I just read this article from a website on deafness. In it, a woman argues that many deaf people have an “us vs. them” mentality because “the hearing world” tries to turn them into “normal” people by requiring speech therapy and lip reading, not allowing kids to learn sign language and by continually trying to pursue Cochlear Implants for all deaf people. She seems to think that non-disabled people are often harder on the deaf than on the blind, physically or otherwise disabled, because, as she states, one doesn’t expect a blind person to read print or insist a wheelchair user walks with cruthces “because everyone does so”.
I like the article, but for the sole reason that I don’t agree with it. The examples this woman gives about “hearing” behaviours expected of the deaf, to me aren’t comparable to expecting blind people to read print or wheelchair users to use crutches. I do agree that deaf kids should be taught sign language just like blind kids are taught Braille. And I think that in this respect deaf as well as blind kids are deprived of learning some skills: the deaf who are expected to speak and don’t learn sign language are deprived of the alternative communication mode that’s most useful for them, but the blind learn Braille (the “blind” reading and writing method), but they often don’t get instruction in things like handwriting. You may view it as odd that I think blind kids should be taught to handwrite, but at times they should be able to do so – for instance, they need to write down their names or signatures. I was taught handwriting, but that was because I was a low vision student in Kindergarten and grade one. Unfortunately, my handwriting deteriorated once I couldn’t see it anymore. I think, therefore, that it’d be difficult to teach blind kids handwriting (especially small handwriting, like in those horrible tiny signaure fields!), but I think it’s possible just like it’s possible to teach kids who can’t hear their own voices to speak.
As for deaf people needing to act like hearing people: that’s true for the blind, also. I mean, blind people rarely communicate non-verbally with each other, but we still need to learn to use non-verbal communication modes. I understand that – for instance, one needs to face another person when speaking with him so that that person can see one’s facial expressions -, but it’s an example of “forcing” blind people to act like the sighted. I’ve oh so often heard the words that “the sighted” don’t take a particular (visible) behaviour of “the blind”.
Lastly, the woman discusses Cochlear Implants. She says that she often gets the question why she doesn’t get one, as if a CI would be the magical cure for deafness. I can relate to this a lot: I don’t know how many people have asked me why I don’t just get glasses. They won’t benefit me, for I have no refractive error (my blindness is caused by a retinal disorder, and glasses can’t fix that). Now that I identify as blind, I get the question a lot less; probably people are aware that the totally blind can’t be helped by glasses. But when I still identified as partially sighted, I got the question sooo often and always had to say that I had too little sight for that (of course my sight would be correctable to some extent if it were caused by myopia, but I didn’t know any better).
I think that in general “the non-disabled world”, and especially those non-disabled people that are involved with the education and rehabilitation of the disabled, would want people with disabilities to act “normally”. And with deaf people this may lead to the idea that “just because they can’t hear doesn’t mean they can’t speak”, and with the blind it leads to the idea that “just because they can’t see doesn’t mean they don’t need to use ‘visual’ behaviour.” I find all of this to be appropriate, as long as it doesn’t go too far. And I’ve unfortunately seen it too often that it does go too far, so that alternative techniques are seen as inferior.