[lit-ideas] "Rejecting" deafness

  • From: Harold Hungerford <hh@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 5 Jun 2006 23:06:15 -0700

There's some fairly nasty ignorance running around on the issue of "rejecting" deafness. I speak from my own experience.

Like Kisor, I had meningitis at 3-1/2. I have a 106-decibel loss, which is quite literally off the bottom of the charts. A hearing aid will give me sound, but my ability to discriminate speech sounds is very low. I do need captions for tv, but otherwise I am okay in a hearing world as long as I can see the speaker from fairly close and said speaker doesn't have a lot of face fuzz. I have a B.A. and a Ph.D. from Berkeley (in English), was an editor of my student newspaper, have spent many years teaching college, have been president of several library boards, etc. I certainly don't feel any great loss to myself "trying to fit into a hearing world." Nor do I think people have eased my way into these successes. In most of my undergraduate classes at Berkeley, the prof had no idea who I was; I was in equal competition for my A's (and sometimes C's).

From what I've read about the Deaf world, it doesn't sound very interesting, but I didn't know that when I was taking lip-reading lessons seventy years ago. I've been an oralist all my life. And a lip-reader. I need both lip-reading and
my hearing aid.

The crucial issue is the age of onset of deafness. Those profoundly deaf at birth, or much before 3-1/2, will probably never acquire real oral language skills and should be directed to ASL. Those who become deaf later have passed the critical language acquisition period between 1-1/2 and 3-1/2, and can be expected, with help, to become proficient. Children with losses which are severe or better should be fitted with hearing aids as soon as the loss is diagnosed. There is a very simple Pavlov-style test for hearing loss in newborns: ring a bell, then jab the infant's toe with a skin-test needle. If, after several repetitions, the child cries when the bell rings, things are looking good. If not, time for a hearing aid.

So Geary is, as so often, on the right track.

Harold Hungerford

On Jun 5, 2006, at 9:26 PM, Mike Geary wrote:

>> the "what's that pig outdoors" is what he heard when his father said something that had nothing to do with pigs or outdoors.<<

Actually it was Kisor's son who came running in and asked: "What's that big noise?" Kisor went to the window and looking out asked: "What pig outdoors?" The two expressions look almost identical to a lip-reader, they say.

>> At any rate, your student really does sound like someone who rejected her deafness and tried to fit into a hearing world, probably with great loss to herself. I wonder if it's because her family didn't want to be bothered learning ESL, I'm just speculating. <<

Unless the family didn't speak English there would be no need to learn ESL (English as a Second Language), however they might have found ASL helpful which is American Sign Language. Your speculations seem warrantless to me. The debate among the deaf as to whether Signing or Oralism is the best approach to education of the deaf has raged for centuries. Here is a summary of the varying arguments for both sides:

"Oralists believe that by not providing the option to sign they are helping children by forcing them to develop oral communication skills.
My opinion is simply that every decision we make in life involves a trade off.
Time spent teaching a child to talk could have been invested teaching that child to sign.
As with any decision you have to weigh the costs against the benefits--both long term and immediate.
As with any purchase you have to ask yourself, am I getting the best value for my money?
The moment you start talking about "values" you will find yourself surrounded with controversy because people value different things.
Some parents value having a child who can communicate orally.
Other parents value making sure that a child has maximum early cognitive development.
Some parents value having a child that speaks the same language as them.
Other parents value new experiences and are willing to learn whatever language best fits the need of their child.
Some parents feel it is better to be able to communicate in a stilted manner with millions of people.
Other parents feel it is better to be able to communicate fluently with a smaller number of people.
The best decision as to the communication mode of a child will depend on many factors.
Are the parents cognitively and situationally capable of effectively learning a second language? Some adults are simply not going to succeed at picking up sign language at their stage in life.
Does the family live in an area where there is a strong Deaf community and opportunities for signed communication? How much residual hearing does the child possess? Is there a Deaf School nearby? What does the child want? Are there other Deaf children around who are using a particular mode of communication?"

So you see, the question is a little more complicated than you suggest. Oralism is not "rejecting one's deafness" any more than physical therapy is "rejecting one's handicap". And though one need not be deaf to have an opinion on the matter, it strikes me as irrelevant. If the young woman was a lip-reader I can fully understand why she'd prefer to do that than have someone sign to her. She was lucky she had John as a teacher and not Nietzsche.

Mike Geary

----- Original Message ----- From: Andy To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx Sent: Monday, June 05, 2006 10:15 PM Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: amazing employment application questions

I sometimes wonder about this. I've muted my television while not using captions and tried lip reading what's going on on the screen. I can't understand a thing. Even with training, a reader/ listener can only understand one person at a time that they can see, and many sounds are similar even if the speaker is careful about shaping the words with his mouth. There's a book called What's That Pig Outdoors, by Henry Kisor, a journalist who was deafened at a very young age, but after he learned to speak. He (his family) rejected ESL and used oralism to fit him into a hearing world. He writes about how difficult it was to go through the educational system and life in general being unable to hear. He married a hearing girl. The title of his book refers to one of problems of lip reading, (The way I find a use for things is to throw them out. I threw out my paper on the book when I threw out my notebooks. I therefore can't tell you what his father really said. But, I don't have the clutter, so the trade off is worth it.)

John Wager <john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

I was once asked to make "reasonable accommodations" for a deaf student in my class. She didn't want an interpreter that would translate my class on the fly into sign language; all she wanted was for me to shave my mustache a bit higher so she could see my upper lip to do lip reading. This seemed quite reasonable to me, so for the rest of the semester I was a bit less shaggy in my mustache than I might have been.

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