Gwynn: Deaf Community has identity beyond their disability
- Apr. 20, 2012
- 1 Comment
Look for part 1 here: http://bit.ly/JdrNGK
My parents do not consider Deafness a medical condition, or a disability, or a bad draw out of the genetic bag of luck. It is a cultural identity integral to who they are —their identities do not center around being deaf, but being Deaf factors into who they are as much as their religion, race, gender, etc. My parents don’t condemn cochlear implants as a whole, but they dislike the way that their culture is being swept aside as some sort of ailment to be fixed.
Recently, a friend of mine sent me an article on Facebook from NPR about cochlear implants (one entirely discussing only on how cochlear implants have improved the quality of life for the Deaf). She and I got into a discussion about this skewed perspective, there was questioning and answering in comments on it from others about what could be bad about cochlear implants, but it all remained a civil. Until someone I knew likened the position of those in the Deaf Community against giving cochlear implants to children to being the same as the disabled community condemning stem cell treatment for children with spinal injuries.
I felt upset, flustered, and above all angry.
I am not completely against cochlear implants, and neither are my parents. Doctors have good-intentions with this technology, I know. But cochlear implants are being given out as if they are a cure-all for the Deaf. It treats being Deaf as a condition and not as an identity; a group of people within society who suffer from an affliction rather than being treated as a demographic culture within society that shares a language, shared attitudes, values, and political stakes.
Comparing children born deaf to children with spinal injuries is not an appropriate comparison. It doesn’t impair your quality of life. Being Deaf is not a life-threatening condition. It causes challenges to have to navigate society differently, just as those who belong to the LGBTQ community, or those who are racial minorities in a white dominated culture, or believers in a religion that clashes with the Christian majority in the west. Deaf people do not wish to be separated from the Hearing world, far from it. They want to be able to interact with the whole of society—they don’t want to compromise a part of their identity in order to do so.
What if the medical community found a way produce feelings of hetero-normative attraction within a gay person, by some sort of drug or surgical process—would we expect the Gay community to embrace whole-heartedly the fact that they can now be straight?
This might seem like an extreme example to some, but the issue is extreme. Many don’t realize that the Deaf Community views themselves in this light, as a group of people whose social and political voice is being silenced in the discussion of cochlear implants. Cochlear implants are serious, particularly when the number of young children receiving them is increasing frighteningly rapidly. And This push to the Deaf to conform to the hearing world’s norms allows society to remain comfortably in the status quo.
By giving a child an implant when they are very young, it says, “The Deaf Community is not a community you want to be in if you can help it.” By having the discussion in the media and medical community focus on the improvement of quality of life, it says “Living life as a Deaf person is a lower quality of life.” By focusing so solely on the voice of those Deaf in the media who support cochlear implants says, “This is what all Deaf people think.”
This is not admonishing Deaf adults who choose to have an implant. It is a personal decision one that I believe should be decided by the individual in question, not done to a child as a solution to a problem.
My father was born Deaf, but he didn’t learn sign language until he was 10 year old. My father didn’t have a means of language until 10 years old because when he was growing up, the mode of deaf education was one that tried to fit Deaf children into the hearing world. The Deaf Community have made astounding progress in the past few decades in rights and increasing their political agency, but the way they talk about cochlear implants is going makes me think that a few years down the line, there will be no talk of teaching children sign language, or about getting involved in the Deaf Community. They will not ask, “What do you think about cochlear implants?” but rather, “So when do you want to schedule your surgery?”
Gwynn is a freshman in english from Olathe.