Our Only Option?

One of my most baffling moments took place in a Deaf Culture class, during a discussion on cochlear implantation. Now, keep in mind that this was a class comprised of mostly hearing students, with two deaf and two hard-of-hearing students. Although one of our textbooks primarily featured ASL and Deaf culture, we did also use another one that shared a variety of viewpoints on issues such as cochlear implants, sign language, spoken language, etc.

Naturally, one day the topic of cochlear implants came up for discussion. We’d publicly discussed our experiences with the implant as part of that class: the other deaf student and I had been implanted; she stopped using hers in middle or high school, but I still used mine. Both of us were implanted at young ages without our input, but neither of us resented our parents for it. One of the hard-of-hearing students was considering an implant for herself; the other didn’t think he needed one.

Our Deaf professor asked the four of us if we would consider implanting our own children as infants. Our answers ranged from “it depends” to “yeah, I would.” The important bit here is that none of us objected to cochlear implantation in and of itself. We agreed it depended on things like the kid’s health, his level of hearing loss, if we thought he would benefit from it, etc.

The professor then turned his question to the rest of the class. I think maybe one or two people raised their hands. He reversed the question: “OK, how many of you would not implant your child if you had a deaf or hard of hearing kid?”

The entire class raised their hands.

To me, it’d have made more sense if some of the students raised their hands– it’s a pretty big decision, after all– but every single one of them? Were they not seeing the irony in this? This entire roomful of hearing people chose to align with a few heavily-tailored opinions in textbooks over the direct experiences of four, living, breathing deaf and hard of hearing people right there with them? Not even an “it depends”? (And implantation is very much an “it depends” scenario.)

The reasons proffered were not much better: “I guess I just feel like she’s deaf, she should have access to her natural language,” or “It’s not my right to change her.” By this point, I and the other girl had shared our experiences with our implants throughout the semester, emphasizing that it was a tool and didn’t change who we were. Our use of sign language demonstrated that implantation didn’t preclude sign language nor involvement in the Deaf community. I had also stated– and I’d hope my online posts in our class discussion forums would have proved this– that English was my native language, not ASL. We had also discussed, at length, the difficulties that deaf people had in finding visual accommodations since so much of the world was geared toward auditory means. So, my first thought was pretty much, “Uh, didn’t you guys hear a single thing any of us said?”

This was, unfortunately, not the first or last time I would encounter something like this: hearing students, apparently educated to view American Sign Language and “full” deafness (no cochlear implants or hearing aids) as our “natural” or only option, regardless of what they had personally seen in the local community. I especially noticed this trend in interpreting or deaf education fields. I don’t know; it just feels so out of touch to me. And I worry/wonder how that affects the next crop of interpreters or educators.

2 thoughts on “Our Only Option?

  1. I see this attitude all the time with ASL interpreters. They get very judge-y when you don’t fit their textbook Deaf mold.

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  2. I agree. I have found the hearing people who work with the Deaf community to be far more militant in their attitude about education and CIs than the Deaf themselves.

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