Saturday, July 01, 2006

318: a little more Deafhood in my pants

Chris, who used to beat me in lipreading contests at MSSD, has put up a blog called "To be Deaf or deaf" where he discusses deafhood:
The list goes on and on. I believe every one who is deaf has a right to be recognized as members of deafhood. Just like Tom Humphries’ definition of audism did not really emerge until the late 1990s, we are seeing the use of a new word emerge, and its definition come under fire — as well as who should be considered members of deafhood.

This is a good time as any to open dialogue on who, how, where, and why “deafhood” should be used.

I'd like to note Paddy Ladd is working on a new website to support his book Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood. Dr. Ladd has been called "The Father of Deaf Culture" in the UK. While I wouldn't go that far - they had Deaf people before he was born - I would happily agree he's one of the founders of modern Deaf Studies thought, and applies a comprehensive psychological, linguistic and anthropological perspective to the field not really seen in the past. He's also one of my favorite people. An assortment of reasons why: he started the group "The Grateful Deaf," teaches Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol, devised the Blue Ribbon Ceremony to remember the Deaf people who died in WWII... You can read a poor and incomplete biography here, and another one here, with a photo. He was the Doctor Chair of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet. I hope a lot of people start reading his book to understand HIS concept of Deafhood.

I saw a lot of commentors on Chris's blog try to say we should do away with these concepts. To me this is silly; it implies they don't wish to understand themselves or the world they live in. While I understand searching out your own psychology can be scary and frustrating, it's also a necessary process if you want to move forward with yourself and your life. As I wrote on my blog before, and on Chris' blog:
Ladd meant the term to UNITE people not DIVIDE them and as his student I’m NOT going to let people pervert “Deafhood” to mean “we sign faster than you, so get the duck out.” It’s not going to be USEFUL that way.

My feeling? Those militants you complain about are as uncomfortable with their Deafness as anyone else. It’s just their personalities show how they express the complex emotions in their own Deafhood, and this determines how they relate to other people. If they don’t take time to think about this - think about where their feelings and insecurities about ASL and being a Deaf person lie - they will never really understand their own Deafhood.

Same thing for anyone else, including others on this thread. When you find yourself getting angry - STOP! It’s a warning sign! Think about it! Why does this discussion make you feel angry? Where does that feeling come from? We’re talking about a word!

Ladd in his book points out the tireless efforts of “gatekeepers” - hearing people who work within the Deaf/deaf communities and become the go-betweens. These people have tremendous power-they decide what info passes to Deaf people and often control their organizations. They often form the discourse around Deaf people. The terms “hearing impaired” and “hard of hearing” were not natural; they were invented terms, used to sell hearing aids. There are indeed degrees of deafness; there are also degrees of skin color. We have to learn to see the separation between the body and the spirit…

Deafhood is about something you have inside. As a deaf person, you begin to develop it. It leads you to contact the community. I went to MSSD arrogant, made arrogant by a life of people telling me I was better than other Deaf people because of my skills in English and reliance on speaking rather than signing. I didn't want to sign at all; I've told the story on my blog about Rae Johnson, my MSSD English teacher, getting me to stop signing while speaking - it led to me understanding both languages far better. When I had to find a good translation for Shakespeare in ASL, WHILE RESPECTING BOTH LANGUAGES, it just opened up for me. Before I was repeating words: now I was finding meaning. But first I had to be shocked into giving up my own prejudices. Learning to sign proper ASL didn't make me retarded. It didn't destroy my relationships with hearing people. I was scared because the gatekeepers had made me so. What do people tell you which forms your opinions of Deafhood/deaf people/everything else? How much of it is true?

For example, I spoke with an interpreter the other day who's worked for a ton of people. He claims that the reason the U.S. Government is supporting CI research and technology is because, basically, ASL is too expensive. A CI could cost the individual $30,000 over the years; a hearing aid, more. ASL interpreter? Costs - to the government, or the employer, for facilitation of communication - Assume two hours of interpreting a week (which is all some Deaf people in mental hospitals get, by the way) times $160 times 52 weeks a year-$8,320 a year. Considering Deaf people live quite a long time, the implant seems a MUCH cheaper option for the government, for business, for everyone - but the people who have to go through the surgery who would prefer to be as they are; the people who have been sent through the surgery without a choice, who would have preferred to be left alone. But have you ever considered that perspective? I hadn't. But it's true - there's got to be pressures everywhere on this. None of it means anything by itself - it's just facts - but....

To be wounded by the tool which frees us. Ironic, isn't it? But let's enlarge this. Are there similar pressures going on with other cultures? What about the attempts by conservatives to recognize English as our national language? Follow the money there too - and realize how much they spend to accomodate diversity. Publishing everything in more languages costs! Teaching the Bush Chimp to imitate "Hola?" probably costs too. There are tireless efforts by certain groups to eliminate diversity. Disabled people don't have these problems - they often need simple, one-time changes. Cultural groups need to be accomodated for life.

In Brooklyn they say Always follow the money... Of course, there are other options, which could be implemented... and

Deafhood can be a process of discovery and enlightenment, for the individual as well as for the community. If you approach it right it can let you see a far, far bigger picture. More later. J.

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