Music today continues to enhance our daily life
experiences. With the invention of the transistor radio in the 60's
that allowed us to travel with a handheld radio to the Walkman in
the mid 80's which freed us from commercial radio and allowed us to
record our own songs, we continue to create new ways to fill our
world with sound. Currently the rage is to use our smart phones to
play videos and use apps such as Music-Maker Pro to mix our own
creations. Marketers have long known that background music can
influence buying decisions. So why wouldn't the Deaf be better off
in a hearing world? Why shouldn't the hearing world fix what they
see as a disability? On the other hand, what if it is misguided
influence that has caused the hearing world to perceive deafness as
a disability instead of a culture? Can the hearing world learn
something from the Deaf community?
Since the late 1800's the most
popular approach to integrate the Deaf into
mainstream society has been the technique known as oralism. Oralism
is a "listening and spoken language" based
approach that teaches oral speech, lip reading, and mimicking mouth
shapes. It does not include sign language and in fact discourages
manualism, the term for teaching sign language such as American Sign
Language (ASL). The goals of oralism may not sound controversial to
most hearing people, but its implementation has probably wrought
many bad byproducts of good intentions.
Before Alexander Graham Bell
became famous in 1876 for inventing the telephone, he was a
prominent educator in the field of elocution and speech, having
followed in his prominent father's footsteps. One of his famous
students was Helen Keller, who spoke highly of his teachings. Bell,
influenced by his father, his deaf mother, and his deaf wife,
believed that it was inherently better to be able to speak and hear
and made a commitment to "wiping out hereditary deafness". He used
his influence to demand that schools stop the usage of ASL and
remove Deaf faculty teachers from schools.
Bell embraced the 1880
resolution of the Second International Congress on Education of
the Deaf banning sign language in schools. Today this "Congress"
would most likely be called into question since it really was a
one-sided representation of those that promoted oralism. Held in
Milan, Italy and conceived by oralist, the French and Italian
oralist comprised 74% of the vote and had the supported of the
Catholic Church. Europe long considered those that spoke superior to
those that couldn't. The conference presented and passed a
resolution that banned sign language in schools in order to
encourage spoken language skills and help "restore the deaf-mute to
society." Passages in the resolution urge the hearing to "consider
the incontestable superiority of speech over signs," and argue that
teaching deaf people to speak English will "give them a more perfect
knowledge of language."(Ringo, 2013)
After its passage, schools in Europe and the United States ceased
all use of sign language sometimes to the detriment of those that
found it hard to break the habit of signing. It was acceptable to
tie a student's hands behind a chair so that they would not
communicate by signing. In reality, stopping the use of ASL was kin
to a conquering country forcing the conquered to use a new official
In 1890 Bell established the American Association
to Promote Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, later renamed
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Known today as AGB, its stated mission is to "help families, health
care providers and education professionals understand childhood
hearing loss and the importance of early diagnosis and
intervention." Sounds laudable but their preferred methods for doing
so emphasize spoken language, and de-emphasize the use of ASL;
sometimes excluding ASL all together. In practice, this translated
to teaching oralism
only and encouraging the use of hearing aids and now cochlear
implant technology. A cochlear implant is a device that
provides direct electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve in the
inner ear. The cochlear implant does not result in "restored" or
"cured" hearing. It does, however, allow for the perception of the
sensation of sound.
By the 1980's schools started
recognizing that using a combination of oralism
and manualism was desirable and started once
again teaching ASL. Oralism by itself had destroyed family bonds and
made some feel like an outcast in their Deaf community. It is easier
for the hearing to understand this problem if they relate it to
being at a family reunion where everyone speaks Greek except them;
or ordering something at a fast-food restaurant in one language and
the whole staff starts to talk in a different language. Being
different to the outside world is one thing, but being different in
your own world is unnecessarily frustrating.
AGB holds an annual Listening and Spoken
Language Symposium. Allegra Ringo went to the 2013 symposium in Los
Angeles where a protest was occurring. To understand the controversy
she interviewed both sides. In her interview AGB's
Director of Communications and Marketing, Susan Boswell, said that
AGB "supports the development of spoken language through
evidence-based practices focusing on the use of audition and
Jordan, a Deaf activist who runs Audism Free America and helped
organize the protest said AGB is "miseducating the parents of
Deaf children...[AGB is] earning their millions by perpetuating
misinformation. AGB takes advantage of the fact that hearing parents
may not understand how a Deaf child can lead a functional,
fulfilling life. A hearing parent in this situation may be easily
convinced that a cochlear implant and an oral-based approach is the
only legitimate option."(Ringo, 2013)
While both groups have valid
points, it appears that they may be fighting their battles in the
wrong court of opinion. AGB does list their partners, exhibitors,
and sponsors who provide a service that people are apparently
searching for. If people did not want the service money would not be
flowing in that direction. Ms. Jordan is right in trying to promote
the Deaf, but probably to the wrong group. The group better suited
to educate would be those in primary and secondary education.
Hearing students not exposed to ASL as a second
language in high school and college may ask "So why doesn't Ruthie
Jordan give in and get a hearing aid or conchlear implants?" How sad
for them to not know that there is a Deaf culture that have
developed a keener awarness of their other senses. One would think
that at a time when the government seems to classify everything as a
disability it would be easy to remember that deafness is not.
Austin Chapman became a blog
celebrity in 2012 when he posted a request on Reddit for songs he
could listen to. Mr. Chapman, born profoundly deaf, had just
received new hearing aids and started blogging about his experience.
He never cared for music until 2012 when at age 23 he opted for a
hearing aid with advance technology instead of cochlear implants
because the latter involved surgery. He wrote in his blog
"My whole life I've seen hearing people make a fool of themselves
singing their favorite song or gyrating on the dance floor. I've
also seen hearing people moved to tears by a single song. That was
the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around…the
first thing I heard was my shoe scraping across the carpet; it
startled me. I have never heard that before and out of ignorance, I
assumed it was too quiet for anyone to hear. I sat in the doctor's
office frozen as a cacophony of sounds attacked me. The whir of the
computer, the hum of the AC, the clacking of the keyboard, and when
my best friend walked in I couldn't believe that he had a slight
rasp to his voice. He joked that it was time to cut back on the
In an interview with Dylan
Stableford, Mr. Chapman said that he wasn't expecting a difference
between his four-year-old aids that he rarely wore and the new ones,
but hearing music in clarity was life changing. Silence
though was still his favorite sound as it is great for clearing his
head. He says that when he turns off his hearing aids his vision
becomes sharper, rock climbing is better, food tastes better, and
even his golf game gets better. He uses his hearing aids only for
conversation and music. Mr. Chapman said, "I actually feel bad
for hearing people; I wish more people could experience the power
and peace of utter silence." (Stableford,
World famous percussionist Evelyn Glennie would probably agree with
Ms. Glennie went completely
deaf at age 12. She grew up loving music and she was able to
learn to play percussion by feeling the vibrations given off and
refining her sense of touch to distinguish the differences. She
refuses to wear hearing aids or Cochlear Implants and prefers to
communicate in person, via email, or a video chat. Her "opening the
eyes of the hearing" began with the Royal Academy of Music in
London. She tells of the conversation where they denied her
admittance: "Well, no, we won't accept you, because we haven't a
clue,you know, of the future of a so-called 'deaf'
musician."And I just couldn't quite accept that.And so therefore, I said to them, "Well, look, if
you refuse -if you refuse me through those reasons,as opposed to the ability to perform and to
understand and lovethe art of creating sound -then we have to think very, very hard about the
people you do actually accept." And as a result…they accepted me… it
changed the whole roleof the music institutions throughout the United
During a lecture at a
Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) conference in 2003 Ms.
Glennie gave the argument that for one to truly listen, they must be
able to recognize that listening with ones ears is not the only way.
One must be able to realize that they can feel the music and the
emotions produced in so many different ways. According to
her, hearing is just another form of touch. "So feeling these
vibrations on our skin and through our bodies should enable us to
hear music. The only problem with this is that we are so used to
hearing with our ears that it is difficult for us to hear with our
bodies." (TED, 2003)
Both Austin Chapman and Evelyn
Glennie got noticed in the hearing world because they had a human
interest story that not only challenged the idea of deafness being a
disability but offered an opportunity to the hearing world that is
valuable -- the opportunity to learn that one can develop their
senses and learn a fascinating second language. It is continued
stories like this that can open people's eyes to the possibilities
available. In many instances ASL can be just as effective when used
by the hearing as it is by the deaf. Promoting ASL as a second
language in high schools and colleges may erase the feud between
oralism and manualism for each on its own may not be able to fulfill
a person's needs but together the two may help create an acceptable
balance between two cultures. Promoting ASL as a second language and
not a crutch help both the hearing and the deaf embrace the idea
that not everything is classified as a disability. Finally,
encouraging research into techniques that sharpen ones senses can
help all to discover more about themselves.
Chapman, Austin. Being able to hear music
for the first time ever. N.p.: Art of the Story, 2012. N. pag.
Web. 5 June 2015. <http://www.artofthestory.com/being-able-to-hear-music-for-the-first-time-ever/>.
Institute of Cognitive Sciences and
Technologies. The Milan Conference. N.p.: Institute of
Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, n.d. N. pag. Web. 6 June 2015.
Ringo, Allegra. Understanding Deafness: Not
Everyone Wants to be "Fixed". N.p.: The Atlantic, 2013. N. pag.
Web. 5 June 2015. <http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/understanding-deafness-not-everyone-wants-to-be-fixed/278527/>.
Stableford, Dylan. An interview with Austin
Chapman, a deaf man who heard music for the first time two weeks ago.
N.p.: Yahoo News, 2012. N. pag. Web. 5 June 2015. <http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/the-sideshow/austin-chapman-deaf-man-hears-music-literally-could-211022699.html>.
TED. Evelyn Glennie: How to Truly Listen.
N.p.: TED, 2003. N. pag. Web. 5 June 2015. <https://www.ted.com/talks/evelyn_glennie_shows_how_to_listen>.
Wikipedia. Alexander Graham Bell. N.p.:
Wikipedia, 2015. N. pag. Web. 6 June 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Graham_Bell>.
Williams, Sally. Why not all deaf people
want to be cured. N.p.: The Telegraph, 2012. N. pag. Web. 5 June
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