Walking on Eggshells: Deaf and Hearing in Consultation

Tiptoeing Around the Topic: Without a doubt, one of the most sensitive issues in the Deaf community today is the role of hearing professionals who work closely with Deaf people. Bringing up this topic is a little bit like walking on eggshells. No matter your intentions – to open a dialogue, to encourage introspection, to understand motivation behind behaviors – you’re bound to hurt some people’s feelings, offend others, or even be misinterpreted as a militant separatist. Treading carefully with this in mind, we take a look at collaboration issues between Deaf and hearing professionals, and the philosophical implications behind them.

The Forensic Psychologist and the Deaf Psychologist: Not long ago, a hearing colleague who specializes in forensic psychology, and who does not sign or know much about Deaf culture, said something that struck us. He complained to Candace that another Deaf psychologist confronted him about his work evaluating Deaf people, and told him point blank that he was not qualified to conduct psychological assessments on Deaf people for the aforementioned reasons. His response was tinged with anger and defensiveness. He replied that the Deaf psychologist did not know as much as he did about forensic psychology, even though she had had some forensic mental health training, and that she was therefore not qualified to do a forensic assessment on a Deaf person.

In this case, who is more qualified to do a forensic psychological evaluation on a Deaf person? The hearing psychologist implied that knowledge of forensic psychology was more important. The Deaf psychologist countered that cultural knowledge and ability to communicate with the client, in addition to specialized training in psychological and mental health issues related to Deaf people, was more important. Who was right? Obviously, in this case, since neither psychologist was an expert in both areas, some kind of collaboration between the two experts was called for.

What we would like to point out, though, is the attitude of the hearing psychologist – that knowledge of forensic psychology is a more important factor than understanding anything about Deaf people as a cultural and linguistic minority group. Unfortunately, this type of attitude is widespread among hearing professionals. When they do collaborate with Deaf professionals in this type of situation, it is often the hearing professional who takes most of the credit for the work. This suggests that the hearing professional’s knowledge and expertise is more valued than the Deaf professional’s knowledge and expertise, even though neither could do the forensic psychological evaluation on the Deaf client without the other’s assistance.

In a collaborative effort such as this, the Deaf professional should be in the front, with the hearing professional being available as a consultant, sharing specialized knowledge and allowing the Deaf professional to grow and become an expert in the same area. Many hearing people are privileged in the sense that they have relatively easier access to learning and developing certain professional skills, in a world that can be oppressive to Deaf people. They have far more job opportunities than do Deaf people, making it feasible for them to specialize in areas such as forensic psychology. A Deaf professional, in contrast, might not as easily specialize in such an area simply because there are not as many job opportunities available in that narrow field.

The Tenured Hearing “Helper”: Another common attitude held by hearing (and some Deaf) professionals is that Deaf professionals “need them”. We were once told by a Deaf professor that it was good news that a hearing person got a position as a professor at Gallaudet, because this hearing person could help Deaf people get jobs in that particular department in the future. This is Gallaudet we are talking about, not some anonymous hearing-centered institution that may know nothing about Deaf people and may indeed need hearing allies to educate its people about Deaf professionals. Are Deaf professionals really so pathetic that we can’t get anywhere, even at Gallaudet, without hearing people’s intervention?

This brings to mind two possible definitions of hearing allies “helping” Deaf people. One option is for the hearing person to back off and not apply for a position that could be filled by a Deaf person. Another option is for the hearing person to go ahead and take the job, get tenured, spend 20 years in the position, and then “help” Deaf people by retiring and advocating for a Deaf person as a replacement, never mind the fact that by remaining in the position for 20 years, the hearing person has basically taken away an opportunity from a Deaf person.

To cite: McCullough, C.A., & Duchesneau, S.M. (2006, August 28). Walking on Eggshells: Deaf and Hearing in Consultation. ASC on the Couch. Retrieved (date retrieved), from http://www.ascdeaf.com/blog/?p=136.

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