The Reality Impaired

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that a new generation of hearing-impaired children are getting cochlear implants, which offers them the opportunity to hear and speak almost as naturally as people
without hearing problems. As a result, many schools for the deaf are adding seperate programs for children with the implants to teach them how to hear and speak English rather than teaching them  sign-language.

Supporters of the venerable culture built up by deaf people believe deaf chilren should get a strong grounding in American Sign Language so they can participate fully in the culture when they grow up…
…they don’t see themselves as handicapped and view implants as an attempt to fix something that isn’t broken. They especially oppose hearing parents deciding to get implants for their deaf children, believing
kids should make the decision themselves when they get older. Research shows, however, that implants work best when given to very young children, who develop language more quickly than adults.

According to the article, some in the deaf community don’t see themselves as disabled…but as an ethnic group with a unique culture and language that should be celebrated and preserved.  Cochler implants are a threat to their way of life.  The Lompoc Record reports:

Some deaf individuals
feel that technology such as cochlear implants reinforces the belief that
deafness is merely a pathology to be cured, rather than a rich culture to be
celebrated and embraced.

This just goes against common sense. Deafness is not a way of life. It’s a significant disability. Sign language is something that was created to work around the problem.
The outrage against cochler implants, and against schools  for the deaf creating separate classes geared to children who have them, strikes me as absolute insanity. I can’t believe they want to deny children the
opportunity to hear, to more easily function in the world, simply to preserve sign language…and the illusion that being deaf is like being African-America or Italian.
The deaf community should be pleased that there are finally medical advances that will allow deaf children to more easily function in the world…and that someday the technology could improve even more, someday making sign language (and the need for it) obsolete.

But some members of the deaf community aren’t the only ones with disabilities who are letting their justifiable need to promote a positive self-image cloud their common sense.
Pride is a positive thing…unless you let it blind you to reality. Some wheel-chair bound people (for lack of a better term) are outraged that "Ms Wheelchair America" was photographed standing up.
The Philadelphia Daily News reports:

Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin has been stripped of her title because pageant
officials say she can stand – and point to a newspaper picture as proof. Janeal Lee, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a scooter, was snapped by the
Post-Crescent newspaper standing among her high school math students.

"I’ve been made to feel as if I can’t represent the disabled citizens of
Wisconsin because I’m not disabled enough," Lee said.

ABC News further reported:

The announcement of the new winner Tuesday came amid a storm of protest over
pageant officials’ decision last week to take the crown away from Janeal Lee, a
high school teacher and muscular dystrophy sufferer who uses a scooter as her
main way to get around but says she can walk up to 50 feet on a good day and
stand while teaching.

During the furor, the runner-up refused to accept the crown out of protest.
Lee’s sister, who also has muscular dystrophy and was named Ms. Wheelchair
Minnesota, dropped out of the competition in that state. And the coordinator for
the organization’s Minnesota program stepped down from her job to "stand up for
Janeal Lee."

"I no longer feel comfortable supporting an organization that instead of
working towards creating a positive change, chooses to perpetuate stereotypes
and requests its participants to hide their abilities while in public," said the
sister, 26-year-old Sharon Spring of Rochester, Minn.

The organization said candidates for the crown have to "mostly be seen in the
public using their wheelchairs or scooters."

So every time she’s in public she must be in a wheelchair or scooter? She’s supposed to hide the fact she can occasionally stand? My God, what stupidity.

There’s no doubt this woman has muscular dystrophy… or that she needs to use a wheelchair.  She hasn’t perpetuated a fraud. She stood up. Instead of castigating her, they should be applauding.  They should be thrilled that she’s able to stand…but they undoubtably see it as an attack on their way of life, their ethnicity, if a wheelchair-bound woman takes a few steps. Would they also rail against a surgery that would allow more muscular dystrophy sufferers to stand and take steps as a threat to their way of life? 

To chastise a wheel-chair bound woman for using her full range-of-motion, or parents for giving their deaf children the ability to hear, is simply wrong.

18 thoughts on “The Reality Impaired”

  1. I agree totally with the Writer’s sentiments regarding deaf kids. I remember, last year, reading about a deaf couple who were trying to ensure “genetically” that they had a “deaf” baby to fit in with their lifestyle. I don’t think I’ve felt so angry and disgusted at such warped reasoning in a really long time.
    Which just goes to show that just because you’ve got a disability, doesn’t mena you can’t be a selfish arrogant a-h just like the rest of humanity. Hey, maybe that’s progress?
    I was wondering what Helen Keller would have thought about this pair playing God to deny their child ever having the ability to hear a piece by Mozart, or the Beatles or (God forbid) Britney.
    And I also wonder have they ever heard of caring parents doing everything in their power to make their kids life better than their own?
    What next… People born with no limbs trying for a baby with the same condition. Smithers… release the hounds.

  2. Hmmm ….. maybe some people on both sides of this event need their organs of Righteousness and Sanctimonious Judgement genetically modified so they don’t roam around sticking the boot into disabled communities.
    Sure the wheelchair thing seems strange, but the press has certainly run with it.
    And the deaf community might have something to say about “ordinary” folks telling them what to do. We do have a problem about the loss of the deaf lifestyle, because it is also an advantage in some ways. its not just cochlear implants that are the problem – the use of genetic markers and our understanding of rubella has reduced or is reducing the number of deaf children.
    That is terrific, of course, but it still remains true that sign, and the kind of brain development this fosters, is very valuable. Do you see the people who are quick to condemn the deaf community also acknowledging some value in teaching hearing kids to sign?
    Cochlear implants, by the way, are not quite what they are cracked up to be. Many kids simply find them intolerable and switch them off. They don’t – unless they are getting MUCH better – give you an experience which enables you to experience Mozart, or even your average rock band’s lead guitar.
    Remember the old saying about a walk in people’s shoes? Helps to, before you criticise them.

  3. “its not just cochlear implants that are the problem – the use of genetic markers and our understanding of rubella has reduced or is reducing the number of deaf children.”
    The problem? Is not being able to hear. Adapting to it is surely an acquired skill, but please don’t mourn the problem lessening by any means. There will always be plenty of customers looking for the cure.

  4. Of course you are right – the loss of deafness is not the “problem”. That was my quick posting. The word should be “issue”.
    It is an “issue” that we have evolved a particular subculture, which has some skills and virtues, which can’t renew itself. Do we want to lose the skills and virtues? What do we do about the fact that even with implants and screening we still end up with deaf kids, who in the future will enter a world with no-one to share sign?
    Why am I concerned about the loss of sign? Because people who can do it tell me it is fun. More important, we are steadily evolving towards a much more graphically driven society, and sign is a way of supporting the brain’s development of visually driven communication.
    Esperanto can’t do that. Mind you, it does encourage people to develop a genetic predisposition to a thick skin.

  5. “Why am I concerned about the loss of sign? Because people who can do it tell me it is fun. More important, we are steadily evolving towards a much more graphically driven society, and sign is a way of supporting the brain’s development of visually driven communication.”
    Which is going to make it a reach bitch to be a blind guy. Guess the lobbyists for the blind community better get on the ball.
    Sorry, but I don’t see the increasingly isolationist, exclusionist tendencies of society in general — which are exemplified by subset special interest groups like the deaf community — as being positive, healthy, or worth celebrating. Not when members of these communities are mourning or protesting the successful removal of handicaps for some of their community members because it cuts down on the size of their community. If we were able to totally eradicate deafness so that there was no need for sign, this would be a bad thing? If we eliminated cerebral palsy so that no kid needed to be retarded like my little sister, unable to live on her own, this would be a bad thing?
    Give me a break.
    These kids can’t appreciate Mozart? I agree that’s sad. And the state of technology isn’t yet perfect? That’s unfortunate — but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was, and it will keep getting better as long as there’s a call for it. In the meantime, though, maybe some of these kids with the current batch of cochlear implants will hear the horn of a car that’s about to hit them. Or the fire alarm going off.
    Survivability first. Then art. Maslow had it right.

  6. Re: Teaching hearing kids to sign is about as useful as teaching them Esperanto>>>
    Uh, not exactly. My hearing, now 19 month old has been signing since he was 10 months old. It was very useful before he acquired the ability to mold words with his tongue and mouth for him to be able to say “milk,” “change,” “hungry,” “thirsty,” “water,” “milk,” “bath,” “apple” and a few other things that made communicating with him both easier and more pleasant.
    Teaching hearing kids to sign is the same as teaching them any other foreign language, plus.
    That said, as a proud member of two distinct cultures, both the Astigmatism Proud and the Lactose Intolarant League, I think keeping a child deaf on the basis of culture is hogwash.
    Cochlear implants are not miracle workers, but they facilitate speech, which opens up worlds of opportunity and options for a child (just like any foreign language does, including signing), and they certainly make it easier to deal with things like say, a honking car behind you, or making a phone call in an emergency.

  7. David Montgomery opined:
    Teaching hearing kids to sign is about as useful as teaching them Esperanto.
    On the contrary, it’s a useful skill, both for communicating with deaf people, and talking about hearing people right in front of them. [And they’ll have no idea of what you’re saying.]
    Considering that cochlear implants are only a possibilty for some forms of deafness, it seems unlikely that ASL will disappear any time soon.
    As Alina mentioned, teaching infants to sign is easy. You can also teach some dogs simple signs. I have.

  8. I’m sorry, I just do not understand. How can anything that reduces the negative impact of a medical condition be bad? This whole thing makes almost as much sense as those of us in the “Diabetic Community” opposing research into prevention or cure because it would remove our “special” status. I, for one, would lay down the needle tomorrow if I had any options.
    I’m not “special”. I’m sick. I support anybody that will do anything to make sick people better.

  9. Around the Blogosphere

    Stuff you should be reading and to which you should be reacting. You know, if that’s your bag, baby. Excerpts, conveniently designed to provoke you into clicking through, included at no extra charge. Where Else But the Brain?A brain-based ethics…

  10. I view American Sign Language as another language, a foreign language, if you will, but another language, and it’s one of the few I’ve ever considered might be worthwhile for an American who never desires to leave this country to learn–for a variety of reasons, not all of them for communicating with the non-hearing community.
    If deaf culture is so valuable, add it to the already long list of cultures we celebrate and teach people about, but don’t deny people the opportunity to be able to hear.

  11. It is awful to think that someone would wish to deny anyone the right to hearing. Even if the implants aren’t perfect, they are something. No one should ever try to prevent someone from having the chance to hear, or even think about trying for a child deaf to the world. I have had much experiance with others of many different kinds of illnesses and disabilities, including deafness. Not one of them would ever give up the chance to health or recovery over a “Lifestyle”. That’s just awful, Wanting to hold back progress or life for someone because they would no longer be in a group of their own? Shame!

  12. I for one am against Cochlar Implants. Not only does it require major surgery, it also destroys any residual hearing that person has left in that ear. So if it is not successful any hearing they had in that ear is totally gone. Plus deafness is a unique disablility because deaf people have their own unique culture and their own language, customs, and beliefs.
    And as to Deaf people wanting Deaf babys, its only natural to want your child to be the same as you. If you don’t view deafness as a disablility is it so wrong to want to be able to communicate and pass down all your beliefs that come with being Deaf??
    Some hearing children don’t appriciate Mozart in the first place so what makes you think that deaf people would love the oppurtunity?? To them, it’s just not important. They have a rich and full life already.
    For some Deaf people, yeah they consider it a disablility, but for most it is considered normal for them and why fix something that is normal for you??
    I can guarentee that if I have a Deaf child, I would want that child to know about the rich culture that they belong to. Deaf people don’t view deafness as a disability, it’s a way of life. It’s not like Blindness, and it’s not an illness that is threating their life, it is a unique culture that should be preserved.


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