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Double Standard – “Diversity & Inclusion” for Women Does Not Apply to Deaf Women

A woman in a dark suit holding a sign with a woman symbol in front of herself.

There are many women talking about being underrepresented as conference speakers, experiencing difficulties climbing career ladders, and being paid less than men — without realizing that their female peers with disabilities experience more frustrations than them and even get frustrated with them for being excluded.

I wanted to share an example of how hearing women are dismissing deaf women like myself.

There was an event for women in consulting hosted by an organization of consultants a few years ago that happened to take place at a venue that I attend regularly for various events. So that venue knows me and they were willing to hire communication access services providers for me based on my consultation to them as a user experience and accessibility consultant. If not for that venue providing access, I would not have been able to attend that event. I have known about the organization of consultants for a year by that time and wanted to attend their events, but my requests for communication access have been repeatedly denied by their female owners. I noticed that the organization of consultants has many consulting firms as sponsors (including the Big 4) that could easily cover expenses on communication access. Ironically, the owners of organization of consultants are female and they were making up excuses about not having money or not being able to ask their connections for sponsorship — despite my explaining that I can get communication access at many other events, and among them are those hosted by volunteers who use sponsors for that. Providing communication access at events is also required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While I had a pleasure listening to experiences of the panel speakers who are female representatives of consulting firms, I felt emotional when they kept repeating about the importance of “diversity and inclusion” for women without mentioning anything about people with disabilities. There are many women who also have disabilities and need to be included, too. So when the Q&A time started, I raised my hand to share my frustrations about being dismissed by fellow female professionals who are excluding those who are deaf and need full and equal communication access and that “diversity and inclusion” is not only for women, but also deaf people and people with disabilities in general. One of female panelists responded by saying that she would be happy to ask her firm to sponsor communication access services. Only then the owners of the organization of consultants agreed to ask their connections for sponsorship to make their future events accessible. I will see if it would actually happen.

When I hear about “diversity and inclusion”, often women and representatives of minority groups come to mind — except for deaf people or people with disabilities. I feel that it’s mostly due to the need for accessibility accommodations that women and minority representatives normally don’t use. People with disabilities make the largest minority worldwide comprising the market size of China yet their needs are sadly the most ignored.

Many people like myself feel frustrated enough with ignorance of non-disabled people, but I feel that women or people from minority groups should know better. I also wrote another article where I sharing an example of being dismissed by a C-level female executive during a Q&A session after her presentation when I tried to share my experience as a woman who is deaf. She even questioned my experience!

Being female myself, I can understand frustrations experienced by women. However, I’m also deaf and foreign born. I had to overcome so many barriers to become fluent in English as a foreign language on top of my deafness due to limited access to aural information — regardless of what language is spoken. I can freely read and write in both Russian (my mother tongue) and English (my third language), but cannot access aural information (unless it’s captioned in same language) and have limited oral communication abilities (that’s why I use American Sign Language, my fifth language). It is something that even many foreign language learners with normal hearing don’t understand. Therefore, I feel more frustrated as a deaf person than as a woman or even as a foreign born. It doesn’t take much for a non-disabled woman to attend an event, take classes, communicate with people, or get a job. Many deaf people like myself often feel left out unless we have full and equal communication access via same language captioning and sign language interpreting, and we often have to fight for that. Also, hearing people seem to have more patience with foreign language speakers than with deaf people — probably because they would rather to try to understand accented speech by listening than to try to communicate in writing even in their own language, to say nothing about trying to learn some sign language to facilitate oral communication. Same goes for employment — more deaf people (and people with disabilities in general) are denied jobs than women or people from minority groups.

I’m all for women speaking up about their frustrations, but they also need to be mindful of deaf people and make sure that they feel included via full and equal communication access. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, people with disabilities are an important part of the equation and have various accessibility needs and they should not be ignored.

If you want to better understand people with disabilities and make your products, services, and events more diverse, inclusive, and accessible, contact me for consulting services and speaking engagements.

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