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y sister went out to the mall with some friends the other day, and a Deaf man left a little booklet on her table with the ASL alphabet and some basic signs inside. She thought of me, so she bought it. I was really excited about it. Most of the signs are ones I don’t recognize, like GOOD, BAD, PERFECT, CHANCE and RIGHT. I know versions of those signs, just not the signs listed in the booklet. I had heard much about ABC cards and Deaf peddlers, but never seen them. In fact, I had the impression that ABC cards were a dying breed and I’m excited that I now own one.
I know this is probably a controversial feeling. Deaf people tend to look down on people peddling ABC cards. The general feeling is that people handing out ABC cards are ambassadors, of a sort, for the Deaf Community. Most Deaf people feel that these people aren’t the best roll models. The impression they give is that Deaf people don’t work, that they rely on begging to sustain themselves, and that Deaf people can’t do everything a hearing person can.
I know neither my sister nor I felt this way. She thought the little card was neat and bought it because she liked it, not because she felt sorry for the man selling it. What she was really interested in is how he got it. Who prints them, decides what they say, and how does the ABC card seller get them? I went on a quest to find out, and what I found was, um… interesting.
My particular card was made up into a PDF file by a group called The Orange County Deaf Advocacy Center. Before this latest version, they had another version where the signs weren’t very up to date, but they recently remade it to be more current. The group prints the pamphlets and distributes them mostly to Deaf people, although they also distribute them to hearing people at fairs and other places that the Center might have a booth. They also offer the PDF file on their website to anyone who wants to print some ABC cards themselves. If you’re interested in looking at the PDF, here’s the link to it: http://www.deafadvocacy.org/community/freebies/des.pdf. I think it’s interesting to note that nowhere on the card does it state the name of the agency- or have any other identifying information about where it comes from.
Now comes the juicy part. How did I come across this information? I found a message board thread where a man stated that they had just finished re-designing the ABC cards, and that distributing them would be “a win-win for the deaf community members and our deaf center!” He linked to the same PDF file that’s listed above. People ripped this guy a new one on the message board, but he seemed to enjoy it and was snarky right back to them. It feels a little to me like this guy knew he was being controversial and wanted and internet fight.
So who is this organization providing ABC cards? At first, I thought that the OCDAC might be some sort of dummy site or joke site. I clicked around a little, and I found out that they’re a legitimate Deaf Advocacy organization. They hold events, provide services, and otherwise function like a real organization. They aren’t a joke. The question now is, are they trying to make a joke? On their website, on the page “Free Services”, the link to the ABC cards is listed as “Personal Fundraising Assistance”. They’re just asking for it, aren’t they?
The third layer to this story is the fact that Deaf Peddling is illegal in California. There’s a law that prohibits solicitation by those not connected with a non-profit institution, which includes Deaf people selling ABC cards. Whether they’re trying to be funny or not, the reality is that OCDAC is making it really easy for people to break the law, without telling them that it’s illegal. Do they realize this, or not?
I’m inclined to chalk all this up to a not-very-funny joke. It seems to me that someone is trying to make a touchy subject a little less touchy by being flippant about it. The fact that it isn’t funny, and that they’re potentially harming people seems to have escaped them. That’s what I’m going to believe anyway. Who knew that researching the gift my sister gave me would be so interesting and controversial?