This is a very, very long article about deafness, but it’s a very interesting one for people who are not familiar at all with deaf culture. I’m hardly an expert myself, but I took 2 years of ASL in high school, and part of our coursework was learning about deaf culture. What we learned surprised me. The two things that stick out the most are first, the fact that so much deaf humor is based on making fun of hearing people (like you and me). We’re the butt of most of the jokes, and we’re usually depicted as stupid and greedy. Given that I didn’t even realize there was such a thing as deaf culture before taking the class1, I can see where that resentment and disdain comes from.
The second is that the deaf community2 do not see the inability to hear as a defect. It’s the ticket to entry into their unique culture. For this reason, there are many who view attempts to cure deafness as literally attempts to exterminate their culture and community. Specifically: cochlear implants. These are little electronic devices that bypass the tiny hairs in our ears that help us hear (which are missing, for people that can benefit from CIs) and instead translate vibration directly to electrical signals to your nerves. It’s hearing, sort of. The quality is substantially lower than what people with full hearing can experience, although it is enough to understand speech and advancements are starting to make even listening to music possible.
There are two major problems, however. The first is that children can be diagnosed and given a CI at a very young age, and that once they learn to speak and hear with their CIs, the chance of them ever learning to sign or joining the deaf community are minimal. The second is that many deaf children are born to hearing parents who, overwhelmingly, opt for CIs. As a result, as some in the deaf community see it, they are essentially being robbed of new entrants to the deaf community by a hearing population that doesn’t even really know that they exist.
It’s not hard to imagine a future where virtually all forms of deafness can be cured. Would that be akin to the complete extinction of an entire culture? These are some of the questions raised by this article, which I definitely recommend.
And, the next time someone shares one of those touching YouTube videos of a baby or grown person hearing a loved one’s voice for the first time, just think that the very video that brings tears of joy to a hearing person can bring sadness and loss to a deaf person.