A Guide to Self-Advocacy for the Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Community

As a Deaf or hard-of-hearing individual, self-advocacy is crucial in ensuring your rights and needs are met in a society that often lacks access and accessibility. Not every organization is familiar or compliant with laws such as the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. While these laws were established to protect individuals with disabilities, awareness still lags, ignorance persists and injustice remains.

It's not uncommon to encounter situations where Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are denied access to necessary accommodations such as a sign language interpreter, speech-to-text transcription, CART services, or an assistive listening system — in places like schools, medical facilities, or the workplace. In such instances, being an informed and effective self-advocate could make all the difference.

Staying aware of your rights empowers you to clearly express and defend them when necessary. By being an assertive and well-informed self-advocate, you can guarantee that your rights are protected and that you receive essential accommodations.

Screenshot of a poster that reads "Self advocacy is the ability to articulate one's needs and make informed decisions about the support necessary to meet those needs."

Source: Skill Project

Effective Strategies for Deaf Self Advocacy

Understand your rights

To be a successful self advocate, you need to be informed about your rights as a Deaf and hard-of-hearing person. Familiarize yourself with laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and have the appropriate language ready to support your advocacy. Do not be afraid to ask for help or seek outside assistance when needed. For more information on your legal rights, visit the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Department of Education websites.

Be specific about accommodations

When seeking accommodations, be clear about which communication tools are needed. Rather than simply asking for better communication, specify that you require a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI), or assistive technology such as captions and provide the service, eg. Ava.

If you need a phone for work, specify whether you require an amplified one, a teletypewriter, or another telecommunication device. Although the ADA does not guarantee your preferred choice of certified interpreter or equipment, by clarifying exactly what you need, you are more likely to receive the appropriate accommodations.

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Source: CapTel

To ensure that your accommodations are arranged in a timely manner, make your request as early as possible. Keep in mind that finding a qualified interpreter or other auxiliary aids may take time.

In the event that you face difficulty in obtaining accommodations, it is important to gather as much information as possible in writing. Having documentation can be useful in case you need to file a complaint at a later time. Keep a record of the individuals you spoke with, the events that occurred, and the dates they happened to serve as valuable proof to support your self-advocacy efforts.

Build a network

Connecting with organizations, other Deaf people or individuals with hearing loss or who can hear perfectly in your community can all provide support that can increase the impact of your advocacy efforts.

Use clear and concise communication

When advocating for yourself or anyone who needs hearing assistance, make sure your message is clear, concise and easy to understand. This can be achieved through written communication or sign language, or with the help of an interpreter.

Source: YouTube

Stay informed

Stay knowledgable about current events, legislation and issues affecting Deaf lives. Being up-to-date on important topics for Deaf people like news on hearing aids, cochlear implants, sign language programs, human services and upcoming events intended for access can help strengthen your advocacy response

Be persistent

Advocacy often requires persistence and determination. Don't mince words and don't give up if your first attempt at advocacy is unsuccessful. Keep pushing for change until you get the results you want.

Educate others

Don’t assume that all places are aware of their legal obligations or are familiar with the needs of Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. In some cases, discrimination may stem from a profound lack of awareness and education.

To address this, provide the place with information on their legal obligations, such as the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Law and Advocacy Center offers a variety of educational and informative legal documents that can assist you in explaining why you require an accommodation. By educating others, you can ensure that your rights are being respected and that you receive the accommodations you need.

Engage in social and family events

Participating in social events can help enhance self-advocacy abilities. Whether with sign language, interpreters, use of hearing aids or an assistive technology tool, communicating in various settings offers opportunities to practice advocating for accommodations as a Deaf and hard-of-hearing person.

Own your story

Owning your story not only boosts your confidence in fighting for your rights, but it also inspires others to advocate for you and the Deaf community. If you're Deaf, hearing impaired in some way or just have a mild degree of hearing loss, let people know. Presenting your story in your own voice will encourage those around you to stand up for what is right.

Image with navy blue background and white text that reads "Share your deaf identity with confidence."

Source: Ava

Know your audience

When advocating for yourself or others with hearing loss, understanding your audience along with their motivations and concerns is important. Hearing people do not have the awareness of the challenges that people who are born Deaf or have hearing loss face. Knowing your audience can help you be more effective when addressing access needs for hearing impairment.

Accommodations can range from certified interpreters and cart services to real time captioning and other communication aids. Consider factors such as whether the place is a successful enterprise, a struggling business, a government-funded agency, or a religious organization. The obligation to provide reasonable accommodations may vary based on cost, benefit, society, awareness, education and communication program .

Source: YouTube

In some cases, a place may have a designated office or person like a DEI expert responsible for considering requests for reasonable accommodations. Identify this point of contact to avoid wasting time discussing your request with someone who does not have authority to provide accommodations. The person in charge is likely knowledgeable about the legal requirements, potential accommodations and resources available. If your request for reasonable accommodations is denied, you may want to escalate the matter to the next level of authority.

Be flexible

If your initial request for accommodations and services cannot be granted, be flexible and consider a compromise or seeking alternative options. It is important to note that a compromise does not mean giving up rights and settling for less than what you deserve. When you have exhausted all possible avenues and still cannot obtain your rights to reasonable accommodations, file a complaint with HR, or seek counsel for possible legal action.

Assistive Technology for Self Advocacy

Assistive technology tools like Ava that generate fast and accurate captions empowers Deaf and hard-of-hearing people with next-level autonomy. Lip reading can be tricky, hearing aids can be ineffective and not everyone speaks American Sign Language, so the ability to communicate seamlessly with hearing people via a mobile device can help.

Source: YouTube

Unlike traditional CART captions or common speech-to-text apps, Ava Scribe combines AI with professional captioners (Scribes) to deliver high quality captions with speed and accuracy. Additionally, Ava’s Speaker ID feature identifies and separates different speakers within a conversation using an assigned color-beneficial when there are more than two speakers in a conversation.

The Ava captioning solution can be used on iOS, Android, desktop computers and the web. Schedule a demo

Useful Resources

Access the information, support and resources needed to effectively advocate for yourself and the Deaf community.

  • National Association of the Deaf (NAD): The NAD is a non-profit organization that works to protect the rights and promote the interests of the Deaf community.

  • NAD Law and Advocacy Center: To ask questions regarding a particular legal right, reach out to the NAD Law and Advocacy Center.

  • Disability Rights and Resources Center (DRRC): The DRRC provides advocacy and support for individuals with disabilities, including Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. They offer information on disability rights and laws, and how to access accommodations and services.

  • The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD): The NCLD is a non-profit organization that provides legal assistance and other aid to Deaf individuals. They provide information on disability laws, as well as guidance on navigating legal issues and advocating for your rights.

  • American Society for Deaf Children (ASDC): The ASDC is a non-profit organization that provides support for Deaf children and their families. They offer information on advocacy in educational and community settings.

  • Local Deaf organizations: Seek out local organizations in the community that support the Deaf community and individuals with hearing loss.