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Saturday, August 8, 2009

I'm guilty of deaf against deaf.

No, really, I am. When I was growing up, I was disappointed that my deaf peers, the ones that rode on the short bus with me, didn't seem to be on the same level, intellectually. I interacted with them occasionally using rudimentary signs, but otherwise I would be on that bus bright and early, reading whatever books I stuffed into my backpack that morning. My textbooks were crammed full of algebraic equations or essays on King Tutankhamen, which was never something I could discuss with those on the bus.

I got forced into "Study Hall" with the deaf teacher in my freshman year at high school, where I realized just how far behind these kids were. The teacher, even full well knowing I was taking advanced classes, still told me to "go play on the computer" which had rudimentary math games or other busywork. Even at the highest difficulty, I merely entertained myself timing how quickly I could complete a set of problems, lamenting that it was now only a few moments closer to getting out of class. So what was I learning?

I asked myself - was this the same for all deaf kids? Being doomed to un-intelligence? How could I associate myself with that? I'm clearly not one of them. So... I had begun down the road of thinking myself better than those who used sign.

Last night, I went to a Deafhood Foundation presentation in KC. Two ladies came out from Northern California to present, in brief, what is "Deafhood" and what is the Foundation serving it. Two courses on Deafhood have been offered Ohlone College in Fremont, CA. I think it's great that we're going around and educating people about "one's journey to come to terms with their deafness." I firmly believe in the quote from the Greek philosopher Socrates, "know thyself." Someone who cannot come to terms with EVERY part of themselves, even their hearing, cannot truly be comfortable with their place in life. Facing the truth of having a hearing loss and then deciding what to do about it is what every deaf person needs to do.

What I'm concerned about is that this Deafhood presentation was SO anti-hearing, so negative about non-signing, and so laden with conspiracy theories. A number of items that were talked about that disturbed me:

1) Hearing people out to rid the world of deaf culture, by assimilating it and oppressing the remainder.
2) Hearing people are only out to make a profit off of deaf people under the false auspices of curing deafness, such as hearing aids, CIs, and speech therapy.
3) Hearing people are out to take away jobs from deaf people by doing things like the Milan Convention of 1880 and AVT.
4) Deaf people who are "assimilated" into hearing culture come into the deaf world and cause friction amongst other deaf, making all deaf fight each other, allowing the hearing world to divide and conquer.
5) All these inventions like hearing aids, CIs, etc - all invented by Hearing people! No inventions that "cure" deafness are made by deaf person, ever!

A lot of examples were used comparing this to Colonialism (i.e. British Empire taking over India, Columbus finding the New World in 1492, American Indians being conquered by settlers) and Slavery (African-Americans being oppressed, African-American families being split up, and different African Americans from different African tribes with different languages forced to work together and not able to communicate, keeping them unable to band together).

I'm sorry, but I while I find the analogies interesting, I don't come anywhere NEAR equating them. Deaf people benefit from hearing people. Without hearing people, deaf culture would degenerate and collapse. Most kids are born into families who are hearing, and in an environment where the family will be using spoken language to communicate, in most cases the kids will benefit from non-sign language options. There is no great conspiracy for deaf people and oral people to fight and become weak so that hearing people can swoop in and "fix" deaf people.

There's so much more, but I'm going to put out a few absurd examples I saw being used last night:

1) The presenter posed a situation where a deaf person goes into a restaurant and wants to order something. The deaf person INSISTS on signing. Of course, the hearing waitstaff doesn't understand sign. The presenter argued that the restaurant NEEDS to do everything possible to understand the deaf person, it's their responsibility.

2) When a new baby is born and given a hearing screening test, the presenter posed the situation that "in most cases, a doctor will tell the family 'I'm sorry, but your baby is deaf. Here, get them a CI and speech therapy' as the diagnosis." The presenter then went on and stated that "we don't want that to happen, we want deaf people to tell the parents 'Oh! Congratulations! Your baby is deaf! This is great!' and sell them on the benefits of sign language."

I have my thoughts on these examples, and I'll go into them in my next post.


  1. I'm still laughing about those words in flame!

  2. Ok, I know very few culturally Deaf people and most people I know with profound hearing loss also speak. When we are in a restaurant, orders can be given by pointing at the menu or typing the order in advance on their sidekick/blackberry. I've never seen any of them try to use only sign to order!