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The role of the oppressors?

Hearing staff working with deaf clients


12 / 1994

Hearing people have been the oppressors of deaf people for centuries. However, hearing people working with deaf people have often been almost as heroe or saints. In the 1960’s it was commented that "we more fortunate people" (Nixon, 1966)take up this work "in the innocence and goodness of our hearts" (Firth, 1966). In 1991 Steinberg saw it as the ultimate challenge for hearing mental health professionals to work with deaf clients. While we recognize the challenges of our work few of us are blind to the inherent double standard - deaf people get little acknowledgement for coping in a hearing world.

What is of most concern to me as a relative newcomer to working with deaf people is the two questions : 1°)How do hearing staff currently oppress their deaf clients? and 2°)Do hearing people - the oppressors - have a valuable role to play in working with deaf people with mental health problems?

Looking at the first of these questions, how hearing people - among them myself - oppress our deaf clients, it is virtually automatic for us to look first at our different language and culture.

As hearing staff members we are part of the oppression that comes from our clients lack of choices, these include : lack of choice to have their mental state assessed by a deaf psychiatrist, lack of choice to have deaf nurses on every shift, lack of choice to be assessed and treated in their home areas.

Hearing people’s experience of working with deaf people does not always lead to more positive attitudes toward deaf people. There is a danger that generalisations may be made about deaf people, thus deaf people have sometimes felt as if they have been fitted into a "deaf slot" (Ridgeway, 1993), and clients may be assigned certain trats or labels - the most common of which seem to be impulsive, egocentric and rigid (Bolton 1976). It is important that we look at the ways in which we create and perpetuate these generalisations.

As hearing people we also have a role in providing an interface beween deaf clients and the hearing world. John Denmark in 1994 commented that : "whenever possible, members of staff should be deaf. At present hearing people are joining together with deaf people in attempts to open up training courses to deaf people and reduce the deficit of deaf professionals in our services. While this is not a direct staff-client role it will have a positive future effect.

Palabras claves

comunicación, psicología, salud mental, cultura minoritaria

, Reino Unido, Manchester


Through this brief exploration of the answers to two questions the author has reached a conclusion that hearing staff do have a role with deaf clients. However, this must be in the context of :

- an awareness of each person being a unique individual and treating them as such,

- an appreciation of deaf culture,

- an understanding of the impact of deaf people’s oppression

- skills in sign language,

- awareness of their own attitudes and how these are likely to affect their clients,

- and an openess to listen to constructive criticism from colleagues linked with a commitment to reduce oppression of deaf people as far as it is possible.


GESTES Groupe d’Etude Spécialisé "Thérapies et Surdités"organised in Paris the ESMHD European Society for Mental Health and Deafnessthird international congress, on december 1994. The publication of the proceedings will occur later on.

Written from the speech of Sandra TAYLOR, Head occupational therapist, National Centre for Mental Health and Deafness, Prestwich Hospital, John Denmark Unit, Mental Health Services, Bury New Road, Prestwich, Manchester, M25 3BL, UNITED KINGDOM. 00 44 061 772 3400 (direct dial)00 44 061 772 3407 (Minicom)00 44 061 773 7001 (Televideo)Fax 00 44 061 798 5853


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