During the course of Deaf history, especially during the 1930-50’s, and before, Deaf people and even hearing people posing as Deaf people, have been handing out ABC cards, asking for money. One example is from: ABC Cards. This practice has a mixed history within both the hearing and the Deaf world. Some people see it as a way to get money, when all other avenues are exhausted, no different from any other peddler, aside of utilizing a disability to gain additional sympathy from the passerby. For the Deaf, it was a survival tool back when the options were severely limited for the Deaf, during the Great Depression of the 30’s, and also utilized during times of economic hardships like now, where jobs are scarce, and competition is very high.
For the Deaf community, it has been a point of reality, that it the practice does exist, but one the Deaf culture tends to frown upon, as it perpetuates stereotypes of the Deaf as helpless, uneducated, and not able to contribute on their own. Granted, one could weigh it against the SSI attainment by many Deaf people, (which is an area of contention among some of the Deaf as well), while I will point out that while many Deaf people do function by collecting SSI/SSDI, not all Deaf people are able to attain said fundings, and that many more Deaf people do work and have jobs, and are just as functional within society as the next person. One insight about deaf peddling is that for many Deaf workers, the visage of the deaf peddler would ring a sour note upon the mind of the Deaf person, not wanting to be judged by the hearing society by that stereotype, especially in light of applying for jobs. I sure wouldn’t want the thought of deaf peddlers to be a deciding factor of why I might or might not get a job. (Not that I realistically think that is applicable, but never know when it comes to prejudging and people’s conceptions in “reading” people and the generalizations people make). But that is the public opinion towards the practice of deaf peddlers.. it is shunned upon by the Deaf community.
With the economy getting harder, and all, there is seemingly a rise in the spotting of deaf people and hearing of deaf peddlers (see articles below), and I have even seen discussions on FB regarding spotting fake deaf peddlers (hearing people posing as deaf peddlers), and watched as some Deaf people even detailed their practice of harassing and driving off deaf peddlers, and demonstrating their dislike about the practice. I have heard arguments that deafness shouldn’t be used as a reason for not being able to work (yet deafness is a basis of overt/covert discrimination, which is why some ADA protections are in place). and that people are more receptive towards the peddlers if they ask for food not money. I think in light of some of the deaf people’s low education, lack of job experience, and other factors, I can understand quite readily why the deaf peddlers would exist. I have friends who have terminal degrees who cannot find jobs, most likely because they are Deaf, and cannot get the residency requirement fulfilled due to the practice being “small” and thus interpreters would be an “undue burden”. What I am writing this article for, and why, is to discuss the treatment OF the deaf peddlers, where Deaf people would make very public acts of derision, mockery, and even calling them out (in the case of hearing posing as deaf). I can understand the Deaf not wanting to be identified with the peddler, but I also see the general scope, that while some feel that the peddler being deaf is like an “ambassador” of what others may think ALL deaf people are, I disagree. If people were to be that prone to generalizations, then it wouldn’t be just this one example where that said person would succumb to generalizations. and so I wouldnt trust their assessments anyways.
My response is this, after debating on it, acknowledging that the cultural voice of expectations say the practice is frowned upon, I think we shouldn’t lose sight of the act of compassion, to help those in need, regardless. I would offer them money, or even offer to sit for a few minutes with them and converse, because I know the homeless/poor life, and especially that of the beggar/peddler, is a lonely life, where most often they go ignored by the people passing by, spit on, or mocked, and seen as second class, or worse. I say, while you may disagree with the practice, I think the life of someone being reduced to peddling is a hard enough life without being harassed, kicked, spit on, and treated as inhuman. I also challenge the peddler to ask for food, seek shelters, and programs to help, and not use the aspect of being deaf as a justification, and just say, I am poor., and need help.
Let’s strive for more human treatment of people, not less, regardless of what we, who are not in their shoes, who don’t have to carry the weight of their shortcomings and struggles, have going in own own lives. Next time, offer to help, for they are a member of our community, even if their choice of activity isn’t one we approve of, that is the higher road. My six-pence.