By Samantha Samant, Contributing Writer
One in every four adults has a disability, according to the CDC. Still, we are not always accommodating to those with disabilities despite how common disabilities are among Americans. The Covid-19 pandemic uncovered a lot of these biases towards those with disabilities.
Pre- Covid people who wanted or needed workplace accommodation were often told these needs couldn’t be met. An example being a flexible work environment or the ability to work from home. When employees would ask for this adjustment they were told it would be too hard to accommodate. Yet, when they can’t make it to work, they are chastised for missing too many days and eventually lose their jobs for that reason.
When covid hit, the jobs that could be work from home, almost instantly transitioned or made the strides to be able to transition. Leaving the disabled community questioning why something that could have been done pre-pandemic, wasn’t done till it affected everyone.
According to the Washington Post, more than one million employment discrimination complaints have been filed with the government since 2010. However, these are just the issues that are reported. There are so many micro-aggressions against disabled people that go unreported.
Among these people who have been affected by disability discrimination is deaf author and activist Avril Hertneky. Hertneky has gained over 3 thousand followers on Tik Tok by detailing her issues with discrimination in the Deaf community. Her story mirrors a lot of similar experiences shared by others in the Deaf community.
Hertneky is an effervescent 28-year-old, mother who enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family. When she moved from Canada to the US, she made the decision in the hopes of better opportunities for her family. She describes herself as deaf, not disabled drawing a big distinction between the two.
“I am deaf, I am not disabled,” Hertneky said.“I would say it is normal for the political system to call us, to label us as disabled because there are no job opportunities. But with friends and family, we don’t label ourselves as disabled.”
When Hertneky has faced many issues in her life that others don’t often think or worry about.
“In Canada, I was in the hospital. I requested an interpreter, and I kept being denied an interpreter. A counselor came in and I said I still want an interpreter, they forced me to speak, They said you can speak. And I said n-n-n- no. They were saying that I didn’t need an interpreter because I could voice.” Said Hertneky; voicing is a term used in the Deaf community for a deaf person that can speak.
“But that’s where missing information and misunderstanding happen without an interpreter. They took my voice at that moment,” explained Hertneky.
Canada and the U.S. both have Anti-discrimination and disabled person accommodation laws. However, unlike the US, Canada doesn’t have many accommodations for disabled people, the protections only extend to the workplace, not beyond it. Businesses and other government organizations do not have to accommodate disabled persons. The ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act), which is a law, also acts as a government organization that aids in the enforcement of accommodations for disabled people that reach all aspects of life. The ADA doesn’t only extend to just the workplace, it extends to places such as schools, businesses, and more providing as well as enforcing proper accommodations everywhere.
Although the US government has more protection for the disabled community Hertneky feels discrimination, on an interpersonal level, has a long way to go. In a Tik Tok on her account @avrilhertneky, published Feb. 12, 2021, Hertneky tells viewers about a traumatic experience in a peer group.
”I moved to Frisco Texas, two years ago from Canada. I have two kids. I decided to join the Frisco mom group on Facebook. The admin approved me [and] I was excited to learn about Frisco and its events. I remember I made a post, I warned Frisco moms that I was sorry for my English grammar, and bear with me,” Hertneky said. “I was asking a question about my kids, the members attacked me. The admin removed me as a member, I was confused. I was asked to inbox the admin. I asked why she removed me as a member. The admin attacked me. She told me to ‘shut the f— up and don’t bother her. Deaf is gross’.”
From her traumatic experiences, she gained the urge to fight against these types of attacks on the Deaf community,
“The Deaf community here [ in the U.S.], is fully accessible. And I really learned from them and you know and we were really able to get into the politics and get involved in those types of discussions. The deaf community here in Texas was so much stronger than the one in Canada. I was really able to really get immersed in that culture.”
Hearing her peers’ stories about their own battles of discrimination became the impetus for her to start writing.
“ It was kind of like a wake-up call,” Hertneky said, “ If I wrote this book they [ the Deaf community] would see, and maybe they would feel like they would want to share their experience.”
Since becoming a writer, Hertneky also became an advocate for the Deaf community. She has set up a blog about how to fight for your rights and what are the steps you need to take to defend yourself as a deaf person.
“I would make vlogs.” Of political events such as town halls, “ showing them [the Deaf community] in their language, showing them what to do and how to take those next steps,” in becoming a part of the political process.
One day she hopes to meet the president and introduce new legislation that helps give deaf people equal language access to important television programs, such as the Presidential debates and local government events, with the same ease that hearing people have access to them. In addition, Hertneky hopes to start new legislation to offer ASL classes as a second language to improve accessibility and language barrier issues.
If you want to aid the deaf community in their fight Hertneky recommends that you support deaf organizations, support deaf businesses and take an ASL class and a Deaf culture class. Deaf culture classes are classes that explore the ways the deaf community expresses itself, deaf history, as well as the struggles the community faces. Deaf, hearing, or part of the disabled community we can all do better to make this world a more accessible place.