A world without deaf people?

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“So…do you think with the increases in technology that we’re heading towards a world without deaf people?”

He phrased the question slowly, thoughtfully, with genuine interest written on his face.

I looked at the girls sitting next to me; two of my housemates who have been with me in the MED program for almost a year.  One of them, K, is profoundly deaf — she has a CI and communicates orally, but she is also fluent in ASL(American Sign Language)/SEE(Signed Exact English).  We exchanged glances, and then launched into a flurry of explanations and corrections.

Why there isn’t a solution for Hearing Loss

– There is no “cure” for deafness.  When a deaf person removes his device, he can’t hear anything.

-The etiology (cause) of deafness varies, but there will never be a world where these don’t exist, unless it is a world without illness, genetics, and — let’s be real — humans.

– Hearing with a device (Cochlear Implant or Hearing Aid), is not “normal” hearing.  It is using 4-22 electrodes to replace tens of thousands of hair cells.  The quality and clarity of sound is different, as is the access to sound.  A deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) person who is aural/oral will struggle with listening in background noise, will deal with auditory fatigue, and will not always have access to every frequency.  (Certain speech sounds are in higher frequencies, like “s”.  If you can’t hear a sound, it will be difficult to produce.)

– Not everyone is a candidate for cochlear implants.  Whether it’s biology (absence of auditory nerve), neural capability, or not a significant enough loss (severe to profound).  Also, even if a person is a candidate, there’s no real way to know how she will do.  There are predictors and factors, but there are no guarantees.

Change the question

Asking about a world without deaf people is, to put it bluntly, considered offensive.  You can ask about improving technology, improving sound access, improving services and educational opportunities for DHH students.  But don’t ask about life without deaf people — there is nothing wrong with being deaf.  In fact, there is a Deaf community with traditions, culture, and values, who sign and value their identity as deaf individuals.

Many people in the Deaf (capitalizing the “D” refers to culturally deaf people)  community resent the field aural/oral deaf education because they see it as an attempt to “fix” something that’s not broken.  The oral approach is also threatening because it takes away the future members of their small community.

Awareness

After explaining these ideas, and dialoguing about our classes and the various methods needed to teach DHH students, my roommates and I walked back to the car.  It felt like our first opportunity to educate someone about deaf education, using all the information we had learned this year.  (Undoubtedly K has spent her entire life educating people about hearing loss, but it was even a first for her in regards to the amount of knowledge we’ve acquired over this year.)

What is a TOD?

I’ve learned a lot this year.  An unbelievable amount, really.  Naturally, it’s the tip of the iceberg — but it’s a sizable tip, and a great starting point for continuing my foray into the field of deaf education and the trenches of teaching.  I still have questions every day.  Every. Single. Day.  Like, a million.  Like, an annoy-my-teacher-and-classmates-because-my-hand-is-perpetually-stuck-in-the-air amount.

Deaf education is anything and everything but static.  It is a world of fluidity, of nuances, of “it depends on the student”s and “it depends on the circumstances”s.  Because, when it comes down to it, no two cases are the same.  The loss is different, the family is different, the resources are different, the neurological makeup is different, the IQ and aptitude are different, the district is different — everything needs to be tailored for each student.

And so, we are jugglers.  We are teachers of language, advocacy, academics, social skills.  We are educators, advocates, role models, referrers.  We are invested.  In the child, in his future, in her hobbies, in his social life, in her college dreams.

And, on a vaguely related note, we are pushers.