Empathy - my perception of my mother’s life
Have you ever attended a work meeting held in a foreign language? Now imagine that you don’t speak that language and nobody there would translate it to you. In the same example, consider that at the end they would ask you to sign a document agreeing with the points discussed. What would you do, sign the document or not?
Imagine that you work in the same place with the same people for over forty years and just a few of them make the effort to engage with you. How sad and separate from them would you feel? Did you ever expect not being able to resolve your bank issues alone? For example, the simple task of unlocking a new credit card.
What about the spam from a telemarketing company? How would you feel if you couldn’t solve the situation alone and you received at least 10 calls per day? How stressful this would be for you?
Those are unpleasant situations and they are examples of the daily struggles of my mother.
My name is Júlia and I’m a child of a deaf adult (CODA), that means that my mother is deaf, but I’m not. My mother and I communicate through Sign Language and since I’m from Brazil, we use the Brazilian Sign Language (LIBRAS).
(Just a heads up, the Sign Languages are different all over the world. There are similarities, but each one is unique with their own rules.)
I grew up using Portuguese and LIBRAS (Sign Language) at the same time in my house. Not only is my mother Deaf, but I have an uncle, an aunt, cousins and close family friends who also are. Being immersed in the Deaf community was always a part of me and this shaped how I perceive the world.
As far back as I can remember, my relatives were always militants for rights, equality and social justice. Until this day, my mother is part of different city councils from where I’m from. This means over 12 years of active participation in this space. Taking part with her, working as an interpreter of LIBRAS and also inside a non-profit with the deaf community increased my awareness of their daily struggles and their accessibility needs.
At the beginning of this article, I asked some questions to provoke you and to make you think about how you would react to those circumstances. All of them happened to my mom and I will tell you about it. For the work meeting example, my mother and other Deaf colleagues attended several meetings without a sign language interpreter and they were often asked to sign an agreement about the points discussed. The obligation to attend the meetings only ended when we drafted a document based on the law proving that they have the right to have an interpreter during the meetings. The solution for the company was to share the meeting minutes for their appreciation and opinion.
As I explained, my mother’s main communication is through LIBRAS (Sign Language). Since the Brazilian law recognises Brazilian Sign language as the Deaf community's language, Portuguese is my mom’s second language and not her native one. So, in the workplace, she was always separated because most of her co-workers weren’t interested in learning the basics of how to communicate with her properly during all the years they worked together. Concerning the bank issues - a long story short would be that my mother needed to call the company to unblock her new credit card and she couldn't do it. We went to their office, so she could do it in person and they explained that the only way to unlock a card is over the phone. I called again pretending I was her, as the employee from the company told me to do, and they didn’t accept. In the end, she was unable to unlock her credit card.
In relation to the telemarketing. A company was calling my mother’s personal number at least ten times a day, for around twenty days. When I picked up the call and explained who I was, that my mother is Deaf and suggesting to them to send her an email with the information. The situation was only solved when someone on the other side of the line paid attention to what I said and took the time to remove my mother’s name from their systems.
From a huge list of these kinds of situations. I choose to share these because they could have been solved with the goodwill of others. For the first example, the problem could have been solved by respecting the law and by having the manager provide an interpreter during the meetings. In the second example by having a little bit of interest from her co-workers to create an inclusive environment. The third example could have been solved with the change of the company’s policies allowing my mother to go there in person and the last one with a better customer service.
The lack of accessibility is strongest in the subtle things that we take for granted. Going to the bank and resolving an issue sounds boring and painful. But for them, it’s even more work since they need to find an interpreter, book the time and, depending on the situation, pay for the interpreter’s services. I can only explain how interpreters work in Brazil since my experience is from there. In my country, the government provides interpreters for some situations, but the demand is way bigger than what they can provide. The solution is to pay an interpreter for their work or ask for a relative or friend to help.
My goal with all my frustrating stories is not to make people feel ashamed because they don’t know sign language. I just wanted to create awareness for the situation. You don’t need to know the language to be helpful and empathic. With goodwill, you can already help and include many people on your day to day and in your work environment. For example, I have a friend in Brazil who works in a bank and when a Deaf person goes there, they usually want to be attended by her. Not because of her basic (very basic) skills in LIBRAS, but because she is patient enough to explain the situation to them, she makes an effort to understand their demands and to communicate with them.
I wrote my story in order to show how hard it is for Deaf people to achieve some basic things in life. All of this is my perspective on the issue. I know that my feelings aren’t even a small fraction of what a Deaf person feels and lives with. It is my hope that you finish reading this story with the willingness to change and to learn about others’ lives and struggles. Let’s try to be more empathic and put ourselves in other people's shoes. To create an inclusive environment, it starts with the desire to help others and awareness! If I could give you a suggestion it would be to read more about accessibility, talk with people about their issues and try to immerse yourself in their world. You will learn so many new things that will change your life and at the same time, you will have a positive impact on other people's lives.