Archive for June, 2017

Lately social media has been abuzz with posts about a young woman and her success on “America’s Got Talent.”

I’m talking of course about Mandy Harvey.

Mandy touched hearts everywhere when she performed an original song she wrote herself entitled “Try” – inspired by her experiences as a hearing person who loses her hearing – and her music – at the age of eighteen.

Obviously she touched judge Simon Cowell’s heart as well, for after telling her “you won’t need a translator for this,” Simon pressed the prestigious gold buzzer, thus sending Mandy on to the live shows.

As a Deaf person myself, I cheered. Certainly I am proud to see Mandy do so well on this show. It does my heart good to see someone standing up on the stage and showing us all the true capabilities of deaf people.

And yet, at the same time I confess to having mixed feelings.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy for Mandy. I applaud her achievements, and I support her quest to follow her dreams. I’m glad to see that her dreams are coming true, and she did get the results she had hoped for at this show.

But just what is the dream that this young woman has? To sing with her voice?

That’s great, but bear in mind that this is a hearing ambition, not a deaf one.

Mind you, I am not saying that there are no deaf people out there who haven’t wished at some point that they belt out the blues like Billie Holiday, or rock-n-roll like Elvis. Heck, I wouldn’t mind being able to sing like Stevie Nicks myself.

But as a general rule, the Deaf Community doesn’t value speech…or the ability to sing – be it rap, rock, or Rigoletto. Our lives don’t revolve around the ability to use our voices. Learning to speak is hard when you can’t hear the sounds you’re trying to produce. And American Sign Language (ASL) – the language of the Deaf Community – is a language of the hands, not the larynx. It’s not meant to be spoken. Ours is a visual world, not an auditory one.

So while Mandy’s goal and her accomplishment of such would certainly land her accolades from the Hearing World, it might not be so warmly embraced by members of the Deaf Community.

The concerns revolve around the perceived message that Mandy’s story sends out. Actually, that becomes the question – just what kind of message does this story send out?

“Deaf is okay, but being hearing is better” ???

That if you have a hearing loss – whether mild or profound, you should make every effort to “normalize” yourself to the extent possible: to speak, to lipread…

…to sing?

That the more you are able to “overcome your disability” and do these extraordinary things that one wouldn’t normally expect from an individual with a hearing loss, the more successful you will be? The more you will be applauded?

I have a problem with that.

Look, I get it. Mandy Harvey was born hearing. She grew up with music. Mandy was planning to become a musician when she lost her hearing. Even though she has done the things that have helped her to adjust to being deaf (learning sign language, using interpreters, etc.) she missed music. It played a big part in her life. Given a choice, she probably would like to get her hearing back. I can’t say that I totally blame her.

But there is just something about all of this that makes me uncomfortable.

Although I was born deaf, I grew up in an all-hearing family and was raised as an oral child. While signing is my preferred mode of communication, I can speak and read lips and I have hearing non-signing friends. I can interact in the Hearing World – not as well as people seem to think I do, but I can do it.

But when I do venture into the Hearing World, people are always wanting to pay attention not so much to the fact that I am Deaf, but how well I seem to function in spite of being Deaf. I’m always getting comments like “You speak and lipread so well, it’s hard to believe you’re actually deaf!” They think this is a compliment – they intend it as such. But in reality these kinds of comments make me squirm.

And that’s what makes me squirm here.

What exactly are these people applauding? The fact that Mandy Harvey is a deaf person…

or the fact that she was able to make her deafness “go away” and you could forget about it?

Not that Mandy’s deafness will ever really “go away.” Even the ability to sing won’t change that. She has learned sign language and does use interpreters. She seems to be making the effort to embrace her identity as a deaf person, although I suspect she will always “walk between the worlds” – not hearing, but not fully a member of the Deaf Community either. This isn’t unusual for those who lose their hearing later in life. Mandy does function much like a “hearing person with a hearing loss” as opposed to a culturally Deaf person. That can be a hard place to be, sometimes.

So let me repeat:

I’m happy for Mandy. She seems to be a very nice young woman. I’m told she has a very nice singing voice. She seems to be finding happiness in her life. And she’s certainly showing the world that “Deaf people can do anything…except hear.” 

And yet I am still left to wonder…

Would Mandy have gotten the Golden Buzzer if she had been a hearing person who simply came out and performed a song she had written herself?

Was she really being evaluated on her musical skills…

Or on the fact that she succeeded in doing something that most people perceive as being “virtually impossible” for a deaf person to do?

What’s actually being rewarded here?


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