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A column from Jack Levesque, DCARA News, May 1991, Jack's Corner


by Jack Levesque

"Why do deaf people hate hearing people?" a hearing person recently asked me.

Hate hearing people? As the image of my mother and brother, my wife and daughters, my friends and staff members came to my mind, all I could say is, "Nothing could be farther from the truth."

Deaf people do not hate hearing people.
We do not hate English.
We do not hate speech.
We do not hate lip-reading.
What we hate are the painful experiences we all went through to learn the skills that would make us "capable" in this "hearing world."

Our parents and teachers, terrified of what our lives would be as "disabled" people, in loving, if misguided attempts to do right, put us through hours of training, repetition, nagging, and failure to teach us to read, speak, and understand spoken language. A few of us were successful, but most of us never succeeded under the traditional methods. We came out just as deaf as when we went in.

Now we say, thank you for trying, and we agree that those skills would help us, but as Frank Sinatra would say, let us do it our own way.

For the deaf to have a good command of English, to succeed at speech and lipreading, we must own the right to develop teaching methods.

Hearing and deaf people have debated language development in children for years. As more and more professionals look at language in deaf children, we are learning that we may have been operating under some false pretenses. There is much evidence that deaf children whose parents know little sign language, will spontaneously create ASL syntax. They are proving that ASL for deaf children is normal. They are understanding that young children need language - period. Not English. Not S.E.E. ... LANGUAGE.

We deaf do not believe that deaf children need to become "hearing-like" or normalized. We are different and that's not bad.

But we shudder to think of what might happen to the deaf child when he is old enough to go to school. If things go on the way they are now, he will most likely be enrolled in a mainstream or special education class with one or two, or maybe no other deaf children. At least 75 percent of all mainstream programs fit this description - that means more than 26,000 children who feel that they are the only "different" people.

These numbers should scare us all. We can't imagine a worse case or a more restrictive environment. Add to that picture: teachers who don't sign and are not certified in Deaf Education, minimally skilled "interpreter/aides," a full class load of children with a variety of non-deafness disabilities, the "unwritten curriculum" so eloquently described by Merv Garretson, and the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that PL 94-142 does not require quality education - just adequate - for deaf kids, and we might begin to grieve for a child's deafness with his parents.

This is an accurate picture of deaf education today. Parents are misinformed from the day of diagnosis by doctores and audiologists who share a pathological/medical view of deafness. Many of them are seeking to fix it, taking deafness to the marketplace. Next they meet the teacher who is not certified in Deaf Education, has minimal or no fluency in sign language, and has probably never met a deaf adult.

When will it end? When deaf people become empowered, that's when. It'll take years but the ball is rolling. Deaf people who were deaf from childhood, are beginning to succed and their success will pave the way.

Will the pendulum swing too far? Will we as the deaf community seek pay-back or "revenge" for our own failed educations? Do we hate the hearing people who designed it?

Absolutely not. We know their motives were pure. We know they operated on the best information they had. They gave us the ability to see both sides, and, because of our educations, we are now the only ones who are experts.

We see a new role for hearing people in our world. We see them as partners, as supporters, as advisors. We have plenty of love and appreciation for the work hearing people have done, for the encouragement they have given us, for their invaluable support. We know that those who truly support us understand our need to lead and teach our own.

So, little deaf baby, welcome to the deaf world. We're working as fast as we can to make sure you know you are a whole and intelligent person. We promise to make your childhood a time of exciting learning, of hope, and of dreams of your unlimited future. Your parents are part of our community, too, and we welcome them with open arms. We'll show them that you will be their pride and joy, working and succeeding in this DEAF/HEARING WORLD.

Last update date: 
1996 Jan 3