Monday, March 21, 2005

laurent: attack and parry

Laurent doesn't exist yet. It's going to, if the dreams of Marvin Miller come true, as the dreams of John Flournoy before him, and the dreams of Douglas Buillard in the Deaf novel Islay did not. Already the town is coming under attack by historical reconstructionists such as the AGB association, which claims that this "sign language town" will isolate Deaf people (or "the deaf" as they prefer to call us) "even more" than we already are. From the New York Times article on the subject:
"We think there is a greater benefit for people to be part of the whole world," said Todd Houston, executive director of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Washington. "I understand the desire to be around people like ourselves, and I don't have a problem with that, but I don't think it's very wise. This is a little bit of circling-the-wagons mentality, if you ask me."

Well, goody. Let's apply this to everyone else - why should white people be allowed to live in gated communities? *snort* What about people who are of a specific faith - should they be allowed to live together? I mean, honestly, it's not like Miller wants to shoot his potential townsfolk off to Mars. He just wants to establish a community. And the establishment of a community is often beneficial to the psychological state of those who join it.

The attack is interesting as it has little basis in fact, but much in psychology. Laurent is a town committed to building a visually-centered way of life - the way of life which is least restrictive to Deaf people. It is by no means intended to be a segregationist town; the lessons of Plessy vs. Ferguson have not been forgotten; it's simply intended to be visually oriented. Hearing people will survive perfectly well; it is just that the dominant frame of experience for hearing people will no longer be the dominant modality for the environment. Auditory signals, sound alerts, verbal whosis - will not be depended on. That's pretty much it. Hearing people, hearing family members - sure! Come in! Just be committed to signing, be committed to understanding Deaf people, and hey, we all one big happy fam'bly.

What else is interesting about the AGB attack is its clever synchronization of this concept - the visually-oriented town - with the false meme that Deaf people avoid learning speech. Even Deaf people who speak perfectly well - like I do - we're still Deaf. I still use a blackberry. I can speak. I can't hear. What does speaking have to do with wanting a visually oriented town? No matter how much I speak, I'm not gonna hear. Thus the ability to control and alter my environment - that very human ability, tool-making, the skill by which we influence and change our world - comes into play. Deaf people create tools to make their hostile environment habitable. We made the TTY, and fought Ma Bell into changing its phone system to use it; we fought for captioning; we fought for the internet. We are an extremely adaptable subspecies of the human race. And wanting to be in a least-restrictive environment - an environment, in fact, developed from our point of view, rather than that of a hearing person - has nothing to do with preferring sign to speech; it has everything to do with wanting to shovel the frustrating daily crap out of our lives. So why the disdain from AGB?
"We are not building a town for deaf people," said M. E. Barwacz, Mr. Miller's mother-in-law and his business partner in creating Laurent. "We are building a town for sign language users. And one of the biggest groups we expect to have here is hearing parents with deaf children."

This is probably why: because by building such a town, we shovel away the frustrating daily crap out of our lives - the middle-men who stand to benefit from our existence as a minority in their world. Who will need interpreters in this visually-oriented town? What about audiologists? And what about parents who, instead of needing to rely on "border" people such as AGB, can now speak directly with Deaf people, ask them what their lives are like? It's not just kids who need role models. It's parents, too - people who need to know their kid can go somewhere, and where exactly that kid can go.

Hey, this isn't an attack on AGB. It's just frustrating to see that people don't even have the creativity to do more than parrot the same old "They don't want to speak" crap when, if you look at it from the perspective of Deaf people, this has nothing to do with speech. It feels way too frustratingly automatic, a knee-jerk reaction to any radical and independent Deaf-centered proposal, and as I'm showing here, they don't even seem to be responding to the concerns which the alterations Miller proposes reveals to be inherent in the life of Deaf people today.

So what are these alterations Miller has proposed to ease and increase life for Deaf people?
...every element of it would be designed with them in mind. The homes and businesses, they said, would incorporate glass and open space for easy visibility across wide distances. Fire and police services would be designed with more lights and fewer sirens. High-speed Internet connections would be available all over town, since the Internet and Video Relay Service have become vital modes of communication for deaf people. And any shops, businesses or restaurants would be required to be sign-language friendly.

So... flashing lights, internet, and sign-language friendly businesses. Safety, communication, and a level playing-field.

What could a Deaf person do with their mouth that would prevent them needing a flashing light?

How about the internet? Can I somehow channel the internet through my tongue?

That leaves the lovely sign-language friendly businesses. Which would probably be run by Deaf people, giving them an equal-opportunity playing field. Hm.

What exactly is the problem with all this? What does it have to do with speech and Deaf people speaking, really?

It's worth noting that A.G. Bell advocated the sterilisation of Deaf people and was a social Darwinist, a movement Darwin himself despised which tried to liken social interation to the concept of "survival of the fittest." We weren't, he thought. Fit, I mean.


breenie said...

*conspirical whipser* editoral for NYT, give this?

surdus said...

I'm interested in hearing what more people think about this post first... the whole point of my blog is to get more responses to my writing... not much luck so far!

breenie said...

I wish NYT would offer more positive benefits to a deaf/ASL city like CNN did. couple things to think about for a self sufficent town:

deaf run city government, economics and so forth. students will benefit.

if the town boasts a deaf school, we could have exchange programs with other schools for ASL exposure.

Ridor said...

Good entry, Surdus!


Anonymous said...

a-men, breenie. surdus, send this to the editoral dept at NYT! well written!

Anonymous said...

whoops, the previous post was me - forgot to sign!


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