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Archive for March, 2007

A Hearing Person’s View

of

“Through Deaf Eyes”

by

Crystal Dolphin

Editorial Note:

Congratulations to Crystal

this post was a finalist in the DeafRead “Through Deaf Eyes” blog contest

I’ve now watched “Through Deaf Eyes” twice. The first time that it aired on March 21st, and then again today (March 25th), this time attempting to pay more attention to different aspects, keeping in mind the commentary made here at Deaf Pagan Crossroads about the documentary.

Today I watched the program with another hearing friend, Ted, who is 16 years older than I. In regards to Deafness, there were differences in our upbringing within our hearing families. When Ted was a child in the 60’s, his mother worked in the recreation center and as a teacher at a state school where several local Deaf children were placed – often during this time period, mis-diagnosed. Over time, education and awareness as well as communication in the form of sign language evolved in the school. In the 70’s, Ted learned some sign language in order to better communicate with his mother’s students, who he and his brothers often interacted with, and was subsequently employed at the school himself for a few years.

I, however, did not meet a Deaf person, nor was I introduced to sign language, until my late teens (in the late 80’s)…then not until several years later upon meeting more Deaf and HOH people did I begin to pursue learning sign language myself.

(A little side note that I found interesting: Ted, being a musician and the owner of a music store that sells guitars and drums and provides lessons for these instruments, saved his thoughts and commentary for the end of the show, except during the segment with the Deaf musicians. Upon seeing Bob Hiltermann playing his drums, Ted exclaimed out loud…”Ahhhh, a LEFTY drummer”, which apparently is more of a rarity to see than a Deaf drummer. Ted does have a Deaf musician friend who plays drums and harmonica, whom I’ve met on a couple of occasions.)

Ted and I both agreed that we feel this program was intended primarily for a hearing audience in order to bring about more awareness of Deaf history, culture, and communication, and in that it was well balanced and informative.

Today I have several Deaf friends…a few who are oral deaf only, and a few who communicate both with sign and/or their voice depending on what setting they’re in, as well as I have met Deaf people who sign only. I am also fairly well acquainted with some people who have cochlear implants. Over the last several years, through experiences with these friends and acquaintances, I’ve learned much more about Deaf culture, and sign language. Though I am the first to admit, I still have much to learn (i.e. I could hold my own conversing in PSE, depending on the signer which I now know is probably due to those different dialects as mentioned in the program, but I am still learning ASL as a language with its own syntax and grammatical rules.)

I think that “Through Deaf Eyes” helped to expand my understanding further, and certainly gave me a better view of Deaf history, yet also leaves me with more questions. I’ve seen and heard a lot of negative comments about people with cochlear implants, and this confuses me. Most of the people I’ve met with a cochlear implant, received their implant before they were adult enough, or even anywhere near old enough to make an informed decision and choose this for themselves – is this their fault? Can you blame them for a decision someone else made for them?

Take, for instance, little Juliette Rosner, who was featured in one segment of this film. She has a cochlear implant – but is obviously way too young to have determined to choose that for herself. (I find it interesting, though not surprising, that her mother said that Juliette’s first spoken words were the same as her first signing words.) So why is it that I see many in the Deaf community who seem to be “against” people with cochlear implants? Is this not a form of discrimination, quite similar to the discrimination Deaf people faced over time from the hearing community? And do all hearing people today still fit into that category of the “other world” that “shuts out” the Deaf community? While I know some hearing people now who still have what I would call an “old school” view of Deafness (I would say they have not been properly educated) – I also know hearing people, myself included, who have made an effort to become better educated about Deafness. I also noticed that this documentary pointed out the fact that the Deaf community of the south discriminated against the Black Deaf during the time when schools, clubs, etc. were segregated. (Hmmmm…our two worlds were not so different then, eh?)

I can understand why a parent with a Deaf child may determine to make the decision of a cochlear implant for their child – the fact is that it is much easier to learn languages of any kind in the earlier stages of childhood. Although I cannot agree with the same parent not continuing to expose their child to Deaf culture and sign language. Christopher deHann did make a statement that was something like, “do not assume that technology will fix your deaf children, they are still deaf”, but this was after he had stated that he and his wife enrolled their son Patrick in the Clarke School at the preschool stage and “within a year he had stopped signing altogether except for a little bit at home”. That statement angered me some as the inflection in his voice indicated he was happy that his deaf child was abandoning sign language. Obviously still today there are strong divided opinions on oralism vs. sign. My question is, why does it have to be all one way or the other? Would Deaf children not benefit more from having the opportunity to learn both (with or without cochlear implant)?

As a child, I was not exposed to the Deaf community, nor was any such education introduced to me during my school years. Now, in the early childhood education program at a local school where a friend teaches, some basic “beginning” education is included in the curriculum – about Deaf people, Blind people, and people with disabilities (such as a friend of mine with a neurological disease who I joined when she spent an afternoon at the school speaking and answering questions about people such as herself who use wheelchairs and assistance dogs.) ASL is offered as an elective language course in a local High School.

I wish this had been offered to me in high school – I feel it would have benefited me more in having had the opportunity to learn ASL back then vs. Spanish which I never use. Actually, I feel all hearing people would benefit from learning sign language. There are other instances where this alternative method of communication would come in handy for hearing people, aside from the ability to better communicate with the Deaf. I once worked for a couple in which the husband had suffered a stroke and lost his ability to speak, though he could hear and see and still had the use of his hands. My mother, partly due to aging, but I believe also partly due to her continued battle with cancer and several rounds of chemotherapy treatments taking their toll, is becoming quite hard of hearing. I see the frustration in her face when she cannot hear what someone is saying to her, yet she can still see well.

I hope that someday all schools will provide better education about Deafness, and sign language, to their students. And that there are more programs such as “Through Deaf Eyes” produced in order to help promote awareness and educate the general public who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to learn about Deaf culture. Though we will never fully understand what it’s like to be in each other’s shoes, the hearing and the Deaf, perhaps continued improvements in education will help to bridge the gap between the two worlds.

CJ Jones made one of my favorite statements in the program in his closing comments, “Knowledge is the most powerful vehicle to success.”

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts, and I would welcome your comments and feedback!

Crystal Dolphin describes herself as “just another Stupid Hearing Person” (HA!) residing in Massachusetts. A fellow Wiccan Priestess, she and Ocean have known each other for several years, and they both claim to share the same brain on many an occasion.

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