tangential thoughts on colonization, sign language, and oral methods

There’s a fair furor at present over DBC, the details of which I hardly need to recount. But I came across this, and it has got me thinking:

The deep division between the subgroups reflects the contrasting core values of deafness. For the oral deaf and users of c.i. people, being able to hear is of utter importance, reflecting the value of the hearing society. For the Deaf Community, it’s totally the opposite as the deafness trait is the most cherished culture for the majority of Deaf people. (from Deaf Community: Cultural Values and Double Standards)

And yet once again, I feel like I fall through the cracks. Technically, I suppose I am oral deaf; however I do not promote this as the sole method of teaching deaf children. This is how I was taught, it was not a choice and my mother did not have full information, only deaf education professionals and doctors who all cautioned her to make sure I never learned sign language because then I would surely never be properly educated. She fought for my admission to public schools several years before mainstreaming was opened up, informally put together what would be called IEP’s today with my teachers and so on.

But being able to hear is not of utter importance to me, nor has it ever been. I think of it like a car — damn useful in many ways, but not central to me or who I am. And I’m not sure hearing OR deaf people quite understand this. Most hearing people take for granted a supposed desperation among deaf people to comprehend music, listen to sound. I don’t give a flying fuck. I care about communication; if I could do so across the board without sound, I’d do so. And in fact I’ve been online since 1986 and have taken full advantage of emails, newsgroups, mailing lists, IM’s, chatrooms and so on, where I finally had equal footing; in many cases better footing because I’m a good writer. Apart from that particular issue, I don’t care about sound. I don’t care about hearing birds chirp in the morning, or Mozart’s last symphony or whatever. I find them pointless.

At the same time, all too many deaf people equally assume that because I wear hearing aids and do speak, I must find sound of utmost importance. Of all the people I would think would actually understand, this really disappoints me. Hearies are surrounded by sound, they grow up with it, they respond to it emotionally, it is a central sensory input for them, it makes sense to me they would overestimate its importance to me. But fellow deaf people? Oh, please.

For many deaf people, the use of hearing aids or even cochlear implants is taken as a de facto sign of colonization. Look, I understand colonization and I will tell you right now that hearing aids and CI are incidental to that. You want to know what colonization of deaf people is? DEPRIVING US OF SIGN LANGUAGE. Isolating us. Judging us continually and solely against a hearing standard.

Yes, I was colonized. I didn’t get sign language. I didn’t even meet another deaf person until I was an adult. I’ve been criticized for “not trying hard enough” when I fail to understand something someone said. And yes, I am learning sign language, and am fairly proficient given that I’ve been working on it for a year or so and have few people to practice with (none of them native signers). I have no doubts whatsoever that had I been exposed to sign language as a child, I would be equally fluent in sign language and as skilled in using the tools I have now (hearing aids, etc).

Deaf children are like any other children in one important respect: they want to communicate. How, exactly, they communicate, is up to the adults around them, and in my view there should be no deprivation of any form available to the deaf child for communication. Children will use what they are able to use. This means they should be no more deprived of the opportunity to learn lipreading, try hearing aids out, etc., than they should be deprived of sign language.

I was needlessly deprived of sign language. That is the colonization, the injustice I rail at. I have no particular issues with being exposed to oral methods of education for deaf children, only that it was the only method given to me, with the implication that that was all there was.

Anyway, there’s many more shades of gray besides the black vs. white of Oral deaf vs Deaf. It’s why I call myself deaf, never Deaf, nor indeed oral deaf.

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6 Responses to tangential thoughts on colonization, sign language, and oral methods

  1. moi says:

    Hi BEG,

    I’ve missed your blogging. *smile* I fully agree with you – there’s a whole boatload of gray. I think there *is* a dichotomy in one respect – those who support sign language as important for deaf children and those who brush it aside. In each group, there probably is a whole tapestry of shades of gray. (I know there sure is in the sign langauge crowd! As for the anti-SL crowd, I don’t know, but I would imagine that there is.)

    I think many of us would agree with what you’ve said. And for the record, most of us don’t think that HAs etc are colonization in action. I’ve chosen not to wear them, but many of my friends do, and still consider themselves very much self-actualized.

    I loved what you said about giving the child EVERYTHING. Absolutely. Why wouldn’t anyone?

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  2. Dianrez says:

    >>You want to know what colonization of deaf people is? DEPRIVING US OF SIGN LANGUAGE. Isolating us. Judging us continually and solely against a hearing standard. <<

    This made me smile. You got the essence all right; you are Deaf.

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  3. Mishka Zena says:

    That’s good way of describing it. I should have added a lot of gray areas between the two poles.

    I have the same experience as yours. Welcome to ASL 🙂

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  4. moi says:

    BEG, why is my comment not going through, when Dianrez’s and MishkaZena’s are after mine. Did I offend? Please let me know.

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  5. Moi: Not at all! This blog screens any email addresses that haven’t appeared before. The next time you comment with that email address, it should go straight through. No worries 🙂

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  6. moi says:

    Ah, okay… 🙂 Thanks for letting me know.

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