Double standards - deafness vs. other disabilities

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(The following article was contributed by Angelique N Wahlstedt at 3 Oct 1994.)

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that there seems to be double standards concerning deafness versus other disabilities? Since a deaf person often looks normal and usually doesn't suffer from physical disabilities, people seem to go out of their way to make the deaf person even more "normal".

People don't try to force blind people to read print or look at paintings, even though the rest of the world can read print and look at paintings. They don't try to force people in wheelchairs to walk on crutches, even though the rest of the world walk on two legs. Many people wouldn't dream of putting people with Down's syndrome through cosmetic surgery so they would look more "normal". So, what's all this deal with hearing aids, speech therapy and lip-reading lessons? I won't deny the benefits of all the above -- many deaf people do benefit from them, some more than others. But my point is, unlike other disabled people, deaf people receive LOTS of pressure to appear and act "normal". No wonder oralism is still very popular today.

Take sign language for example. While many hearing people find sign language fascinating and would love to take lessons, some people balk at the idea of teaching deaf kids sign language. It is as if teaching them sign is akin to admiting that the kids are (gasp of horror!) DEAF and not "normal" like the rest of the world. Never mind that sign language can be (and are) used as an aid to teaching language, speech therapy and many other subjects. Some people, including a few folks here on DEAFL, argue that deaf kids shouldn't learn to sign because they are living in a hearing world where the majority speaks and doesn't know sign. It certainly is true that we live in a hearing world. But, if someone argues that blind kids shouldn't learn Braille because they are living in a seeing world that doesn't know Braille, many people wouldn't buy that argument. (Indeed, some people would even consider that a form of child abuse.)

Then there is the business of cochlear implants. Though I reserve my judgment on the use of cochlear implants in kids, I *do* have a pet peeve about people seeing CI as the magic cure for deafness. I'm sick of people asking me why I don't get one, and I'm tired of explaining why I wouldn't benefit from one. Some seemed to feel that a CI would magically turn me into a hearing person.

With many kinds of pressure from the hearing world for a deaf person to conform, it isn't too surprising that many deaf people have developed a backdash against the hearing world. After all, the "Us Versus Them" mentality that many Deaf people have certainly didn't develop in a vacuum.

Last update date: 
2005 Nov 29