What Equality Means to Deaf People
While equality means different things to different individuals, common themes appear among our opinions about the topic.
These include access, opportunities and discrimination:
Equality to a deaf person means being able to access the same opportunities available to their hearing peers without discrimination.
Such opportunities include getting gainful employment and participating in social kickball games, with everything in between. More importantly, we want the ability to participate in these opportunities in the format we choose without unreasonable difficulty.
We Live in an Unequal Society
How can this vague and complex four-syllable word be so emotionally charged to certain groups and minorities?
This word represents the prevalent American view where all human beings are equal; neither above nor below one another.
But equality faces an ongoing problem:
Our society is not egalitarian.
The fact that we don’t live in an egalitarian society is the driver of emotion behind the word equality. If we were living in a perfectly egalitarian world, this would not be an issue in the first place.
In reality, there are the haves and the have-nots. Some are advantaged; others are disadvantaged. Each individual has different strengths and weaknesses.
Can True Equality Be Achieved in Today’s World?
Yes, there are accommodations and opportunities for the deaf community, but one can argue that true equality does not exist.
Human nature, cultural differences and market forces will always lead to some degree of inequality.
But the more unequal our society becomes, and the longer inequality remains, the more resentment the disadvantaged builds towards the advantaged. Allowing inequality to reach extreme levels can lead to civil strife -- as has happened through nearly all of human history up to today.
However, steps can be taken to minimize inequality to where all of us can get similar opportunities in life as everyone else. The best way to do this is to make access to digital information available to as many deaf people as possible -- using captions, sign language and Cued Speech.
Access to Digital Information Is Increasingly Important
Today we live in the age of fast growing technology and increasing bandwidths.
Video streaming using Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix and other popular apps has exploded in the last few years.
While captioning has somewhat kept up with video content on some providers like Netflix or YouTube, along with subtitles in movie theaters, content delivered in sign language is noticeably scarce.
Deaf people who prefer sign language as their primary mode of communication still struggle to keep pace with the information age. This is where Beyond Tone comes in:
Beyond Tone is preparing to deliver video content in sign language.
The good news for us today is that we have a right to equal opportunities for employment, interpreters or reasonable accommodations at public facilities, and closed captioning on TV shows and movies.
But the laws still have not caught up with ensuring social equality among deaf people who lead mainstream lives with hearing peers.
The key question is:
Do deaf people have the same access to the same social and online opportunities available to hearing people?
For all the fantastic improvements in quality of life that civil rights laws and technology gave us, social equality is still lacking when it comes to participating in movies, social media and representation in streaming video content.
An excellent example of this can be found in the Nike’s equality video released in early 2017.
Why Nike’s Equality Video Shows Lack of Awareness of People With Disabilities
As commendable as Nike’s equality message was, it only further exposed wage and prestige inequalities.
Nike’s equality video starts with basketball and tennis courts with athletes playing, overlaid by poignant quotes such as:
You’re defined by your actions, not your looks or beliefs.
Equality should have no boundaries.
Opportunity should not discriminate.
Worth should outshine color.
As true and powerful these quotes are, it is unfortunate that the Nike’s equality campaign missed an opportunity to feature people with disabilities in the video. This missed opportunity did not help spread awareness about the need for accommodation, appropriate support and helpful resources for people with disabilities. Nor was there anyone in the video using sign language, wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants, or any visual demonstration of other disabilities.
The video also came under heavy criticism for featuring millionaires LeBron James and Serena Williams, while ignoring the obvious fact that their shoes were produced in Asia where factory workers get paid less than $3 per day.
For a video that purports to be about equality, it seems to have overlooked many minority groups in favor of one. The labor issue notwithstanding, Nike’s message about equality would have been more powerful had they included men and women of all minority groups, including people with disabilities, in roughly equal proportions.
Awareness Is the Great Equalizer
As we enter a booming information age, we are uniquely positioned to educate other people and corporations, such as Nike, about the needs of people with disabilities.
The more content delivered in sign language, the more people would see it, and the more aware our society would become. Once our society reaches a certain threshold of awareness about our deaf community, the more level the playing field becomes for people with disabilities everywhere.
Fortunately, this already happened within our movie theaters in most U.S. cities.
There never has been an opportunity like this in our lifetimes.
Beyond Tone is poised to become a centralized streaming service for online video content delivered with sign language and captions.
Not only deaf people would be able to use it, but also parents and teachers of deaf children, interpreters, colleagues, employers and even friends.
We can only make this a reality with your support.
How can you support us?
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