RIVERSIDE—Following the news of a beating and robbery of a deaf man at a Coffee Bean on June 24, some in the deaf community are voicing their concerns about the attack.
Riverside is well known for its inclusivity and positivity towards the deaf community. It is estimated that around 17 percent of Riverside’s total population is deaf or hard-of-hearing (HOH). The city is home to the California School for the Deaf, one of only two institutions in the entire state.
Since 1998, the Model Deaf Community Committee has promoted “access, advocacy, education and inclusion” for the deaf community in Riverside. This special task force, approved by both the mayor and city council of Riverside, meets at City Hall monthly in order to work towards its goal to “promote unity between Riverside’s deaf and hearing community” according to the Riverside city website.
Riverside native Brazton Burnes described the incident as “really disturbing.” Burnes himself is not deaf, but is a “CODA”–a child of a deaf adult(s). Both of Burnes’ parents are deaf, and have both been employed at the California School for the Deaf for over two decades. His mother is the athletic director of both the elementary and middle schools; his father works with the Career Technology Education program, which aims to prepare students for the workforce after graduation. Although Burnes is fully hearing, his first language was American Sign Language (ASL), and he currently works as an ASL interpreter part time. Burnes will be attending Santa Monica Community College this fall, where he plans to minor in ASL.
Daniel Davies said,“It’s nothing new to me.” The 44-year-old resident of Surprise, Arizona, was born deaf to two deaf parents, and has experienced job discrimination because of his disability for most of his life.
Currently unemployed and actively seeking a job, Davies has been unsuccessful despite the fact that he holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography management from Rochester Institute of Technology.
Davies believes that some of his difficulties are due to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, better known as the ADA.
According to the letter of the law, the ADA is meant to “prohibit discrimination and ensure equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation,” and to provide accommodations like “the establishment of TDD/telephone relay services.”
The law is meant to help, but Davies believes that the ADA has made finding a job more difficult for the deaf community.
“Many companies avoid [hiring] deaf people due to [having to] provide an interpreter,” Davies explained. “That means money.”
“I always tried to explain that I don’t need to have an interpreter all [the] time,” continued Davies. “24/7 it can be [written] down or [through] texting or videophone. But it’s better to hire handicapped people who can speak.”
Davies found it sad that the criminals disregard the humanity others, especially members of the deaf community, for the sake of greed. “I believe these guys just [wanted] a laptop and don’t care about that person,” said Davies.
Boswell Burnes, older brother to Brazton, shared Davies’ feelings of disgust and outrage over the incident. A recent UCLA graduate, Burnes has been extremely active in the deaf community his entire life. Growing up, he learned the hard way that discrimination against the deaf community was all too prevalent. In his experience, people would often make fun of deaf individuals for their pronunciation or differing methods of communication.
“I personally even experienced discrimination as a kid, just because my parents were deaf,” said Burnes.
His background and experiences motivated him to become involved with Hands On, UCLA’s first and only sign language club on campus. He also took ASL courses as soon as the university began offering them in 2012. Like his younger brother, Burnes currently works as a part-time ASL interpreter.
His most meaningful involvement stems from his connections with other CODAs. For the past six years, Burnes has worked as a counselor at various campuses specifically designed for CODAs.
“I’ve been able to teach these children their identity and self worth, and to be proud of who they are, especially because I’ve gone through some of the same things,” said Burnes.
Burnes’ own identity and experience as a CODA is “something that will always be a part of me” he asserts, as he prepares to attend the 30th annual CODA-International Conference.
The conference, which will take place in Reading, England from July 16 to 19, is “essentially a way to celebrate having deaf parents,” explained Burnes. “It’s such an enriching experience to find like-minded individuals to help lead us to a better life.”
In reflecting on what the Riverside community should do in order to prevent future violence and discrimination against the deaf community, Burnes suggests that schools should require and offer more ethics courses, “to give people a sense of moral compass and awareness.”
“Deaf people are just people,” asserted Burnes. “They laugh, they cry… Now that they are increasingly getting places in society after being discriminated against their entire lives, we need to be sure that they get the extra care and accommodation they need and deserve.”
Davies agreed, adding, “I hope in the future it will [be a] better one.”