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Deaf or deaf?

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:07pm
One of the many questions I ask myself about Ethan’s future is whether or not he will call himself Deaf (with a capital D) or deaf (with a small d). Essentially, will he be able to embrace his deafness in a culturally meaningful way, or will he just assimilate into the hearing world? Maybe he won’t call himself deaf at all. What we do now will to a large extent determine the answer to that question.

I’ ve learned quite a bit about Deaf culture in the past 2 years, oddly enough without actually meeting or knowing a single Deaf adult. You might wonder how much I truly know about this topic without having made any actual human contacts, and to that I say that there is definitely a very human aspect to reading blogs, especially those that include video footage of the person signing rather than speaking. If I’m lucky, they include a transcript at the bottom of the page, otherwise it's a chance to fail an ASL quiz.

I’ ve also read message boards and books and watched documentaries along the way. There are no shortage of opinions in the Deaf community about the cochlear implant, and specifically the decision parents like us make to implant very young children. I’ ve seen arguments on all sides of the spectrum, ranging from total understanding and support to raging anger bordering on lunacy. The dictionary meaning for the term implant should start with the word “controversial” if you ask me.

I’m sure there are parents like us who have an implanted child who do not view it quite that way. They might be coming at it from a purely medical and technological perspective, which is where I come from on most days. But I have days where I understand the sentiment of the Deaf community, that deafness is not something that needs to be fixed, it is not a disability. In fact, most deaf adults I’ ve read online would find the phrase “hearing impaired” highly offensive. And to think the hearing world finds that phrase to be compassionate and politically correct. It shows the lack of crossover between the two worlds.

Ideally, Ethan will be able to live in both worlds. I feel very strongly (and this IS controversial) that all deaf people have the right to learn their “native” language, which in this country is ASL. Whether or not he hears with an implant and speaks like the hearing world is not the point. He was born deaf and has the right to join that community if he so chooses and will only be able to do so if he learns the language . And what a beautiful opportunity that would be for him!

Believe it or not, as strongly as I feel about this, I really don’t hold judgement against parents who have different beliefs. If I’ ve learned anything along this journey, it’s that we ALL have to make tough decisions on behalf of our kids and we need not waste time judging others, but look to others choices as a way to support and learn from one another.

So the question now becomes, how can we do the best job teaching Ethan to speak our language and sign another language, one that we do not even know? All comments are welcome.

(Ethan currently understands and can sign about 50 words)
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