Deaf Life7th June 2015

Is an Attitude of Tokenism to Deaf Awareness Better Than Nothing At All

A minimalist attitude to training in deafness has the potential to do more harm than good

by Deaf Awareness Trainer

Is securing a little token of interest in deaf awareness better or worse than nothing at all? I must confess to having a vested interest in this question as I have been delivering deaf awareness for a while now. However, whilst it is my living, I am getting increasingly frustrated by the number of organisations who want to do a couple of hours of training with a handful of their staff, but then think it is job done.

I like to think that my training is good, but it is not so good that running one 3 or 4 hour session for 20 out of hundreds of employees will bring about the changes needed for an organisation to then consider themselves deaf friendly, and yet that often seems to be the thinking - we have ticked that box, so we can move on.

I always remember a friend of mine talking about the police training that was undertaken after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and the police being labelled as institutionally racist. Because of the significant interest at political and governance level that this ‘labelling’ generated, my friends police force, and many of the others undertook wide scale training in Community Race Relations, Fairness and Equality. There were no excuses about resources, funding, limited training time, or anything else. In fact, the training was so comprehensive, that it was compulsory for every member of her police force to do it.

Compare that to some of the responses public and private organisations give today around training in equality, fairness and effective community/customer communication. “We would like to do it, but we just don’t have the money right now.” “We have a heavy training requirement at the moment on some important topics for our organisation.” I could probably get support to run one deaf awareness session.” “Training is a luxury we can’t afford, our staff don’t have the time.” “We don’t need deaf awareness or equality training here as all staff know they have to treat everybody exactly the same.”

Some of the responses I get to know about, or excuses as they should probably best be described, in themselves identify why an organisation needs training - they are often demeaning, insulting and lack awareness. They show a complete lack of knowledge of individual needs, barriers and the real customer experience.

So, let me return to my opening question, is a little training better than nothing at all? For the people who are involved in ‘a little’, I think the immediate benefit is significant. I am always spoken to throughout the day and at the end of the session by people for whom the penny has dropped regarding deafness, people who want to thank me for enlightening them. They are often excited and desperate to learn more and the person who arranged the session is often willing to stand-up at the end and tell their staff, that this is just the beginning.

The problem, is that more often than not, these encouraging words and commitments after a barn storming training session often turn into false promises. The key question for me, is what are the messages that this attitude gives to the staff who were on that course and wanted to learn more, and the community who were the subject of that training.

Well, as a member of one of those communities, the message I take from this ‘tokenistic’ approach is that, I am not important, and that particular organisation is likely to do very little to accommodate my individual needs. In fact, it is just as likely to be offensive and discriminatory against me unless I happen to bump into one of the people that had the training.

For the staff involved in the training session and who were so enthusiastic about learning more, I imagine their mind-set is similar to mine. Being told that there would not actually be any further opportunities, their employer is  saying to them - I know we said this was important training, but its not really. “We just wanted to put a tick in the box - Deaf Awareness - done” No doubt that is recorded in the equality and/or Social Responsibility Plan.

For me, that attitude is pathetic! I commend those special organisations who do take deaf awareness seriously, who value Deaf people, and who strive to do all they can to demonstrate that. Deaf people are likely to work at these places and be respected when doing so. I just wish there were an awful lot more of them!!

Article by Deaf Awareness Trainer

posted in Community / Deaf Life

7th June 2015