Friday, February 26, 2010

Stereo-Typically Deaf

A facebook group with a main interest in disability posted a video in Italian- one of those feel-good videos where everyone regardless of disability or non-disability lives in peace, harmony and love and you get that gushy, mushy feeling inside...only no, I had a little bit of a problem with one of the lines.

You see, they portrayed people in wheelchairs, blind and yes, Deaf. To represent the Deaf they showed a picture of the alphabet in sign language with the following written on top: "And my voice is barely heard"

No no no no no no no

We live in the year 2010. Deaf individuals speak and I can assure you that their voices are not "Barely able to be heard".

Why are stereotypes of Deafness still represented by the sign language alphabet??????? Perhaps because that is how the media portrays Deafness? Is that really an appropriate image for a video portraying Deafness? What would be the perfect image or sentence that would cover it all?


Julia said...

Something that we hearing folks always ask about is the difference between deaf and Deaf, and the way it's always been explained to me is that Deaf is a cultural identification (as opposed to a physical trait) that involves the use of sign as a primary language. At least that's a broad strokes characterization, although it may not apply to all individuals who identify as Deaf. Of course, that makes the video all the more ironic. People who are Deaf generally don't treat deafness as a disability; people who think of it as a disability generally don't identify as Deaf or use sign. IMHO, all this noise comes from a pedantic obsession with labeling things and people, rather than treating them as complex individuals. (Which is often convenient or even necessary, but always at least a little bit offensive.)

Dianrez said...

"People who are Deaf generally don't treat deafness as a disability; people who think of it as a disability generally don't identify as Deaf or use sign."

That's an elegant way of saying it, thanks.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a certain mindset when it comes to deaf people. For me, I do not like to distinguish d/D because it does not really tell the whole story. Certain people have this view of deaf people not being able to speak. To be deaf does not necessarily mean one can't speak or that one does not know sign language. Deaf people choose to be whatever they want to be. Deaf people can speak, but not all of them do (however with technology many can!). Deaf people can sign but not all of them do (some choose not to take advantage of the technology). Then again, there are many deaf people who can speak and use sign language. There's so many ways to be deaf. Again, I do see us as a disabled group however, we're not really disabled, but technically we are.

We need to educate the world that deaf people can be all things. We can use our voice or we can use our hands. Either is ok.



PinkLAM said...

The phrase "And my voice is barely heard" bugs me, but for multiple reasons.

Yes, more and more deaf people are going the oral route, thanks to advances in CI and hearing aid technology. I get sick and tired of being asked if I know ASL, and people are often quite disappointed/shocked when I say I'm taking French, not ASL as my foreign language.

On the other hand, there are still plenty of signing Deaf out there. And to me, the idea that their "voice is barely heard" sounds like no one listens. As if they're not an integral part of society. You don't need a spoken voice in order to be heard.

I also agree the whole labeling D/d is getting old.

Just my opinion, as an oral deaf teenager :)


Paula Rosenthal said...

Hold it, Julia! When you said, "...people who think of it as a disability generally don't identify as Deaf or use sign," you are saying that those of us who think of ourselves as deaf, hearing impaired or someone who simply has a hearing loss consider ourselves disabled - merely because we choose to use spoken language rather than sign. I wholeheartedly disagree with your statement and find it offensive. I've never felt disabled a day in my life, so please don't use blanket statements and labels because as you put it we should be treated as "complex individuals."

Julia said...

I certainly didn't mean to cause offence, Paula. But also notice that you're misinterpreting what I said. I *didn't* say that people who consider themselves deaf (or other labels) are necessarily people who think of deafness as a disability; you are clearly an example to the contrary. I said that people who *do* think of deafness as a disability tend not to identify as Deaf, which I think is generally true. (In logic-speak, you were confusing the statement I made with its converse, meaning that you were switching the hypothesis and the conclusion.) But regardless, I did not mean to cause offence, and I apologize for doing so. Am I still allowed to drool over your chocolate deserts?

Paula Rosenthal said...

Julia, I think we need to agree to disagree on this. I wasn't confusing your hypothesis and conclusion, I was interpreting what you said in its literal value. I do agree that people who identify as Deaf may not think of their deafness as a disability and I think that is great. But the way you worded your statements will lead people to think exactly what I said before.

Thank you for the compliments on my desserts!

MM said...

I could suggest you don't join this facebook site lol. They probably walk around handing everyone flowers or something, but let's be honest America started that ! I think more the question, is are we all so political about deafness we have lost sight we are people with difference anyway ? WHO tends to focus on the hear/no hear aspect ? We ALL do !

Why must everything hinge on the fact of D or d ? Most attempts to unite everyone in the world, starts with preconceived sterotypes, perhaps that site needs leeway and people ignoring the obvious faux pas to look at the unity concept properly. i.e. with no D or d at all. Like most I hate them both. Most who actually meet face to face get on OK, it seems sterotyping and arguments around the clock about culture take place only online at times... and I think culture was a leading aspect of encouraging the divisions, I can understand why they embrace it, but not how. IN the UK near EVERY deaf person here claims an 'disability' allowance, and that includes cultural as well as acquired deaf people, there seems a duality here.

MKChaikof said...

I think that identifying deafness as a disability vs. saying that a person who is deaf is disabled are not the same. I do not think of my girls as disabled, maybe differently abled, but not disabled. They may not be able to hear without their processors, but there are also abilities that they have that others don't to the same extent. My girls were born with artistic ability. My son, who has normal hearing, can't draw a thing. None of us in my family can carry a tune, etc.

I think where those in the deaf culture differ from those of us who have chosen the spoken language/CI route is, to me, not hearing via any means and not being able to communicate through spoken language is a greater disability than being able to hear and communicate with CIs. I recognize that this statement may anger some, but, as a hearing person, if I lost my hearing, that is absolutely how I would feel. With CIs, though, my girls hear, but they hear differently.

Dianrez said...

The last respondent missed an element: those who are deaf and don't consider themselves "disabled" do so because they identify with people like themselves and the communication is effortless.

One feels "disabled" where there is difficult communication, and therefore is put at a disadvantage by the other people. And where the other people defines them as disabled.

Before one jumps to say the next thing (that's because the culturally deaf don't speak) most culturally Deaf DO speak. Most even hear to some extent and may use devices of different types. Many who both hear and speak acceptably well identify themselves as culturally Deaf nonetheless, while moving back and forth between cultures.

Others with hearing issues prefer to identify with hearing people. These are the people who use words like disability, differently abled, hearing impaired, and hard of hearing. It's all in what one uses as a point of reference.

When people are with their kind and supportive people such as the Martha's Vineyard community of the past, words such as disability don't have any relevance.

MM said...

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King. Adversity and Isolation (As Martha's Vineyard was Isolated), provided these communal interactions.

Deaf,hearing, whatever, they had to depend on each other to survive, however once Isolation was breached then the onus tips in favour of the majority (Hearing), the deaf were re-isolated, and marginalised again.

It is debatable we should carry on with separatisms and Isolation simply to protect the deaf community, in essence most don't now want this. Hence to get out to the wider world they are taking CI's and whatever. There is nowhere else they can now go, the world is a very much smaller place now.

Julia said...

Dianrez and MM, would it be okay for me to post those last two comments on my blog sometime in the near future? No pressure -- if you're uncomfortable with that, no problem. But I find both of your comments to be very informative and very moving, and I'd like to think more about this. If I don't hear from you here (sorry to impose on your space, Jodi!), I'll ask at your respective blogs.

Paula Rosenthal said...

Put succinctly, no one has the right to make blanket statements about people who subscribe to a group, be it Deaf, deaf, hearing impaired, hard of hearing, etc. Not all members of any self-subscribed group feel the same way, that they are disabled or not. People are individuals regardless of how they view themselves within the hearing or Deaf cultures.

I do not agree with Dianrez's pronouncement that "One feels "disabled" where there is difficult communication, and therefore is put at a disadvantage by the other people." It is not other people who have put me at a hearing disadvantage. If I was born without eyes that can see or legs that can walk is it because other people have put me at a disadvantage? Obviously not.

Whether communication is difficult for someone who is deaf/Deaf or hoh can be attributed to many things. How well they were able to learn the language that was taught to them, oral speech or sign language and how well the people around them are able to communicate in that same language are the immediate two. If someone wishes to be a member of the hearing culture, how well they are able to use available technology - hearing aids, cochlear implants, FM systems, captioning devices, etc. is another determining factor for ease or difficulty of communication. The people who have designed and worked on these devices and are bringing or have brought them to market are often people with no hearing loss at all. Thus, they are offering advantages rather than disadvantages to people with hearing loss and are actually making successful attempts to improve levels of communication between them.

My daughter and I are profoundly deaf, were excellent hearing aid users, effectively use cochlear implants, take advantage of FM systems, captioning and speech-reading when necessary, use spoken language and do not find communication to be difficult, nor do we view ourselves as disabled or differently-abled.

Dianrez said...

Paula's comment is a great illustration of how one fits in by meeting the standards and expectations of those around them.

That's generally true. However, it is also an example of the kind of thinking of Alexander Graham Bell. After all, it's a Hearing world and one must accept that to be successful.

Another kind of thinking recognizes how society can limit individual growth. The Deaf person feels limited or disabled only when society makes it so.

Example: laws that forbid deaf people from driving trucks interstate when many are already driving trucks within the state. This limits their income as a result.

Example: Public address systems announcing important information. The d/Deaf person feels extremely disadvantaged when he realizes he was the only one who failed to make his flight.

Many, many more examples. Once reasonable accommodation is made, the feeling of disability disappears and equivalent function resumes. Frequently the accommodation benefits all people, not just the d/Deaf.

One way of thinking is: sure, people who are disabled are left out. So give them aids, special education, helpers, doctors, and special accommodations. Case solved.

Another way of looking at the same situation is simply to remove the barriers. Presto, a great many people disappear from the "disabled" rolls.

One says "this is so". The other says "why not?" Why make things unneccessarily contingent on hearing and speaking as the majority unthinkingly does? For sure, it takes a great deal of effort and mental energy to meet these expectations.

The fact still remains that the limitations we face are indeed imposed on us by society and most it is arbitrary in requiring hearing.

Candy said...

There is so many ways one can be deaf. I am culturally deaf and I speak so well. There are many more hard of hearing like me that are like that and even many more who choose not to be part of the deaf culture.

It appears many are offended by the word "disabled". I've always said for every single deaf and hard of hearing: Like it or not, YOU ARE technically disabled. If you rely on any assisted resources be they technology or not, you are.

I don't consider myself disabled at all. However, technically all deaf people are, which of course includes me, whether I like it or not. ;) Technically, that is.

ADA that protect deaf/hoh falls under the 'disability act'. Even those that are implanted or those that speak well are covered under that act.

Anyway, the bottom line is that we need to stop this stereotyping of deaf/hoh people because there is so many ways one can be deaf. There's also no one right way either.

No one will be happy with what they see out there that somehow portrays deaf people in certain ways. It's like that Pepsi Ad. People tend to relate to something about them rather than seeing the bigger picture. What's out there? All kinds of deaf people.

Unknown said...

So nice reading all of your comments. The reality is very different in Italy. No one talks, no one expresses themselves or their reality, there is no sharing, blogging is non-existent, etc. For some reason, Americans have the psychological need to be heard, speak their minds and share. People here rarely share and so much is lost because of THIS inability which is in and of itself a disability.

The fact remains that the video portrayed deafness in that way, because that is how they perceived it. I know each of you views deafness based on your own individual experience with it- that's obvious. But that fact that you speak and the voice of each type of community within deafness makes its collective self heard goes a long way in breaking the stereotypical barriers.
We are lightyears away from that here in Italy...lightyears. No one speaks.

Paula Rosenthal said...

You speak, Jodi. You speak for those who don't, won't or can't. You are a blessing in Italy as well as everywhere else. :) You are also someone who is seeking to solve problems, not make them. But when people make pronouncements about who is deaf, who is disabled, how these definitions are made and try to lump sum people into their opinions, they are making problems. It is too bad because they are taking away from the goodness that you do. Peace, harmony and progress can only be made in great strides when people put their philosophical differences aside and seek common grounds within which to work together rather than divide.

kim said...

WOW! I read all the comments and found myself drawn one way and then the next. This was a great discussion! The deaf/Deaf community is so diverse, Jodi, I think it may be too hard to come up with a visual that represents all of us.

Those of us who are late-deafened often refer to deafness as an 'invisible disability' because no one can see how hard we work at hearing. An analogy I often use to help others understand is to think of my hearing aids as a pair of crutches. They help, but my hearing is far from perfect. I really work at it, depending on the environment.

Just as a person with crutches might struggle with steps or on a rocky terrain, I struggle in darkness when I can't see lips, and when people talk too fast or mumble.

I tend to think 'challenged' is a more positive word than 'disabled' but the labels really don't matter. What the public thinks I am is separate from what I am. No one--absolutely no one--can get this unless they have walked in my shoes. And that is not to say you don't understand- because I believe you do understand as much as you possibly can about your son. But each of us has our own personal journeys. Just as I will never know what it's like to raise a deaf child, you will not know what it's like to lose your hearing until you've lost it, and even then you won't know what it's like to be Jordan because he was born without hearing-- a much different thing yet. That is probably why it's so difficult ot come up with a visual that suits everyone and why we can't even agree on whether it's a disability or not.