Note from Uncle Dale: What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What To Do? Micro-Audism and Advocacy.

I get calls and emails and texts (oh my) weekly-all asking the same question:

“What would you do if…”.

The details tend to diverge at that point, but the idea is the same.

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

I addressed ethics in a previous Note. I will deal with interpersonal relationships in another Note. This Note starts with the question:

“What do I do if a business won’t pay me?”

Now. I’ve already told a story about how I handled this situation once upon a time:

That one was fun, but my decision in that situation obviously won’t apply broadly (but seriously, I highly recommend using it if you can). So let’s focus on more common frustrations.

If you are concerned that a business won’t pay you make sure you have a good enforceable contract, signed and in place, before you go. Make sure your Terms and Conditions includes a clause that you can collect all attorneys fees and costs of enforcing collection in court, and then make a friend of small claims court.

“But,” you say, “if I sue them they will never hire me again!”

They didn’t pay you. They haven’t hired you yet.

But, Ok.

If you’ve struggled to get a certain business to pay you in the past then get a deposit before taking an appointment with it, or, and hear me out, politely decline to take the appointment at all.


“Oh” is right.

If it’s going to cost you more to get paid than you would have been paid to do the job it’s not worth it. Just say no.

“But,” you say, “What about the Deaf Client? Won’t that leave the Deaf client without an interpreter?”

You are not denying the Deaf Client an interpreter by refusing to interpret if you are not paid, the business who refuses to pay you is. You are ready willing and able to interpret the moment business (who is obligated by law to provide the accommodation-you are not) is willing to pay for the service.

I know it is stressful to think about it this way, but you have to remember there is a problem at the place the Deaf client works or at the business the Deaf client wants to access. The problem is that the business is not concerned for the rights of the Deaf client-but it may be concerned about getting sued. You showing up and not getting paid does not resolve that issue, it just masks it while allowing the discrimination to continue and become entrenched. In essence if you show up, knowing you won’t be paid, you become part of the problem.

No change will occur in this business’ practices without a confrontation of its audist attitude.

That is sometimes hard to see because not paying the interpreter is not audism in the way we generally envision it. It’s more subtle, it’s audism with a level of abstraction, a form of “micro-audism.”

The business “providing” an interpreter while refusing or at least resisting paying the cost of an interpreter is really an expression of resentment toward the rights of the Deaf client without confronting the Deaf client directly; micro-audism. This micro-audism will continue and become more and more entrenched until it is exposed and resolved.

It has to be resolved. However, you showing up, knowing you may not be paid, just perpetuates the problem without requiring a resolution; what’s the problem? There was an interpreter there. The legal requirement for effective communication was satisfied.

“That’s all well and good,” you cry, “but if I don’t show up it still leaves the Deaf client without an interpreter.

That is true, today. And the Deaf client will have to deal with it. Luckily there are laws in place to do so. Laws, when it comes right down to it, are words on paper. These words are nothing without enforcement. Yes, people should follow the law because it’s the right thing to do, but if everyone did there would be no lawyers or courts.

There are lawyers and courts.

You showing up and not getting paid is not advocating for the Deaf client, it’s masking the need for advocacy. It’s fixing today at the expense of all the tomorrows.

Now. To my friends in the Deaf community. You may be asking yourselves, “wasn’t the ADA supposed to take care of this?”

Yes. But it didn’t. And it won’t without people who are Deaf pushing businesses to abide by it.

At a recent TownHall I attended a woman who is Deaf lamented, “why should we have to go through all that? Shouldn’t they just respect our request?”

Yes, of course they should. But if they won’t. Businesses will not change just because the Deaf community asks. They will only change if they are forced to. Think of businesses like Newton’s First Rule of Motion:

An object will remain at rest unless changed by an external force.

Businesses will try not to change what they have always done, because change cost money. So they will remain “at rest” unless they are subjected to an external force; that force is you.

The Deaf community must be that force. It’s tiring. It’s frustrating. It seems like it will never end, and it may not end in your life time or mine. But things will change, if we work together to change them.

Civil rights are won not gifted.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

I will be there with you. The interpreting community will be there with you. Change will happen. The moral arc will bend toward justice.