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.