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Deafness is not a disability… or is it?

This is a hard, controversial post, but it appears in my life constantly. Please be patient and understanding while reading it.

I was looking for videos in ASL when I found this:

This is a hot topic in any “Deaf” community. This is also partly why I and my husband aren’t considered IN the Deaf Community. He has a CI and I am hearing. I can never be IN the community, not truly. They even have a diagram to show all of us how we aren’t really IN it. People in Deaf culture are in the very center. The rest of us… well… you can see how you really aren’t unless you are both deaf and accept the culture.

Disability in this context is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary is:

A disadvantage or deficiency, especially a physical or mental impairment that interferes with or prevents normal achievement in a particular area.

So is deafness a deficiency that prevents “normal” achievement in a particular area.

But it is clear that it is unacceptable to call deafness a disability, unless you are at the social security office, or at a school, doctors office, counselors, or other office asking for an interpreter. Then you are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. From what I can see, you are disabled when you need to be but otherwise aren’t when you don’t need anything to interact with the rest of the culture (real world) at large. You don’t really need Closed Captions to enjoy a show, do you? You can watch it without subtitles. And you certainly don’t need police to be trained in how to deal with a deaf person if they aren’t disabled.

If you have a CI–A cochlear implant–you can not be IN Deaf Culture because you are not audiologically in deaf culture. Even people who consider themselves deaf and aren’t FULLY deaf can’t be in the “inner circle” of Deaf Culture, let alone if you are Hard of Hearing. As shown by the diagram above.

I have never really understood this and for the life of me, I can’t understand why CI’s bother Deaf people (with a capital D) so much.

If you had a child born missing a retina and there was surgery to reattach it or to replace it with a digital device, would you not do it? If your child were missing legs, would you refuse to let them use a wheelchair? Parents with deaf children consider it a disability, like these others mentioned before, and they are vilified in the Deaf Community for it.

And if their children are put in a deaf school, those children receive reinforcement for all their negative feelings (because, we have to admit that being deaf in a hearing family is often a lonely, distant, alienating sort of existence) toward their parents. Those reinforcements distance a deaf child from their hearing family members.

These parents have a daunting task and the Deaf Community makes it harder and almost guarantees the parents failure at some point no matter what choice they make.

Why? All because of a concept called “Deaf Culture” and the education that presents deafness as a NON disability.

As far as culture goes, scientifically, Deaf Culture does not really fit in it: http://www.deafculture.com/. But I’ve been in a “Deaf Education” class. It is clear that it is being taught as an actual Culture (anthropologically speaking), ignoring the spaces that it is missing to actually be one.

All of it doesn’t really matter. The truth is the truth. Either Deafness is a disability or not. Either Deaf Culture is a culture or it is not. My opinion means nothing in this area to anyone really influential, but it is my own. And now I am interested in yours. Try not to be too hard on me in your comments below.

About Noelle Campbell

This blog is about my life and how I see things. I write, I think, I dream, I do. I used to write a lot of fantasy until I realized I was living one. I was married to a deaf-blind Hobbit in a realm we created together. He passed away in 2014, but our life was interesting enough I think you might like it too.

2 responses to “Deafness is not a disability… or is it?

  1. I am Hard of Hearing (HoH), from an early head injury and am experiencing diminishing hearing through life. It has been a huge struggle for me I do consider myself to have a disability.

    It is well and good for Deaf Culture folks to say they have no disability, however in order for us to survive in a hearing world – and, let’s face it, the vast majority of the world relies upon hearing – we have to have special technology and interpreters.

    If ASL/SEE/PSE were nothing more than languages, then there would be no mandated interpretation for the Deaf. A Deaf person can get a “terp” when a Spanish speaking person cannot. Why? Because speaking Spanish is not the result of a disability.

    Further, large numbers of the Deaf/deaf are on SSI or SSDI (just like large numbers of the blind are) and both groups have high levels of unemployment. Why? Because they cannot fully participate in the dominant culture. My ex-husband was blind, and while it is a condition and not an illness, it is a disabling condition – just like deafness is.

    Despite learning signing, despite the fact I am going deaf I will probably never be considered a part of Deaf Culture because I voice and will have some limited residual hearing. Also, as I didn’t grow up in a home with sign and have had limited contact with the Deaf Community, I’ve never had the opportunity to fully integrate myself into it.

  2. Pingback: Is Any Juan Out There? « Life In Color With Closed Captions

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