Linda’s family is friggin' Deaf, with a capital D. And I’m not referring to the fact that many of them are hard of hearing, or deaf. Being “big D” Deaf means that you are part of Deaf culture: a world that is all around us but unbeknownst to those who listen only with their ears.
Linda was born hard-of-hearing into a family of deaf parents, as was her sister Gina, who is the deafest of them all. For a deaf or hard-of-hearing child, having deaf parents is a godsend. Not all deaf or hard of hearing children are so fortunate.
When an infant can’t hear much, or at all, their concept of language is grasped much later than that of a hearing child’s… UNLESS they’re exposed to sign language.
Fortunately for Linda and Gina, their parents had been deaf their whole lives, and were a part of the Deaf community and very fluent in sign language. Linda and Gina were therefore introduced to language the same time hearing children were, because their parents signed with them from day one, just like your parents began speaking to you the minute you were born.
Most people who have deaf children aren’t deaf. Think about that for a second, and put this number to it: Approximately 95% of deaf or hard of hearing children are born to hearing parents. I know, it doesn't make sense, but Linda said it and I trust her knowledge on the subject.
That means 95% of the people who have deaf children are entirely unequipped to raise their child. When you take your kid to the doctor and find out your child is deaf or hard-of-hearing, there are a few paths you could take.
The typical, doctor-recommended course of action is to treat the hearing loss as a problem that needs fixing, and to do whatever is in your power, and your budget, to fix the child's hearing. Being a hearing person myself, that makes a lot of sense to me. Or at least it did, until I had a conversation with Linda.
Take a minute to think about the Native American cultures that used to abound in America. Each was unique, though they had many things in common. They were, and many of them still are a very tight-knit group of people who share a bond that none outside of it can appreciate fully.
In the late 19th century, Indian boarding schools were designed to educate and assimilate, by force, Native American children into white culture, to "kill the Indian in him, and save the man." The children were taken from their parents and forced to learn English, and forbidden to speak their tribal language.
I know it's a bit of a stretch, but can you see the parallels between assimilation out of Deaf or Native American culture? A child who is born into a deeply complex and profoundly connected culture, is prevented by others, at a very young age, from being a member of a culture that is their birthright.
Granted, in one example the antagonist is the oppressive 19th century U.S. Government, and the other a set of loving parents who want what they think is best for their child. I only paint this comparison to elucidate how powerful membership in Deaf culture seems to me to be, and to urge parents to at least try options B and C when the doctor tells them their child is deaf.
A - Talk about ways to fix the child’s hearing
B - Find the Deaf people and start asking some questions
C - Start learning sign language
My conversation with Linda was eye-opening and informative, and I want so much to share it with the world. My podcast attempts to do that. But, as I’m now realizing, deaf people can’t listen to my podcast. There’s a completely untapped market of approximately 1 million deaf people in the United States who don’t know what they’re missing on the Spit & Whittle Podcast. Well, deaf folks, I’m here to tell you that you ain’t missing much. I'm usually to drunk and unfocused to have a conversation worth listening to, but this episode, and a handful of others, have actually been pretty good, and I want very much to make them accessible to the Deaf community.
But I’m not deaf, so I have no idea how to help. If you’ve got any ideas, please tell me. Obviously I could transcribe this entire episode into text, but it was 2 hours long and I’m already getting burnt out on this short blog post.
On that note, thanks for reading and/or listening.
Listen on iTunes,
Bill Vicars, deaf feller on youtube:
ASL Dictionary (American Sign Language)