Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

Deaf… but now (mostly) Dead

William Mager’s post on the Ouch! blog this morning deserves a read. Part of the commemorative events to mark the 100th anniversary of the UK’s entry into World War One, it highlights the ‘Untold Stories of Deaf people’ who enlisted, worked, farmed, and supported Britain through Wartime.

Setting aside my own feelings on the commemoration, which I’m sure I won’t be able to resist making explicitly clear later on in the week, the history represented by those Deaf lives is fascinating. Equally fascinating is how far wartime attitudes permeated society. In the Mager article, Norma McGilp suggests that

Deaf people walking along the road were told to stop by sentries. But when they continued to walk, they were shot… There are a number of stories about deaf people being randomly shot while walking home from work, cycling or generally getting on with life.

One of the main reasons was simply that they were Deaf, and so didn’t hear instructions to identify themselves. Eventually…

by September 1914, the British Deaf Times had published a set of guidelines warning its readers not to go out walking alone or near railway lines, stations and public buildings, and advised they be accompanied by a hearing person where possible.

These shooting incidents reminded me of a string of recent headlines, from stories in which Deaf people have either been shot, or tazed for failing to understand or respond to instructions from the ‘forces of order’ in an appropriate manner. I googled the subject:

Sept 23rd, 2014 – “Police shot dead a man after he failed to obey their orders – only to find out later he was deaf.”

May 8th, 2014 – “in Hawthorne, California, cops Tasered and beat a deaf man trying to communicate with them in sign lanaguage.”

Jan 14th, 2013 – “A deaf man in North Carolina, communicating to a friend via sign language, was stabbed multiple times after he was mistaken for flashing gang signs”

You think it only happens in the States?

24th Nov, 2011 – Police ‘killed deaf cyclist with stun gun after he failed to obey instructions to stop’

Oh, and here’s another from Canada which appeared on the Limping Chicken back in 2012:

Feb 21st, 2012 – http://limpingchicken.com/2012/02/21/charlie-swinbourne-shocking-video-shows-deaf-man-being-ejected-from-canadian-courthouse/

That same article contains links to a second instance in which a Deaf ASL user was held in a choke hold for attempting to communicate.

Perhaps you can be forgiven for thinking it’s OK to shoot, electrocute, or choke someone in wartime. But now?

Is this ignorance? Certainly.

Or does it suggest that, perhaps, we in the West (at least) are not, in fact, living in a period of peace, but rather that we have allowed war to so permeate our every day lives that anyone who fails to fit to a very tight definition of ‘normal’ responses – deserves nothing more than death. Like it’s somehow ‘their fault’.

They were Deaf… now, because they were Deaf, most of them are Dead.

Deaf Studies, or any ‘Studies’ that highlights the importance of the diversity of humanity has never been needed by our society as much as it is now.


This entry was posted on November 4, 2014 by in Musings.
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