Collecting Demographic Information: If you have ever tried to collect demographic information about the membership of an organization, program, or university, you (a) may have been lucky enough to get a straightforward, no-questions-asked breakdown of the membership by gender, race, age, and so on, or (b) you may have found your request for information met with hesitation, suspicion, or outright hostility, as we experienced not long ago.
Curious to learn more about how many Deaf people work in the mental health field as therapists, social workers, psychologists, and educators, we set out to gather some statistics. This is what we observed while making our requests for information via telephone or email (keep in mind that these are observations only, not scientific or empirically-based findings). It was fairly easy to get answers to questions such as “How many members does your organization have?” or “How many faculty in your department hold doctoral degrees?”.
Once we began asking how many employees or members were Deaf or hearing, however, our questions seemed to be met with resistance. “Why are you calling?”, “What do you plan to do with this information?”, and even “I’m not sure if I have permission to tell you that.” One person put us through what amounted to a full background check, before begrudgingly counting the Deaf and hearing faculty members in her department. It didn’t take long before we concluded that Deaf:hearing ratios fall into the category of “sensitive” information.
Nobody seemed very eager to hand over these demographics, except for a spokesperson who worked for one of the few programs with a relatively high Deaf:hearing ratio, compared to the others. Another consented to share statistics only after being reassured that they would be used in a “positive light”. As compared to what? If all organizations, programs, and departments are proud of their membership, what do they have to worry about?
ADARA Statistics: Here’s an example of some Deaf/hearing demographics we were able to obtain from ADARA (American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association), a national organization of mental health professionals who work with Deaf people. At present, the ADARA membership totals 278. Of these 61 identified as Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, or Deaf-blind; 83 identified as hearing. Unfortunately, no data was available for the remaining 134.
Even without the complete breakdown, a ratio of 61 Deaf to 83 hearing members is relatively high in comparison to the ratios of other programs, organizations, and departments we surveyed. It is our dream, though, that the ratio be reversed. As board members of our local Washington, DC chapter of ADARA, we hope to increase the number of Deaf professionals involved. We hope that one day, all programs, organizations, and departments that directly serve Deaf people will be comprised of largely Deaf memberships.
Only 2 African Americans?!: Another disturbing statistic we observed from the ADARA data is the breakdown according to race: 129 members identified as white, 15 as non-white (with data unavailable for the remaining 134). Clearly, this is something that needs to change, along with the Deaf:hearing ratio, if the organization is going to be representative of the Deaf community. Graduate programs at Gallaudet and elsewhere need to work harder to recruit, retain, and groom Deaf students and professionals, especially those from minority groups. ADARA statistics in detail, for those who are curious:
14 Hard of Hearing
1 Late Deafened
1 Deaf Blind
134 No response
2 African American
1 Native American
3 Bi Racial
134 No Response
6 High School
134 No response
134 No response