Georgia State community shares advice on how to be a better ally

Illustration by Montenez Lowery | The Signal

The Anti-Oppression Network defines the term “allyship” as “an active, consistent and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people.”

Those within the disability communities have offered advice for being a better ally.  

Justin Malone is a clinical instructor in American Sign Language at Georgia State. Although he is Deaf, he still lives his life like how any hearing person would. 

“I live my life every day as a hearing, able-bodied person,” Malone said. “The only difference is I have to prove myself to society what I’m capable of doing.” 

Based on Malone’s experience, the most significant barrier between hearing and Deaf/Hard of Hearing, or D/HoH, individuals is communication. 

Examples can be seen in Deaf people’s experiences with drive-thrus, like employees not accommodating or even mocking customers, and the lack of closed captioning on popular media like TikTok. Like Malone, many D/HoH individuals explore the world visually and based on feelings through vibrations.

To be more accommodating, it’s essential that hearing people make an effort and never make assumptions. 

“Every now and then, we will encounter people who don’t want to meet us halfway and write back,” Malone said. “Instead, they would assume we can read lips and try to communicate that way.”

A few resources to learn more about deafness are the National Association for the Deaf, the Nyle DiMarco Foundation and the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center

Sophomore Jaime Iredell is a hearing student majoring in ASL. 

“I started learning ASL [during] my freshman year of high school after watching ‘Children of a Lesser God,’ starring Marlee Matlin, with my mom,” Iredell said. 

Iredell enjoyed and took all four years of the class in high school. By the fourth year, the class included off-campus job shadowing opportunities for interpreters in an elementary classroom. Iredell became comfortable and familiar with the language.

She also has a family member with a disability who sometimes uses ASL to communicate when she becomes overstimulated with sound. 

“After getting to know her in the last few years is really when I started becoming more passionate about the ongoing fight for accessibility and equality,” Iredell said. “ASL is something I have been surrounded with for nearly six years now.”

There is also a call for more Deaf representation in media through the #DeafTalent hashtag. The movement calls on producers and directors to stop hiring hearing actors to play a Deaf character’s role and hearing peers need to turn down those jobs.

The Deaf community has its own culture and nuances, of which many hearing people are not aware.

“Everything in our world is visual, and we’re loud,” Malone said. “Many folks assume since we’re Deaf, we’re quieter [but] little do they know how incorrect they are. In English, you have rules and grammar. In ASL, all of that grammar is placed on our face through eyebrow movement, mouthing morphemes and use of space.”

Deaf people also have their own “time zone” called DST or Deaf Standard Time. 

“We’re usually the last people to leave a restaurant,” Malone said. “There are times when the restaurant closes, and we will bring our conversations to the parking lot and find some lights to continue chatting away.”

Malone wants hearing allies to understand that D/HoH people do everything their hearing peers do. 

Some people have disabilities that are not readily apparent and are misunderstood. The Invisible Disabilities Association defines an invisible disability as a “physical, mental or neurological condition that is not visible from the outside, but can limit or challenge a person’s movements, senses, or activities.”

Sophomore Desmond Leake has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and minor autism. His disabilities can make it hard for him to complete any task without getting distracted or finish at all. 

“I’ll just have a ton of stuff I’ll want to do, and I’ll either not do it or only do it for a limited period of time,” Leake said. 

There are many misconceptions about these disabilities, such as that people with ADHD are lazy or just need to try harder. 

“I think the biggest [misconception] is that people with ADHD aren’t necessarily going to be off their rocker most of the time just because the condition has ‘hyperactivity’ in [the] name,” Leake said. “Also, the fact that we’re not just lazy people, most of us want to be productive. It’s just that there’s a mental brick wall placed in the middle of our thought processes.”

When it comes to being a better ally to those with any disability, it’s important to educate oneself and be understanding. 

“I think the most important part would be to do at least basic research on your peers’ disabilities so that you can at least have some semblance of understanding and empathy for what they’re going through,” Leake said.

Several Georgia State fraternities and sororities focus on youth arthritis as their national philanthropy.

Sophomore Haley Jones and junior Emma Mezzacapo are members of chapters affiliated with Alpha Omicron Pi and they are grateful they can bring awareness to this condition.

“Supporting our national philanthropy also helps give a larger platform for these children and helps with visibility of the condition,” Jones said. “Even if one kid feels seen or can get treatment because of our work, it is all worth it.” 

Many people think children can’t have arthritis, but the American College of Rheumatology has stated that there are “300,000 children in the [U.S.] who are diagnosed with arthritis.” 

“The world can be harsh for those with arthritis,” Mezzacapo said. “Younger people are expected to keep up with everyone their age. Doctors and [older people] do not believe that younger people have anything to complain about, and most of the time, no one truly believes they are in pain.”

Academically, teachers and professors need to understand better what their students need, especially those with this disability. 

“Another part of being an ally is to never accuse someone of faking their condition,” Jones said. “Accusing one person of faking a disability or illness invalidates the entire community.”

The Arthritis Foundation and the CDC are excellent resources to get educated on arthritis, and this is how the chapter informs themselves. 

“Do your research,” Mezzacapo said. “Combine what you know from reading up on the disease and what you hear from the person themself. Understand that everyone is different, and the disease is not uniform or fair with how it acts on everyone’s bodies.”

Allyship comes in many different forms, but what doesn’t change is the fact that listening to marginalized communities, learning, and working with others are the best guidelines to be a useful ally.