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March 10, 2004

Living beyond hearing fine for some at UI

From: The Daily Iowan - Iowa City,IA,USA - Mar 10, 2004

By Mark Quiner - The Daily Iowan

Brenda Falgier, an American Sign Language instructor at the UI, is deaf, but she views it as part of her culture - not a disability.

"I view myself as a culturally deaf person. I do not view my deafness as a disability, but as an identity that I am so proud of," Falgier wrote in an e-mail. "I am a member of [the] American deaf community and have so much pride in our cultural values and traditions."

Some members of that community have raised concerns about the effect of cochlear implants - devices that enable a deaf person to hear at varying degrees - upon their culture.

William Ennis, a graduate student in the UI history department, said he is against cochlear implants because it treats deafness as a pathological condition.

"Many leaders in the deaf community view cochlear implants as oppressive," he said, adding that implantation can leave children confused about their true identity because, realistically, they are still deaf.

He said there are basically two views of deafness - people in the hearing community, who see it as a medical problem, and deaf people, who see it as a cultural classification.

Falgier said her issue lies in what cochlear implants represent - an attempt by the medical community to fix deaf people.

Ennis said the medical community does not present options to parents in a balanced manner.

"Parents never know what their options are," Ennis said, mentioning exposure to ASL and the deaf community as alternatives.

Bruce Gantz, the head of the UI otolaryngology department, said the UI Hospitals and Clinics is pro-implantation, but, he added, always attentive to parents' desires for their children. Although parents have the choice to raise their children to sign, he said, he believes there can be drawbacks.

The deaf community, for instance, should not decide how parents raise their children, he said.

ASL uses concepts, instead of words, that can lead to reading troubles for children, Gantz said. He said implantation at an early enough age can greatly improve a child's ability to learn and fit into the hearing community.

"We are not fighting the deaf community," he said. "We understand its position, and we try to provide sufficient information to families to make informed decisions."

Falgier acknowledged that students exposed to ASL and deaf culture have lower levels of literacy but blamed it on the existing education system. Educators of deaf children are not required by law to be fluent with sign language, she said, adding that schools should not take the pathological approach but treat being deaf as a culture.

Ennis said people cannot enjoy certain aspects of his culture unless they speak his language. Deaf theater, for instance, is beautiful and can be compared with good English literature, he said.

"American Sign Language is really a beautiful language, and it is a language," he said.

© 2004 The Daily Iowan