here for THEIR profit. 
  • ·         We are here for THEIR enjoyment. 
  • ·         We are here for THEIR job security. 
  • ·         We are here for THEIR sense of munificence. 

They want us to be here when they think “signing” is pretty, and gone when we are a burden or too uppity.  They like what we have, they take our jobs, our language, our values, but don’t want US to do it.  To them, we are a novelty—a mascot, a cute little thing to stare at and examine—but a thing without feelings, hopes, dreams, aspirations, pride and culture.   

What’s my point?  We have been told by hearing-minded deaf people that we should be “fighting hearing people over audism.”  Well I say NO!  We should FIGHT AUDISM anywhere audism is! 

Suppose one said chauvinism was acceptable because “women should be in their place anyway?”  One is legally free to say that, yes, but would it be on a “Women-Centered” website?  NO!  Would it be legal in the workplace?  NO!  Suppose one said racism was acceptable because “Blacks are all uneducated?”  One is legally free to say that, yes, but would it be on a “Black-Centered” website?  NO!  Would it be legal in the workplace?  NO! 

This could go on and on and yet, because of our status as “broken ones,” as “rejects,” as “disabled, as “disadvantaged,” they will not see it as harshly as the above comparisons.  

They say “without us, the Deaf have no interpreters.”  Well, without US, they have no ASL and no clients, yet WE somehow still feel indebted to them for their dependence on our culture.

And those of us who cater to them are nothing more than mask makers, craftsmen at creating Masks of Benevolence and handing them over to those same people who exploit the Deaf Community.   We have a choice: we can take back our moniker and support only truly Deaf companies, websites, and schools, or we can shut up and get back to making masks. . .   Choose wisely. . .   

See also:


Joey Baer’s letter – write to PURPLE



Filed under Uncategorized

29 responses to “Deaf Culture Hijacked: The Hearing-Minded Taking Advantage of the Word “Deaf”

  1. InsaneMisha

    That is exactly what I’ve been saying all along….most of what you’ve written, not all.
    Overall, you’ve written so beautifully to send this strong message across the people.


  2. EXCELLENT Blog, Richard! Really makes me rethink some of those issues and see them in the context of “hijacking”.

  3. ASLKimber

    Delighted reading your perfectly-said Blog! Thank you for the bullet-statements! I’m going to share this Blog with a numerous of people who will share & discuss in their classes, community and education world. Kudos!!! Kim

  4. Hello all!
    Thanks for the kind words of support. You have my word that I will keep writing, vlogging, and speaking out for true equality–not equality based on hearing/speaking; that isn’t true equality. And you can be sure that Nikki and I will not back down.
    Thanks again!

  5. Michelle

    Amazing blogsite!

    A myriad of beautiful thoughts and ASL resources

  6. SDA

    Wow! You spoke the truth!!!

  7. deafmommy

    This is a well-written blog — I completely agree with you 100%, this has to stop….. The truth needs to come out and that we are empowered to move on with our language and culture.

    Thanks for writing..

  8. I have spent all of my life as a coda. In my teens, I was called on to interpret for many of my parents friends. No pay was ever offered, nor did I ever think that I should ask for pay for this service. I was an “outsider” in both worlds, but my parents were loving, and although they were often taken advantage of, never taught me to feel any animosity toward any one. My sister was a house-mother at Berkely for the younger boys. My brother worked with deaf employees at the company where he was employed. One of my professors at Arizona State University made the comment that “there was no Deaf community existant in the world. I argued that point with him, because I had been a part of that community. Usually, the Deaf have to ask me if I am Deaf when I am communicating with them, but I was never passed by the state board to be an Interpreter. Most of those who tested me were hearing interpreters who never wanted a CODA to be one. People are unfair to all kinds of Disabilities, Deafness just being one of these areas.

  9. I agree with many of the comments, but the same goes for many Deafs treatment of CODAs. Try to accept the fact that even though many are hearing, they are a part of the Deaf community, and many times are trying to be constructive persons in the community.

    • beautbelsblog

      I’m a CODA too & am a qualified interpreter but also feel like an outsider in both worlds, not accepted by hearing people for eg. at church I was considered as part of the Deaf membership. Then in Deaf social situations I was the odd “hearing” person there. I found the best solution was simply to isolate myself from them ALL & stick to MMO games & FB where no one knows if Im Deaf or hearing. Deaf people discrimate too!!

  10. Sierra

    I’m severe hard of hearing. I read this article in hopes of better understanding the animosity towards hearing and hard of hearing. From the little I know (history & current availablity) I can understand the anger I read from the article. However, when a hearing person or HOH person is genuinely trying to communicate with people who are deaf, my only reading experience is “don’t bother,” we don’t want you to learn it. I’m definitely intimidated to even try to have a conversation with someone who may be deaf because I know I’m trying my best but I don’t need hateful/anger attitudes that will only make me feel like shit for even trying. How can a hearing person meet you on your terms if we’re confronted with a don’t bother kind of attitude?
    …and no, not all deaf people are like that but that’s the majority of what I have read.

    • Pzy

      Ah let me shine some light on this “dont bother” kind of attitude..
      we were given that growing up by the hearing, we try to reach out and they shrug us off or wave us off because they dont want to be bothered to undergo charades of guessing what one is trying to say.. We were confronted with that and so we mimic’d you guys and made it work for us.

      We were born/adapted to wear our emotions on our sleeves, we’ve always had hard time communicating our feelings and or concerns or other things like that verbally to another hearing person, without a paper or pen on hand or whip out a phone/ipad and go to notes.. But this technology wasnt here when we were growing up.. we’re taking 1990s shitty technology where beepers were the craze.. So we end up having to be VERY BLUNT, though it may seem we’re being rude, but its entirely unintended. We just dont know whats rude to you guys, beside the obvious.. just one of those “cultural” thing, like how your normal americans would go to china, and find these chinese over there to be extremely rude, but its just their customs.. Also It was brought on by the way we were treated by you guys too..

      But nowadays, u ask a deaf person to teach you sign language, they’d be more than inclined to tell u to go to youtube and start there with alphabets, it’d take us about 1-2 hours.. just to make you remember at least a handful of alphabets.. its very time consuming and alot of us dont really have the patience for such. Let me ask u this, if a stranger came up to you, saying they wanted to learn german, because you could speak it, would you drop everything and sit there teaching him seig heil? (we teach hearings bad words and joke about it, alot of other deaf people frown on this, but i find this amusing myself.. sense of humor varies)..

      Best thing would be to just grab paper, pen and start scribbling away. Make it easier for us and yourselves to communicate, instead of trying to make us read your lips or pretend to read your mind or nod our heads nonchalantly and figure out what you want from us..

      As for this whole “They stole ASL from us” deal.. I really dont think they could take anything away from us, if they need a starting platform to start learning sign language or spread awareness, as cruel or inappropriate it may be, it has to start somewhere, and happen somehow. just a foot into the door for cross-cultural solutions between the deaf and the hearing..

      so this animosity has to be squashed, this attitude of “deaf power” has to go, stop and cease immediately.., its like “white power” or some shit.. we need to be better, we need to be more approachable, friendly, ambassadors. We shouldnt meet them with anger, hate or criticism, but with hospitality and warm light-hearted sit-down conventions. bad shit happens, we learn, we adapt, we move on,.
      It seems as if many deaf are trying to “break off into their own” instead of integrating and becoming one.. because the deaf needs to remember, we produce both hearing and deaf childrens.. you cannot keep having animosity towards the hearing because of their mistakes or exploits, because trust me, if the deaf could exploit something for financial gain, they would exploit the shit out of it too.. But trailing off the point, we need to combine the best of both worlds.

      my 2 cents,
      With All The Best Regards

    • Ash

      I can promise you that not all deaf people’s attitudes are like that. While there will be people who discourage you from learning how to communicate, not all of us are like that. There are MANY people who genuinely will be willing to teach or be patient with new signers. I appreciate you trying to learn how to communicate. We need more people like you so keep it up!

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  12. Marlene

    I love this post! I am a hearing interpreter. I’m so embarrassed for the attitude and just plain lack of skill of many of my colleagues. I hesitate to say this because I expect some will get very upset with me, but at this point interpreters have pretty much become a predatory industry on the backs of the Deaf community. If we look at the numbers – how much has Deaf employment risen as a result of the ADA? But then look at the numbers for interpreters – how much has the employment risen for them? SO MUCH. I have one Deaf friend who calls the ADA “interpreter job security.” I am so glad when people are brave and tell the truth about the situation. Thank you!

  13. John Mans

    What a beautiful silver bullet to penetrate the hearing society? Awesome!

  14. asj

    Some good points, but perhaps too emotional and with too much hyperbole. I’m Deaf, by the way.

    Hearing people treat hearing people like this too, just in different ways more reflective of the situation the two parts are sharing. While some Deaf individuals are most certainly singled out, you’ll likely find that the vast majority of humanity is self-serving and will fuck you over, hearing or Deaf, it it works to their favour.

    I hope the cause you’re championing succeeds, but I would refrain from considering yourself to be too special when getting the steel toe to your forehead. Society is hierarchal. Everyone gets treated like shit by someone because that’s how things are.

    Change that and you’ll change more. In my opinion, the big issue is deeper and will likely not be properly resolved without serious change that impacts much more than how Deaf and hearing cultures interact.

  15. Abe Opincar

    I don’t in any way mean to diminish or disagree with the many frustrations and difficulties experienced by Strong Deaf, or anyone else who, for whatever reasons, is in solidarity with Strong Deaf struggles and activism.

    But I can speak, I think, a little to the issues involving interpretation, writ large, and its discontents, because my work brings me in regular contact with these issues. And they’re issues, I’m afraid, that won’t find adequate resolution soon or easily.

    Due to the peculiar organization of American government and its agencies, and the ways in which the U.S. Constitution is interpreted, and its rights and guarantees implemented, there’s no national governmental body totally charged with the oversight of language interpretation provision.

    At present, medical interpretation, for example, is in a number of states very well and thoughtfully organized. But for however well this handful of individual states may be doing, their success doesn’t, and can’t, confer coherence and efficiency to the rather chaotic grab-bag of rivalries, alliances, misalliances, cross-purposes, needless obfuscations, and even more pointless duplications of effort, that now characterize national efforts to standardize and professionalize medical interpretation.

    In the instance of Strong Deaf, ASL, and ASL interpretation, more’s the pity, actually, because American research, almost all of it conducted at Gallaudet, into ASL, Deaf languages, and their interpretation in diverse fields, is throughout the world seized upon and eagerly devoured by interpreters and academics because it’s considered the very finest research of its kind. Were a single American governmental agency responsible for overseeing language interpretation provision, the insight and knowledge gained through this excellent research could inform language interpretation of all kinds, and in all fields, and we’d all be the better for it. But this ain’t gonna happen any time soon.

    I should then suggest that Strong Deaf in the U.S. perhaps consider taking a close look at how Strong Deaf assert their needs and communicate their concerns in other countries, such as Australia (the first nation on earth, BTW, to professionalize medical interpreting), where very different social and governmental attitudes prevail, and where new approaches and strategies, practicable in U.S., might be found.

  16. Jen

    I agree with a lot of your statements, and you outline all of the issues and problems associated with “hearing-centric” deaf people and other audists, but I see little constructive suggestions on how to improve. It is implied if the reader really understands these serious issues, but the people who need to change rarely do. I would love to see a follow up to this with positive things people could do to help remedy these issues.

  17. TJ

    No wonder there is so much animosity towards “us” from “them”.
    Sad to see this kind of writing.

  18. Mother of a deaf child and Interpreter

    So, *I* am at fault here. I want to involve my child and the Deaf community but I am the enemy. *I* am taking jobs away from Deaf people. Well, I wonder how well your community would do if no more hearing people chose to learn ASL. No interpreters, no communication. Poor you. Always a victim.

  19. VRS Interpreter

    I’ve noticed that no hearing interpreters have made any sort of comment about this yet, so I feel like, on behalf of the interpreting community, I need to say my piece. The interpreting community makes up a huge and important part of the Deaf community, but mind you, we are also hearing. So the harsh accusations that you are throwing out there are attacking us, the HEARING interpreters who are here to help and support you. This may be your perspective, and some of the mentioned accusations that are FACT rather than opinion may be valid, but I have to disagree with your perspective about VRS interpreters, and in response say this: First of all, our HEARING company still provides a DEAF service. Unfortunately, VRS interpreters can’t be deaf. We as interpreters take on (willingly) the task of interpreting for VRS users, and without our provided HEARING company’s services, Deaf people would not be able to make phonecalls to hearing users. So how is that taking advantage of you? It offends me that you feel we benefit more than you; due to your terrible internet quality, those who are mobile phone users, sloppy signers, those with crazy clothing options (or no clothing at all), or those who choose to use strictly home signs, we struggle to interpret for you, yet the far and few who are still qualified and willing to accept such a tasking job, continue to show up to work every day. I’m sorry for providing a service for you that I felt was considered to be aiding the Deaf community. But if you feel we are taking advantage, by all means, I’ll go back to being a lawyer and you can go back to using a TTY.

  20. Mary Hurrle

    This article really made me think and opened my eyes. It gave me a better understanding in general. I loved this blog!

  21. Hannah

    I am not deaf, nor can I pretend to understand what it is to be Deaf. But I have just one question – why must I be us vs them? Are we not all people, many of us citizens of the same country, members in families of “them”, brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers to “those others out there”? Is the solution really to withdraw into our separate cultures and just argue to be left alone? Is there not a better solution than that?

  22. Dustin

    I’m not sure where you are from but most of this is b.s where I live. And as far as corporations taking advantage, welcome to the real world…… they will take advantage wherever possible of anybody and anything, that’s how they operate. That’s how they got rich. And with the forcing of hearing aids, again here in Canada no one is forced to do anything. And in my own personal experience the deaf community shames parents that opt for aids for their kids.

  23. BR

    There are some pretty important misconceptions about so-called “Baby Signs” floating around out there. First, the term that researchers use is “infant signing” (or originally: “symbolic gestures”). Gesturing and signing is natural to babies, both hearing or deaf. It’s their birthright. Whether or not adults write books or sell videos that relate to infant signing or encouraging parents to engage in gesturing with their infants is a secondary thing.

    Criticizing this secondary thing might occasionally be warranted, but if it is in some cases warranted, then that should in no way carry over to criticism of the phenomenon of babies doing what comes naturally, which is inventing gestures on their own in order to communicate with adults. That is a beautiful thing and should be encouraged.

    Also, it’s not really true to say that Deaf people do not benefit from the Baby Signs phenomenon. Just to give an example, there continues to be research done at UC Davis, where the original research on symbolic gesturing began, and at least one Deaf person who I know has been employed in that lab. Thank you for bringing up the issue and enabling this conversation. I agree with the other points in your blog, but this point about Baby Signs is in need of clarification.

  24. Lorraine

    Yep and it’s not just in ASL it’s in Auslan Culture too down here in Aussie land Australia!! Thanks thanks thanks for still speaking out never give up.

  25. MIke Atchison

    Some of the comments are strong but all are valid.Without money the Deaf will have a hard time changing a bias world.Alot of whats said is painfully true.Alot of the Deaf problems stems from years of of abuse.Physical, psychological, mental, emotional, sexual. Ripping Deaf people of any self esteem they could have had.The deflating of any sense of self worth has been present for generations and this crap still goes on.

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