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HELP! I Need Help Helping!

by Institute Fellow Jennifer Dahlgren-Richardson


I have spent much of the last couple of weeks advocating for access across media platforms. Access for people who need Sign Language Interpreters, Access for people that need Deaf Interpreters (they do a whole other kind of interpreting), access for captions that don’t suck, access for people in the DeafBlind community who need visual descriptions, access to actually having the interpreter you are paying in the video feed, ACCESS ACCESS ACCESS. It is so easy to forget people like the Deaf community during a crisis.

But here is what makes this tough . . . I am Deaf too.

So I am advocating for access to things that I can’t understand or access myself. I am advocating when people hang up on me because I call through a videophone (special tech that Deaf people use to talk on the phone). I am advocating when people ask me questions like “well why do these people need to know about COVID-19” (this was a response from someone at a company that I was trying to convince to use interpreters). I am advocating because I want, I NEED, to know what someone said too. I am advocating because not everyone can read the captions. So much advocating.

So in addition to advocating I have spent a lot of the past couple of weeks extremely stressed out because I don’t have a lot of access to information in my own language, lacking sleep because I am busy trying to explain to people why they need to follow a law and stop being idiots, and trying not to slam my head against my desk because I am so frustrated with the “those people” comments.

I am very fortunate to be a multilingual, English Literate Deaf person. So I have more access than most. But this is the very reason I am engulfed with guilt. As a member of an information sharing cultural group, we have a duty to share information. So when I am able to read an article and understand something, I am bound by responsibility to share this information with others from my culture. Well I can’t be making vlogs of every article I read or I would be consuming far more coffee than I already am, which isn’t good.

So I read an article and I understand or I watch a video with captions and don’t struggle. I get a feeling of belonging and understanding and relief. Which is immediately followed by what I lovingly refer to as bubble gut. You know that overwhelming nauseous feeling in your stomach when you eat the last cookie and act like it wasn’t you. Guilty!!!

I often find it difficult to set aside my anger and advocate. I get so angry at the situation, so frustrated with what is happening that I am just too pissed off to be able to write an appropriate email. I am so saddened after talking with other Deaf people and hearing about their isolation and lack of access that it triggers in me my trauma of my own isolation and lack of access . . . and I just cannot find the words in any language I know to be able to advocate.

So we need allies. If I feel this way, and I am by no means a super advocate or community leader, then what does this mean for the countless other Deaf people left with no access and in extreme isolation in our own homes surrounded by people that don’t speak our language?

We need allies to speak because sometimes we are just too tired or sad or frustrated to speak for ourselves.

And the harsh reality of this world is that most people won’t listen to a Deaf voice anyway, I would have to advocate to get them to listen to me. But they will listen to hearing voices and white voices and cisgender voices. So please help me help. If you see a video without adequate captions speak up. If you see a news brief with important information and there are no interpreters speak up.

Help them learn to listen to us.

Help me help.


We sat down with Jennifer to talk about intersectionality. You can watch the interview by clicking here.

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