What is Intersectionality?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, intersectionality is the “way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups” (2021). The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community is a marginalized group of people that often experience oppression daily. Consider the discrimination a deaf black man might experience compared to a deaf white man. A deaf black man would be more likely to experience racism on top of the discrimination he is already met with for being in a marginalized group. Differently, a deaf white man might not have to worry about racism as much. Intersectionality has many layers such as: additional disabilities, education, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity—all of which can directly affect the DHH community.
Deaf individuals often experience discrimination in the workplace and with employment. Many professions and organizations are not familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act. More specifically, they are not familiar with the types of accommodations that need to be provided to DHH individuals. Harlan Lane explains that “stigmatized groups—among them disabled people, blacks, women, gays, and the Deaf—are often claimed to be biologically inferior” (2005). As a result, deaf people experience ableism as part of intersectionality. It has been thirty years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was set in place, yet the employment of DHH people remains the same. The National Deaf Center found that “53% of deaf people were employed in 2017” (2021). Those who worked full time reported having average salaries compared to hearing individuals (NDC, 2021). According to the National Deaf Center, employment rates for deaf individuals have not changed since 2008 (2021).
When it comes to education, many DHH people are raised differently. Some deaf individuals are raised mainstreamed where they learn to practice speaking and signing. Not all individuals who are mainstreamed adopt speech therapy, though. There are people who grow up mainstreamed who can speak and still struggle academically because there is no communication at home. The lack of language skills often starts here since many DHH students do not have access to communication at home. Then there are some who grow up attending deaf residential schools and sign the whole way through. It is important to note, though, that not all deaf people know how to sign. Also, not all deaf people sign using American Sign Language. Some may use Signed Exact English, or Pidgin Signed Language. Due to the limited access and availability of resources, most deaf children are deprived of language (Lane, 2005). This becomes extremely alarming when we consider the fact that “over 90% of deaf children are born into hearing families” that might not understand the importance of this need (CHC, 2021). However, if provided access to these resources, deaf children can acquire language as well as their hearing peers can.
Understanding intersectionality is important because it helps us recognize more ways that
we can offer support to individuals in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. Compassion is crucial when it comes to understanding the experiences of anyone — DHH individuals included. When an organization provides accessibility and is inclusive, many DHH individuals will consider the location to be “deaf-friendly.” This term is often used when people want to share with others their positive experiences attending different restaurants or establishments. In other words, it’s an easy way to let others know the level of accessibility and inclusion at a certain place. Knowing what we know now about intersectionality, we should strive to make every location a deaf-friendly one.
Center for Hearing and Communication. (2021). The Facts About Hearing Loss.
Harlan Lane. (2005). Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World.
Merriam-Webster. (2021). Definition of intersectionality.
National Deaf Center. (2021). Deaf People and the Employment in United States: 2019.