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March 17, 2007

Opening our eyes to the deaf

From: Newark Star Ledger - Newark,NJ,USA - Mar 17, 2007



Television is a great divider among parents. On one extreme are those who consider it so detrimental, they don't own a TV. On the other are families who turn on the set as they walk in the house, and it blares until the last person goes to bed. There are, however, instances when even the anti-television crowd should watch. The excellent documentary "Through Deaf Eyes" (Wednesday, 9 p.m., Ch. 13) is a perfect example.

Using historical footage, news clips, shorts by deaf filmmakers, and many interviews, this comprehensively tells the story of the deaf, while touching on politics, arts and the philosophies that separate the deaf.

Stockard Channing narrates the two-hour film that opens with C.J. Jones, an actor, recounting a story about driving. A guy behind him honks his horn and shouts, "What are you, deaf?" Jones retorts, "What are you, hearing?"

His anecdote perfectly captures the deaf community today, at least according to this documentary, which grew out of an exhibit at Gallaudet University in Washington, the university for the deaf. Deaf people are weary of being treated as if they are stupid.

Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin recalls how seconds before she was to be interviewed live on CNN, the broadcaster said, "My dog is deaf, like you." "Did she want to throw me a bone?" Matlin says.

With 35 million Americans hard of hearing, and 300,000 profoundly deaf, it's probable that most hearing people need to know more.

We learn that before Thomas Gallaudet opened the first school for the deaf in Hartford in 1817, most deaf were isolated. He taught students sign language, and soon similar schools opened around the country.

There's a fascinating section on Alexander Graham Bell, whose mother and wife were deaf. Bell taught deaf children in Boston, yet he championed eugenics and did not want deaf couples to procreate.

Presidents Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and George H.W. Bush took stances to help the deaf receive better education and opportunities. Still, they had to fight hard; witness the 1988 protest at Gallaudet University for a deaf president.

Opposing views of cochlear implants and signing are presented, and performance clips of deaf actors and a rock group, Beethoven's Nightmare, are shown.

"What's wrong with being deaf?" Jones asks. "Knowledge, that's the power of the universe, not hearing."

© 2007 The Star Ledger