The Leaf: ASL Poem by John Maucere about Addiction

Seeking Help for Addiction: In this beautiful and powerful ASL poem, the  well-known Deaf actor and comedian John Maucere illustrates his journey of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. John’s courage in sharing his personal story is inspiring – and a reminder to all of us that the dangers of addiction are very real and the consequences more serious than most people realize when they first start using alcohol and drugs. We are grateful that John has brought attention to this issue.

Addiction Treatment Options for Deaf People: For Deaf people who are dealing with addiction (alcohol, meth, opioid, cocaine, etc.), the biggest and most common challenge, aside from asking for help, is the struggle to find accessible treatment programs where staff are fluent in ASL and knowledgeable about Deaf people and Deaf culture. With only a handful of inpatient and residential substance abuse programs available nationally, that are specifically focused on working with Deaf clients, the majority of Deaf people seeking support with addiction end up in hearing-centered programs where access is provided via interpreters.

Challenges in Treatment: In addition to Deaf patients having to deal with the mental, emotional and physical stresses that are typical aspects of the treatment and rehabilitation process, they must also deal with invisible stressors related to audism and oppression. The list of barriers to treatment for Deaf people is long and overwhelming. It can include the treatment program’s initial resistance to providing ASL interpreters; the energy and time expended on fighting for communication accessibility; having to work with counselors, social workers, psychologists and medical staff who are unfamiliar with Deaf people and who may exhibit audist behaviors toward the Deaf patient, whether intentional or not; having to live with, socialize with, and participate in group therapy and other activities with hearing patients who, like the staff, usually have no knowledge of or experience with interacting with Deaf people; constantly having to explain Deaf culture and norms to hearing clinicians, staff, and fellow patients (i.e., appropriate and inappropriate ways to get the Deaf patient’s attention, refraining from asking the Deaf patient to speak with voice); having to advocate for accommodations, including captions on videos and television and light flasher for room door; and limited options for rehabilitation support in the Deaf patient’s home community following discharge from inpatient treatment.

Ongoing Support with Recovery: Each of the challenges listed above adds additional stress to the already difficult and complicated recovery process. Dealing with the isolation of treatment can be traumatic for Deaf people whose lives may have been characterized by constant isolation if they were the only Deaf member of a non-signing hearing family or even if they came from a Deaf family but attended mainstream school programs without Deaf peers. Rehabilitation programs, while essential to recovery, can also trigger emotional wounds, making the recovery process even more complicated. To provide support, Deaf Counseling Center offers outpatient individual and family counseling with Deaf counselors and therapists who are fluent in ASL and experienced in working with Deaf clients. Please feel free to contact us at [email protected] for more information.

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