Erasing the stigma: Panel discusses barriers faced by deaf community

(Photo by Corey McFeeley.)

Sophomore Emily Pacheco grew up learning American Sign Language as her primary way of communication. Pacheco, who is a CODA, or a child of deaf adults, said she always felt a sense of obligation to interpret for her parents when they went out somewhere.

When Pacheco was about 11 or 12 years old, her mother had a serious infection and was transported to the hospital. There, Pacheco had to take on the responsibility of an interpreter, although she wasn’t certified, since the hospital could not accommodate her mother’s needs. All the while, Pacheco said she “was a mess,” distressed about her mother’s illness.

Panelist Delia Carcamo, Pacheco’s mother, said the experience was extremely unfair to Pacheco, who, at a young age, was placed into this stressful situation while being forced to maintain a professional position. “That’s not something that should be put on her,” Carcamo said.

On Oct. 25 in the Alumni room, a group of eight deaf panelists and three interpreters gathered to talk and sign about the barriers deaf people encounter on a daily basis and the stigma in today’s society. Pacheco led the discussion, asking a set of questions to the panelists throughout the night.

Pacheco asked the panelists about their experiences with interpreters and a lot of them had complaints about the way others, such as doctors, adapted to the needs of deaf people. The panelists said, more often than not when scheduling a doctor’s appointment, they will request an interpreter ahead of time, but not receive an in-person interpreter. Rather, a remote interpreter or an interpreter over video chat will be the only available alternatives.

Panelist Soteris Constantinou, a freshman at the Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham, said doctors hire a video interpreter because it is cheaper, but usually the connection isn’t great and so the interpreter can’t communicate anything back to the deaf individual.

Nadelyne Leger, another panelist and teacher’s assistant at Rhode Island School for the Deaf, said doctors often ask if her daughter can be the interpreter, despite the fact her daughter will most likely not understand everything the doctor has to say.

Leger said they want to see specialized interpreters who are skilled in specific fields such as medicine.

Panelist Marco Sotelo, member of the deaf community and an Uber driver, said, “You need to find someone who has the skill set for what your needs are that day and it’s a really small pool you’re drawing from. You will not always get the interpreter you need.”

Holly Pearson, panelist and professor at FSU, said a lot of times the major concern is access to an interpreter. Pearson said, “Deaf people think every single day about the accommodations” they need in order to live their lives the way everybody else does.

Panelist Christopher Hayes, Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut, said deaf people are frequently required to do extra work by themselves, such as hiring interpreters, in order to live out normal lives and are discriminated against by society. “Deaf people grow up thinking they need to fit into the hearing world, and a lot of deaf people follow through with that and accept that that’s the way it needs to be,” he said.

Johnathan Langone, panelist and alum of the Learning Center for the Deaf, added, “This happens more often than not out in the community. It’s looked at as if we’re a weight in society, as if we’re some burden because we cannot speak. Oftentimes society is looking to fix deaf people whether it’s through medical procedures, whether it’s through religion … It’s as if we are a problem.”

Pearson said she struggled with the label growing up because she had specific aspirations, but she was always discouraged by others who told her she could only do menial jobs because of her deafness.

Pearson added, “I’m not only deaf. I’m who I am. It’s all about intersectionality with me and it’s really about all of my experiences interwoven with one another – growing up in Alaska, being a Korean adoptee, all of my identities. So, ‘What does it mean to be deaf?’ is actually what it means to be me.”

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