Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Sotomayor and Signs of Progress" by Leah

Rosa sat so Martin could walk,
Martin walked so Barack could run,
Barack ran so our children could fly.

And it doesn't stop there. The progress of civil rights is all around us. The air is vibrating and beating with the pulse of advancement and opportunity. Every time a historical moment passes us by, I never fail to recognize how important it is.

The faces of America are changing. I am a proud mutt like Obama. In the case if you were wondering why I'm such a diminutive person, I'm part Japanese as well as part Mexican along with my Jewish heritage. I am deeply proud of my roots and I always root for the advancement of diverse people everywhere - from Asians to Afro-Caribbeans to Hispanics to religious diversity to people with disability. Being able to watch Sonia Sotomayor's hearing had powerful impact on me not only because I was able to sit in the hearing room and reflect on how far Hispanic women have come in our opportunities in America the Beautiful, but also because I was awed that ADA had afforded me the opportunity to listen to the hearing through my eyes in my own natural language, the sign language.

Some of you have started to share your experiences with your disability over the course of your life. For me, it’s hard because sometimes I don’t even view myself as disabled. I count myself blessed to use such a beautiful, visual language that is also very hard to fully explain in English. There’s a Wall Street Journal story that faintly scratches the surface of ASL vibrancy (NOTE: this link leads to a YouTube video that also has voice interpretation and is HIGHLY recommended to watch). Try to imagine it like this. You’re deaf, and learning speech is like trying to learn Russian through the glass window in a soundproof booth. But the person through the window gets up and starts to move around the hands, creating words out of thin air, shaping syntax and grammar with ease to the eye. You understand what is going on. Better than understanding, it is enhanced. The sign for “murder” simulates the stabbing motion; combined with a malevolent expression, the delicate balance of complexity and creativity with the language of signs is powerful.

Now, imagine this with Sotomayor’s hearing! I was absolutely riveted watching the Senators question Sotomayor, with a wide-eyed appreciation for the world of law. Using interpreters to convey meaning, tone, and expressions of spoken words are vastly more fascinating than static English translation. Don’t get me wrong – as a bilingual person, I love English equally through literature. However, great sign language interpreting beats captions on TV any day. American Sign Language is something that is so beautiful it is incomprehensible at times and almost impossible to explain. Sen. Sessions' thinly restrained and starkly ominous questioning of Sotomayor was magnified to me with the power of sign language and when he finally said to her, "I'm concerned" - it was as if he had said it to me (with that professional yet negative and provoking tone). I'm concerned about you and your qualifications, miss. I recoiled in my seat.

Andy Imparato told me his story regarding the long odyssey of getting accessibility for me. It just reinforces to me even stronger how important it really is to push for mainstream disability accommodation. Signs of progress are all around us; yet we still have our work cut out for us. BOTTOM LINE: If accessibility was ALREADY mandatory and uniform, there would have been NO PROBLEM AT ALL and much less hours would have been wasted on "trying to get accessibility" for the Sotomayor confirmation hearing. Doesn't that sound like a much less inconvenience than spending hours trying to work out interpreters and seating arrangements? We see curb cuts, Braille on public buildings, and flashing lights around us today. We need to push for uniform and mandatory provision of interpreters at public events (Not "only when upon request"), not only to provide basic accessibility rights to deaf people but it would also simply be less of a headache for the organizers and create larger niches for positive economic opportunities. I am deeply grateful to Andy Imparato and AAPD for all their opportunities but I also want to say that it has become increasingly obvious to me that it is important to not be lax about disability advocacy.

We also must never forget how important it is to value diversity - Should the deaf design a building for the blind? Is it always the best when a person in a wheelchair plans accessibility options for an Autistic person? They CAN, but the results may sometimes be different than intended. Even the best intentions can result in gaffes and mistakes. We all are inherently diverse and when we are separated, we view the world mostly only in our own terms. But when we come together and share our experiences with each other, we start to view things in a different light. You begin to think about the experiences of other people and learn to value their insight. The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court added the first Hispanic and the third woman into the mix. Perhaps the Supreme Court could do well to learn from Sonia Sotomayor and the AAPD interns - that the value of life experiences are indeed important and impossible to remove from ourselves but ultimately in the end, it is our own professional temperament that defines us.

2nd blog on Sonia Sotomayor by Leah Katz-Hernandez

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