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Preserving the Deaf Culture vs. Living in a Hearing World

2012-08-09

As technology becomes available to possibly enable more deaf to 'hear' via cochlear implants and specialized hearing aids, this discussion will likely continue to evolve.  There are 2 very good sides to this argument.  Being the only one in my family that had hearing loss as well as a child entering grade school in the 1960's, there were not many options in the education system at that time to figure out what to do with me.  Having the availability of a really good speech therapist as a 6 year old enabled me to overcome the language deficit and at least try and succeed in the education mainstream world that existed then.

Fast forward 45 years and the opportunities for children with hearing loss are greater and fraught with more emotional decisions for the parents.  Imagine coming from a family that is Deaf and growing up with ASL (American Sign Language), only to find out that there is a very strong possibility that the school you were planning on sending your ASL speaking child to may no longer be an option?  On the other hand, imagine being a child with some residual hearing, access to good hearing health providers, parents able to afford the solutions that will enable their child to hear and process sounds (most insurance companies won't pay for hearing aids) and then being told that you should not mainstream your child when it comes to their education?  Which scenario is right for the child?

In my opinion, both are.  There is very little known about the Deaf Culture by those that are not hearing challenged.  In my case, I didn't even meet any Deaf persons until the past few years.  I'm still struggling with how best to communicate with them since my ASL skills are very weak (most people with hearing aids don't know ASL) and it's so much easier to just forget about trying to forge a relationship with someone that 'doesn't speak your language'.  I know that's the easy way to solve it, but I've met some very intelligent and wonderful people that are Deaf and I would really like to learn more about what they think as well as their opinions on everyday things in our world.  (the old days of being classified as deaf and dumb was a misnomer and totally untrue in most cases)  I finally got up the courage to admit my lack of understanding to a few of those in the Deaf Population and after some initial awkwardness, we are now learning from each other as our professional as well as personal friendships grow. 

One of the bigger challenges that I am finding is that even though both groups (Hearing Challenged and Deaf) have one of their senses deficient, we have never looked at ourselves as being in the same situation.  Thus the culture differences come to light.  The best way that I can explain this for those of you not in Hearing Loss world is to think about the challenges of communication and interaction with someone that either does not speak your language or has elected to interact with those that are only similiar to them.  It's a tough situation to fix.  Very similiar to how some feel about different races in a lot of ways.

In my case, I would have loved to experience ASL in my youth as another form of communication.  Of course, at the time, there were not even hearing aids that would work for me.  And, I don't remember anyone in my school system that knew or taught ASL.  In todays' world, there are many more opportunities for students.  But, the parents need to ask the pertinent questions of the school in order to learn of the programs.  For some, the best option, at least in their mind is to just enroll their kids in the local school and tackle the frustrations and problems as they evolve.  This puts everyone behind right from the start. 

With the current budget/economy situation, the days of being able to depend on government programs and initiatives is waning.  The non-profit groups such as National Assoc. for the Deaf, Hearing Loss Association of America, ect. are going to have to step up and take on some of the responsibility for educating parents on what services, programs and tools are available for them and their children.  I would love to see a program at the elementary school level that teaches normal hearing children what a child with hearing loss goes through.  A similiar program would also be great for the kids that have hearing loss so that they can learn how to interact with the 'normal' kids.  There were many days as a child and even now, that I would have loved to be considered a 'normal kid'.

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