Deaf geographies, and other worlds.
Regarding Hilary Freeman’s article in the Daily Mail, I have had two notes from Deaf people saying that their comments in the Mail and the Times have been suppressed… yes… not all of my comments have been published either… they reserve the right to do that… handy isn’t it?
However, anyone with access to the original Mail article (does anyone know if they have to keep them on file?) will see that the present incarnation has been substantially altered and wording changed, particularly where they make factual errors or misrepresent people who have then been prepared to threaten them with legal action.
What Freeman’s article now appears to be in a more personal account of her experience growing up with a deaf younger brother. It’s a typical story of family grief and environmental adaptation, ad-hoc interpretation and coping with hearing-centred conformism, of linguistic and pathological confusion and frustration… It’s such a world away from the kind of interactive, loving and accepting upbringing that Tomato and Paula will be giving their daughter that it infuriates me to see comments on some of the sites condemning them for being terrible parents… How can a Deaf person be a terrible parent when the love and nurture their children, and hearing people be good parents when they force their deaf children to struggle to communicate even within their own family?
So, all I would say to Freeman now is… you’re not alone… Sadly your story reflects the experiences of thousands of those who have deaf children, deaf siblings or who are deaf… and who have been told right from the outset that ‘deaf’ is wrong and curable, and that only ‘hearing’ is acceptable. Unfortunately, this is a lie… and a damaging one because of the way that it attributes the success or failure of the transition from deaf to hearing to the child’s own efforts and the efforts of their family, and heaps condemnation upon those who don’t succeed in becoming sufficiently hearing.
Note: I’m not denying here that physical deafness is the lack of a physical sense… and I’m not denying that the hearing world is built around sound-based language… and so I’m not denying that those who either cannot hear or who cannot speak are disabled in their interactions with the hearing world by hearing society itself… Rather, I’m arguing that this does not directly attribute disability to the person themselves… why should “all five senses” be in working order before classifying that person as whole?
Why not, instead, accept Deaf people’s natural orientation as visual people and their authoring of natural visual sign languages and celebrate the amazing potential for human diversity that this demonstrates. Why not work to broaden humanity rather than limit it by setting up a straw man of hearing-based disability and then knocking it down by eradication of the ‘deaf gene’. Why not look at what this does to the limits between disability and ‘hearing’ and ‘Deaf’ as cultural constructs rather than inherently physical categories…
If journalists are to do their jobs, they must overcome their own personal angst and engage with both (multiple) sides of the story. Read accounts of people who have been through the same struggles both Deaf and hearing. Contact the British Deaf Association and NOT the RNID (the latter also have to represent the views of hard of hearing people who grew up in the hearing world and so can’t exclusively represent Deaf people). Contact Deaf academics Dr Steve Emery and Dr Paddy Ladd. Contact Tomato and Paula directly. Contact specific university departments who work investigating Deaf knowledges. Contact Deaf community activists; the people at www.stopeugenics.org, those at www.grumpyoldeafies.com. Consult Deaf-owned blogs currently commenting on the same area. feel free to ask me too if it’ll help, but I’m not Deaf and I’ll only point you those who are).
Listen to what they say, wrestle with the diversity of Deaf opinion, think about it, digest it, understand it… and then tell people about it… but don’t simply discount it as wrong or invalid.
For a more balanced approach from someone who more appreciates the Deaf side of the story more, look at the Independent’s Dominic Lawson here.