The nation's premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States of America. The Voice of the Nation's Blind.
Two organizations, National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and National Federation of the Blind (NFB), are at the forefront of the disability rights movement. That is, for the most part, where the similarities end. Hold on to your seats, folks. We're in for a bumpy ride.
A few years ago, a friend and I were having an argument about what I will call "infighting" in the deaf community. ASL vs. Oralism vs. Cueing vs. vs. vs. As a deaf person, I felt strongly about my identity. About the culture and language of deaf people. My friend didn't disagree but instead told me she wanted to show me something. She drove me to the NFB headquarters. "A full city block," she said. I was floored. "This what the NAD could be if we stopped the fighting over the differences and make a choice to fight for equal rights for deaf people."
Round One: Headquarters
The most shocking comparison—perhaps because it is the most visual—is the headquarters for these two organizations. For those who haven't been to the NAD headquarters, here's a quick-and-dirty illustration of the office space:
All of it. Each floor, each room, each window belongs to the NFB. There's a huge sign on the top of the building, which can be seen from I-95, announcing proudly what the building represents. The NFB even has its own parking lot, cafe, and conference space. All of this space dedicated to improving the quality of life for blind Americans.
Take a moment to consume the two images and imagine what office space like the NFB's could do for the NAD.
Round Two: Demographics and Membership
I know, I know. Numbers are boring. But they are so important and, in this case, enlightening.
An estimated 35 million adults report experiencing some hearing loss. That's 17% of American adults. Compare that to the 15 million blind and visually impaired people in the United States. Yes, your math is correct, there is a 20 million difference between the two.
With a 20 million person advantage in its pool of potential members, surely the NAD boasts impressive membership numbers. Right? Wrong. The NFB has more than 50,000 members across the country while NAD has approximately 5,000. At $40 a year, NFB gets 2 million dollars from membership fees alone. The NAD, $200,000.
Round Three: Losing the Fight
Am I the only one who finds something wrong with this picture? As a deaf person in the deaf community, I'm appalled at these numbers. The equation is clear:
Low membership = not very much money = crappy office space and limited advocacy efforts
When you consider the fact that the community of deaf and hard of hearing people in the U.S. is 20 million people larger than those with vision loss, this disparity in funding and space should not exist.
We are capable of so much more. By refocusing energy and finding common ground where we do not reject any person with hearing loss, it is possible to have ourselves a building that consumes a whole block. Where we can work together to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing individuals get a chance to fulfill their potential because we enjoy equal civil rights.
Unfortunately, this is not yet the case.
Round Four: How to Win
I have a few theories as to why we are not achieving the dream office, but all of these theories can be clumped into one main reason: the infighting.
Achieving the dream can be easy. Really. The solution? Make a choice. Choose focusing on the issues that can move us forward as a community: communication access, employment, assistive technology, emergency preparedness, et cetera. And save the identity discussions for the coffee shop.
Once we get to that place, we'll soar.
Cross-posted from Slinging from the Margins.
ABOUT JESSICA THURBER
Jessica Thurber graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2006 with a BFA in Graphic Design and is the founder of Deaf Politics. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter.