Dear Dr. Bill,
My ASL teacher tells us in class that deafness isn't a disability.
But that doesn't make sense. Obviously if you can't hear you "lack"
that particular ability. So, by definition you have a "disability."
He keeps talking about "Deaf Culture" and the "Deaf world." Why
don't deaf people just get cochlear implants so they can function in
both worlds? I don't mean to be offensive, I just think he is
misguiding people and that it is better to face reality.
Let's put it this way: "Being Deaf isn't about having a disability.
It is about navigating through life with your eyes and hands."
Or how about this: "Deafness doesn't have to be a disability. The
knowledge, habits, and approaches to life used by members of the
culturally Deaf community allow a person to live without needing to
hear. Thus the ability or lack of ability to hear can be made to not
A quote for you:
"Do you see how I
feel like I'm on the fence, like I'm pretending to fit into both
worlds and not feeling that I fit into anything?"
Spurlock, (a Deaf man who killed himself in 2005)
Chrisanne, Thursday, June 08, 2006) "Can You Hear Me Now?"
Sacramento News and Review. Retrieved 6/20/2006 >)
deaf" is considered by most to be disability, I encourage you to
reflect upon the fact that of the larger deaf population there is a
subset who have to a considerable extent mitigated (lessened the
impact of) the disabling aspects of deafness via the development of
behavioral norms, sign language usage, and approaches to daily
living that make being deaf akin to simply being a member of a
visual-communication-based community rather than being a "broken"
member of the larger community.
from a sociological point of view this "visual community" does
indeed qualify as having a distinct and separate culture.
Let me share a
scenario to you: Suppose you see, hear, and move around just fine.
Suppose you do not feel that you have a disability. This is your
life, you are fine, and you are generally more or less like your
friends, neighbors, and parents. Now suppose instead of having been
born on Earth -- you were instead born on a planet where almost
everyone has "ESP" (extra sensory perception). They have this sixth
sense that you lack. The adults on this planet consider you to be a
broken individual. They spend countless hours trying to teach you to
"perceive." They implant you with a "perception" device that when
you include evaluation, surgery, the device, and rehabilitation can
cost as much as $100,000 and provides a semblance of "perception"
but is quite limited and very different from the real thing. You go
through life on this ESP planet being made to feel like an impaired
half-person always asking for people around you to "think louder" or
"more clearly" so that you can understand them with your implant
(which only provides a strange simulation of ESP, not a crisp clear
Then one day you
meet a girl (or guy) and instead of "thinking at you" she talks to
you (with her mouth) and you understand her perfectly without
strain. You find out that she was born like you and communicates
with her voice instead of telepathic projection (ESP). She
introduces you to her friends who also talk. For the first time in
your life you feel normal. You feel like you belong. You feel not
like a broken person (an ESP impaired person) but rather like a
person period. You feel accepted for what you are. You wish that
you had felt like this your whole life. Your lack of ESP is no
longer a disability because everyone in your new circle of friends
talks. You find yourself turning off your ESP implant much of the
time (since it is not needed in your new community) and start to
think that maybe that $100,000 had could have been better used for
college tuition, to buy a condo, invest in stocks, or maybe save the
lives of a hundred starving kids in a 3rd world country who can't
afford an ESP implant much less food and mosquito netting.
I hope you will
be open-minded enough to allow for the possibility that those of us
in the Deaf community who have firsthand experience with signing and
Deaf culture have not been misguided and are not misguiding others
but rather have simply found an alternate path on this journey
through life. A path wherein we (Deaf) are not broken versions of
you -- needing to be fixed so we can become more like you. Rather we
are fine versions of "us."
I'm not against
cochlear implants. I'm also not necessarily against breast implants.
Nor hair implants. Or any of the wide varity of other physical
enhancements available. (I had Lasik. I don't plan on getting
hair.) My wife has considered getting a cochlear implant. If she
decides it is best for her life's journey I will support her in her
I do however
think that those who promote, sell, and profit from the sale of
breast implants tend to hype the benefits and then do as much damage
control as possible when the silicone leaks.
Or in the case of
cochlear implants: the facial nerve is paralyzed, altered ear
structures lead to meningitis, cerebrospinal fluid leaks, perilymph
fluid leaks, vertigo tinnitus attacks, taste gets messed up, or
reparative granuloma occurs (from when the body rejects or tries to
reject the implant) and/or other long term problems that we cannot
predict at this time. (Just as it was hard to predict later toxic
shock syndrome in people receiving breast implants.)
Remember, I'm not
against implants of whatever kind -- including cochear. I know a
lady who is thrilled with her breast implants. I have several
friends who are very satisfied with their cochlear implants. Same
goes for hair implants.
On the other hand
there are those who wish they had never gotten implanted and who
feel they were "misguided" about the benefits and misled (by doctors
who drive expensive cars and vacation in far away places) regarding
the dangers of implantation.
That isn't to say there aren't many dedicated, hard-working
physicians who indeed put the best interests of their patients
first. (There are and I'm grateful for them.) Rather it is to
suggest that is not as simple as saying one solution is better than
I wish you well
and encourage you to consider further study of and involvement with
the (culturally) Deaf community.
Professor of Deaf Studies
State University - Sacramento
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