By Ryan Commerson
I started working with Communication Service for the Deaf less than one year ago and at 40 years old, it was my first “real” job after decades of activism. Under new leadership, CSD’s trajectory complements my lifelong mission. It is with excitement and impassioned enthusiasm, I can now say that CSD is uniquely positioned to create paradigm shifting ideological change on a global scale. CSD is posed to lead the conversations on the “disability framework” and guide us all in creating a new framework that is both constructive and productive for all.
CSD is a 40-year-old behemoth with a larger-than-life legacy. Benjamin Soukup and his team built the organization out of a closet into a $30-million-dollar powerhouse of communication access and civil rights for Deaf people in USA and beyond.
The idea of “deaf” has evolved over the course of thousands of years, from the earliest known printed mention of sign language in Cratylus, the name of Plato’s dialogue during the middle period (approx. 380-350 BC) to modern day.
During the 19th century, after Abbé Charles-Michel de l’Épée founded the world’s first public deaf school in 1760, the medical profession was born. With the advent of early medical advancement, professionals quickly termed a concept that changed the narrative forever: Normalcy. Prior to 19th century, there wasn’t any cohesiveness in medical practice – essentially, there were people who dabbled in “healing” and experimented on bodies, but none of them received formal trainings from institutions because there weren’t any at the time. Institutions gave way to uniformity in knowledge and methodologies, of which gave way to the idea of what is “normal” and what is not.
The concept of normalcy set the stage for the “disability framework” – giving us the language to build narratives. For example: “If this body or condition is not normal, then what is it? What can this person do or cannot do?” Very quickly, the framework started breeding words like impairment, disability, accessibility, accommodations, inclusion, and so on.
The framework with those words act as eyeglasses (lens) for us to “see” and “interpret” the world, in other words, tell us how to think and understand our reality. Words and concept are the doors in our minds, when we open them, we walk into rooms filled with specific ideas and internalize them.
When you read, see, hear, or feel words like ‘accessibility’, ‘disability’, ‘inclusion’… what are the ideas, concepts, or images that appear in your head? Let’s use inclusion as an example.
Inclusion means to be included. To be included, one must receive an invitation. To receive an invitation, one must wait. Question is: Why wait? For an environment to be fully inclusive, all that is required is for someone to be considerate of another; what happens when someone isn’t being considerate? If the law requires a person or entity to be considerate then the situation isn’t going to become warm and fuzzy.
How do we respond to this? Instead of waiting to be included, we assert ourselves. Assert by taking initiative without waiting; own your reality instead of having someone else determine it for you.
An entire disability framework was built upon an idea that someone else will take care of the “disabled” and as result, all the words and narratives are created to support this specific idea. The idea: A disabled person is a socio-economic burden. If we are to replace ‘disability’ with a new word backed by an entirely different definition grounded in a premise that speaks to the essence of our being, would it be possible to reframe our existence away from the idea of being a burden? Perhaps we will finally be understood as worthy of investment?
Now that reins have been taken up by Chris Soukup, the incredible speed of technological advancement and cultural shift have charted a new course for CSD – we are moving away from the rehabilitative type of conversation (ie: communication access) towards one of self-definition. This shift heralds a change in how we think, sign, and write as an organization.
In the coming months, the Public Relations & Community Engagement Team will produce and disseminate “thought leadership” series on the disability framework, deconstructing or peeling it like an onion, layer by layer, word by word, and narrative by narrative. Grab a box of Kleenex, the eyes are about to get watery. The scent is strong.
Instead of promoting inclusion, we promote the discovery of inner light, the power within that you all have and to wield it to bring your game. The core of your being is at stake.