Thinking inclusive requires different thoughts depending on the disability. Just compare say an inclusive atmosphere for someone autistic and an individual with cerebral palsy. Each involves separate steps to achieve the same result, inclusion. However, at least one essential similarity applies to all disabilities. An open mind! In said spirit, I on Think Inclusive’s behalf happily dust off our spotlight segment to feature deaf advocate Mark McGuire.

No, not Mark McGuire the former home run hitting Major League Baseball player. Rather I recently interviewed the self-branded Mark Deaf McGuire. Born deaf, McGuire grew to become a passionate advocate for his community. McGuire’s life experiences the past 40-plus years make him an ideal candidate to learn from. Our discussion covered harmful stereotypes, accessibility issues in the deaf community, and more. The following contains our conversation’s highlights. Enjoy!

The most damaging misconceptions/stereotypes out there about the deaf/hard of hearing community:

“In my opinion, the most damaging misconception or stereotype in any community is that everyone is equal. The reality is that no one is equal. We are all unique individuals with our own human conditions regardless of whether we were born with these conditions or not. This applies to the language as well as the method of communication we use as individuals. As a whole community, deaf and hard of hearing people share similar communication issues. However, this does not mean as a whole community that all deaf and hard of hearing people uses the same communication methods. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In other words, not all deaf and hard of hearing people know sign language.”

Why someone deaf or hard of hearing would not learn sign language:

“Why do some people not learn more than one language or one method is a good question I often ask. The answers are as diverse as every individual on the planet.

For example, I know how to read and write in English but not Japanese. I can speak but not hear English. I can sign and watch in American Sign Language (ASL) but not Mexican Sign Language (LSM).  Nor do I know how to read or type in Braille.

My experience has shown me that it seems to be the lack of inclusion that leads to a lack of education. A lack of education means we are not able to make the choice to learn more than one language or one method of communication.

There are many (reasons) but two common reasons for this of which both have a ripple effect on all community levels from a nation as a whole to within one’s own family. Country values are one. There are countries where sign language is an official language therefore more support. Other countries, including the USA, which have not recognized sign language as an official language often receive less support.

Secondly there are educational values. Different educational systems have their own idea of what is the right way to educate everyone. As a result, sign language may or may not be part of the program.”

How social media benefits the deaf and hard of hearing community:

“My experience has shown me that there are still barriers on social networks to deal with depending on what’s causing the barrier. However, the number one benefit that seems to be shared among the deaf and hard of hearing community is that they no longer have an audiological barrier to prevent them from reaching out.”

What those outside the deaf and hard of hearing community can do online to increase accessibility:

“What can one do online, regardless of whether it’s on social networks or websites in any type of medium? The answer is as old as the first word that was immortalized forever in stone.

I’m not sure which came first, cave paintings or the rock etchings but the concept and context were “written” down…

Write it down. If you are doing any type of audio like a podcast or video, provide a transcript of every sound being produced on the podcast, whether it is blah blah blah or a burp.

This also goes the other way for sign language. It has to be written down for those who do not know sign language or see it. And yes, that includes writing down a fart sign. What can I tell you? It’s a human condition. If you gotta let it out, let it out.”

Steps those outside the deaf and hard of hearing community can take to ensure pleasant and inclusive interactions in real life:

“The most positive experiences I have enjoyed as a deaf person has been a result of a conscious effort to ensure I am part of the conversation.

While unintentional, it is often within in a group discussion where everyone is signing or talking where the effort falls short.

However, it is the individual(s) within that group that shift from the group attention to a more personalized attention where I often find the biggest degree of success.

It may be a ‘side’ conversation bringing me up to speed ‘they are just blah blah blah’, asking me a question ‘we are trying to figure out…..?’, or even a random conversation ‘did you see that ….?’

The ones who have stood out the most often would make direct ‘personal’ statement to the group by placing themselves directly in front of me. They know the value of having me as part of the conversation and want to make sure everyone knows this.

Even fluent sign language users often make an effort to make sure I am able to follow the signing conversation.

My ASL skills are commendable and I can hold my own. However, my skills are nowhere near the same league as some of the amazing signers I have been fortunate to know.

It is a very positive feeling when someone does this whether it’s signing, talking, or writing, to ensure you know what is going on. There’s no harm or shame in making such an effort.”

To Recap

Keeping an open mind proves vital to establishing an inclusive setting. Such mindset best positions you to solve any possible accessibility barriers. In regards to the deaf and hard of hearing community advocate Mark Deaf McGuire offered some guidelines to follow. First, do not assume everyone in the deaf and hard of hearing community knows sign language. When creating online content, supply a written format. For instance, post a complete transcript with each podcast episode. Amidst real life interactions take conscious action to confirm the person successfully follows along with the conversation.

For more from McGuire visit his website http:/ Connect to him too on Twitter and Facebook. Perchance you possess advice to add, leave a comment below. Want to see Think Inclusive explore what accessibility looks like for a different disability group? Again leave a comment with your suggestion.