Ethics can be a tricky business.

It is the job of the librarian to ensure that library users have access to materials of all types that represent any subject and/or perspective. It is also their responsibility to make sure that the materials are available to all users, making accommodations and ensuring appropriate formats as required.

However, when it comes to providing access and appropriate accommodations for the d/Deaf it can prove to be a tricky ethical issue for libraries. In order to eliminate discrimination and ensure access legislation has been put in place for hose who have disabilities. The problem with this comes down to a matter of perspective. Those outside of Deaf culture see the d/Deaf from their mainstream concepts of disability. Those who identify themselves as a part of Deaf culture do not see themselves as disabled. They identify as a distinct linguistic minority group (McQuigg 2003).

This is made even murkier by the different concepts of deaf and Deaf. While the Deaf see themselves as a cultural, linguistic group, the deaf do not necessarily identify themselves with Deaf culture. The library, as an access point for information, needs to be prepared to deal with either circumstance and to be aware of the difference and sensitive to the needs of both. That can be far easier said than done. In trying to be sensitive and accommodating to those with disabilities, it is very possible to offend the culture of others. However, in attempting to be sensitive to the needs of Deaf culture libraries must remain aware of those who do not identify with those needs.

When dealing with this unique and diverse information community, determining the needs of individual users can definitely be a tricky business.

Reference

McQuigg, K. (2003). Are the deaf a disabled group,or a linquistic minority? The Australian Library Journal, 52(4), 367-486.

Perhaps I need a new approach.

Over the last couple of weeks I have reached out via email to eight different individuals and organizations to try to glean some understanding of the Deaf community’s perceptions of information services. These have ranged from individuals in the Deaf community to libraries that specifically serve the d/Deaf to organizations that advocate for the d/Deaf.

I tried to be polite, courteous, and professional. I explained who I was and what my interest was. I included in my correspondence a brief list of questions I hoped to receive feedback on. Though I did not necessarily expect to be bombarded by replies, I was shocked to only receive one reply.

That reply was from a librarian at an academic library which specifically serves the d/Deaf. However, the response was underwhelming to this particular assignment. This librarian did not feel that they could adequately respond as, though they serve the d/Deaf, they are themselves hearing and could not specifically speak to the perception of their services to their patrons. Also, because the facility specifically serves the d/Deaf, they felt that their answers may not be a true picture of the way that the general Deaf population would answer my questions. The librarian did recommend a few other libraries I might contact with my questions that might be more helpful.

While this reply is understandable and I appreciated having received the courtesy of a reply at all, I must say that I am left feeling stumped. I have reached out to individuals, libraries, and d/Deaf organizations with, as yet, no reply. I feel that perhaps I need a new approach. Perhaps this lack of response is not so shocking in some ways. From a professional point of view it is appalling. However, from a cultural point of view it may be more understandable. It very well may speak to some of the barriers that can stand in the way of information-seeking. Barriers that include communication and culture.

I have been told time and again that the deaf welcome interaction with those who would like to learn about the language and culture. However, what have found through my perusal of various online forums, is that while this may be true, they are not as open to those who are only there ask questions. They are willing to embrace those who truly want to learn and be a part, but are put off by those who only there to get answers to questions and be done. While I had hoped that was not the way I came across, I can understand the sentiment. They are a strong people with a strong culture, not a circus side-show. I respect that. Now to find a new approach.

Through my studies and my online searches, I can say that the d/Deaf do use libraries and their services as well as other organizations such as those that advocate on their behalf. They also create their own sources of information. Deafnewspaper.com is only one example of a news source with videos in ASL. There also numerous advertisements listed there for other service from dating sites to financial lenders specifically for the d/Deaf. User experience will clearly vary depending on many factors. On an individual level these will include the reading level and even the open-mindedness of the individual. On the library level it will include an awareness of a need and an effort to provide as many d/Deaf friendly touch points.

As I continue my research I hope to find a way to penetrate the barriers I have faced and truly get the d/Deaf perspective in order to become a better information provider.

Patience is a virtue I don’t always have.

I would like to say that I did. I have been told that I do. But, though I may not typically let it show and I can usually reason myself through my frustration, waiting drives me crazy. Especially when I’m on a deadline and everything hinges on whatever it is I’m waiting for.

In this case, I await an email response. Actually more than one.

In my research on Deaf culture as an information community, I have made the effort to reach out, via email, to several members of the Deaf community. I am hopeful that their assistance and answers to my questions will further my research. I am relying on those answers to provide the substance of my next blog post for LIB 200.

In the mean time, I wait.