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February 11, 2005

How we view being deaf ...

From: Belfast Telegraph, UK - Feb 11, 2005

Deaf Talkabout: Bob McCullough
11 February 2005

One of the biggest difficulties in writing this column is trying to bridge the gulf between those who see sign language as the solution to all our problems and others who prefer the term 'hearing impaired' and want to make use of modern means of amplification such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.

The first group insist that it is the experience of being deaf and not the condition of being audiologically deaf that is significant.

Deafness is not viewed as an inadequacy and they take exception to those parents who feel they must go through a grieving process when they learn that their child is deaf.

In an article on mediation forwarded to me from the Office of Special Education Programmes in the United States, reference is made to deaf people's lives being riddled with experiences of isolation.

Experiences like eating dinner with their hearing family and being excluded from conversation or missing out on informal discussions at work.

It suggests that so many deaf people are raised by hearing parents or think of themselves as 'hearing impaired' that they don't become aware of their cultural identity until later in life.

Leaders of the signing community counter this mistaken attitude by saying that 'the essence of deafness is not the lack of hearing, but the community and culture based on sign language. Deaf culture represents not a denial but an affirmation'.

Commenting on this, a writer proposed that it would be fair to develop another article reflecting the disability needs of hearing impaired or 'aurally challenged' people who don't sign.

While praising the understanding shown to culturally deaf people, he said it would be helpful to underline the fact that there are two separate groups with different needs.

"I am concerned about two factors: first, the report does not so much as mention that the majority of people who are deaf or hard of hearing do not rely solely, or even primarily, on sign language to communicate.

"Secondly, the portrayal of deaf culture is not balanced with the views of parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing who continue to choose oral approaches.

"Roughly 28 million Americans experience a significant hearing loss, and many have decided to accommodate the loss, primarily, with hearing technology and spoken English.

"Most depictions of deaf people on TV and films are seen using sign language, but millions of people who would otherwise live without sound, hear and speak with the new technology".

The story is told of President Clinton going into a special meeting at the Oval Office and walking past the interpreter without a thought, but being non-plussed by the Assisted Listening Device on his desk for one of the staff who did not sign. He knew how to use an interpreter, but this new technology had to be explained to him.

In my view it is essential to recognise that the word 'deaf' has many different meanings and the important factor is to find the best way to communicate.

My wife and I attend a hearing church and enjoy the service all the more when we have the help of a skilled interpreter. But other deaf people are perfectly happy with a loop system or their own digital hearing aids and that's how it should be.

2005 Independent News and Media (NI) a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd