Where’s your deaf identity?

21 01 2008

I’ve grown up feeling like I’m part of a different race, that I’m an ‘In-Between’.

I wasn’t hearing (because, obviously, I can’t hear) and was seen as Different by the hearing world. I wasn’t Deaf according to Deaf Culture (because I didn’t sign). There is a part of the deaf community that feels strongly that deaf people who can’t sign (BSL) aren’t really deaf. To me, that just shows ignorance, or would someone please explain this one to me.

I’ve not grown up signing because it was my parents’ choice that I should be able to speak and fit into the hearing world. This would maximise my opportunities for getting on in education and work. If I was only able to sign, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today – I would have missed out on so many opportunities. I see BSL as a way to *enhance* my communication skills. I believe in total communication – use whatever you have, and don’t rely on just one method of communication if one method is more problematic for you. There is no reason why a deaf person can’t learn to speak and use speech as a means to communicate. Relying only on BSL is being lazy and expecting hearing people to conform to your BSL world is selfish and inflexible. Yes, hearing people do expect you to be able to fit in and use their means of communication, but they are in the majority. They will try to meet you half way and accommodate you, if you try to accommodate them by using speech.

I just don’t understand why BSL 1st language users feel the need to exclude other deaf people and put themselves up on a pedestal saying “BSL Culture” is special – it’s not. Deaf culture need not be exclusive. By excluding other deaf people, they are shrinking deaf culture! If BSL users want “their” culture to grow then they have to accept newcomers. How am I not deaf if I can’t hear? Where is the logic in this? BSL users say they don’t need assistance therefore they are not deaf. How am I not deaf if I don’t need any assistance for my disability? Of course I need assistance – I need technical aids to communication (textphone, flashing fire alert, pager) and human aids to communication (interpreter, lip speaker, palantypist, Hearing Dog). Some hearing people become deaf due to medical injury and decide to learn BSL, like my friend Jeanette. According to a lifelong BSL user, she is not deaf and therefore not a part of deaf culture, and does not have a deaf identity. I find this very hard to understand. Can anyone enlighten me?

I find deaf culture and BSL is very interesting as I have struggled, believe me it has been damn hard sometimes, to get on at university without communication support, to get on in the world of work, to have a decent social life. The social life is the hardest one to overcome and the only way to really make a success of that is to learn some sign language and meet other deaf people. Learning sign language has opened up new doors for me and made my life much richer. So I felt as if I had been slapped in the face when I was told by a whole group of BSL users that I was not deaf because I couldn’t sign (at the time) – this happened on a training course for deaf people. If this is the attitude of today’s Deaf BSL users, they need to wake up and think this through properly. Deaf isn’t about being able to sign and not to communicate with people who don’t sign, it’s about being unable to hear and having to make adjustments to make real communication a possibility. To be sure, becoming deaf or being deaf and stuck in a hearing world is difficult and you will embark on a ‘journey’ of self-acceptance and acceptance of your hearing loss, before discovering your deaf identity. Now that I can sign up to a point, and have met other deaf people, I have developed my own sense of identity and accepted that yes, I am deaf, yes I do need communication support, yes I am not hearing, and yes, I am happy with being deaf. I’m at the end of my journey.

Basically, I’m a hearing person with ears that aren’t perfect. I’m a human being too, I just happen to have a hearing loss. If you don’t like it, if it doesn’t fit in with what a hearing person thinks I should be able to do, well that’s tough. This is me. I’M DEAF. DEAL WITH IT.

See Hear are researching identity issues between the deaf and Hard of Hearing. If you are interested in taking part, please contact Angela Spielsinger on the See Hear team angela.spielsinger at bbc.co.uk

Angela would like some stories on experiences of Hard of Hearing people who were brought up in mainstream education and their preferred method of communication is oral, this resulting in issues of feeling torn between two worlds, where they felt they couldn’t fit into either the deaf or hearing world.

Many people are not aware what it means to be hard of hearing, so See Hear want to research this for future possible stories. They are looking for stories that are based on past experiences or issues occurring today.

If you want more details, please contact Angela.

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11 responses

21 01 2008
Dale

To get an idea of the history behind Deaf culture and understand some of the things you ask above (and it is a fascinating subject), I have included in my review of a book by Paddy Ladd instructions for reading the book in a way which gets straight to the answers (I wouldn’t recommend a general reader to try to read the whole book through). My review is at http://tribalvillages.org/deaf/Paddy-Ladd.html ; if the review is too long for you just scroll to the bottom and read the `Recommendations’ section.

Surprisingly, the historical answer to why Deaf reject non-BSL speakers is class: in the past working class Deaf were completely enveloped by the Deaf environment imposed upon them by colonialist missioners, whereas middle-class deaf had access to the hearing world and were generally favoured by the missioners; through an act of inverted snobbery the Deaf turned away from the middle-classes and started to rebel against the Oralist missioners on their own terms, and they’ve never got on together since!

At least that’s how I think it happened, someone can correct me or at least bring the story up to date if they know better…

21 01 2008
deaf single

am also not deaf bron…exactly, am a hard of hearing… I am also not very skilled at sign language. I joined deafromance.com recently. It’s a deaf community site. I found members are gengle and kind. They accept me as one of their member completely! I already have some friends over there. Great community!

21 01 2008
Gal from California

A beautiful foto – but inside the truth and outside the confusion.

21 01 2008
Deaf dating

Cool topics. It’s up to each person. If the deaf person has a deep passion with BSL/ASL, he/she is willingly to find time to learn and practice BSL/ASL.

21 01 2008
Fintan

This is an argument that will never end.

But I don’t agree about your parents though (mine was advised that I was not to mix with other Deaf children) as there is no way a child can understand whats been said in a classroom without BSL. ( I am guessing that you went to mainstream school like I did)

21 01 2008
macian

couldn’t agree more FOL, i think most of us felt this way growing up. here’s an exract from a poem I wrote with a friend a while back.. the poem was called

neither hear nor there

To the deaf I was hearing, to the hearing I was deaf
For own my place in life I stood bereft
As if on an island amidst a barren sea
Only it wasn’t an island and wasn’t just me
Surrounded by people, yet very alone
No single voice just a muddled drone.

that about sums up how I felt

22 01 2008
lette

OMG dont even get me started on Deaf culture, and what profoundly deaf people consider, deaf and not deaf!! it gets me too!! Im like you an inbetween!! and its a pain in the bum! but I love me for who I am, and I love you for who you are, but we are special people who can do that, there are a minority out there who just cant and have to cause trouble!

25 01 2008
funnyoldlife

Macian – Love the poem, it precisely sums up my feelings.

Fintan – I did go to mainstream school and I couldn’t hear the tutors. I got through by reading all the books on the curriculum and copying everyone’s notes. I did the same at university. I believe if you want to do something badly enough, you can, and you just don’t let anything get in your way. There’s a way around everything.

28 01 2008
Fintan

Yes i did the same too!!

But it was done the hard way,I do not belive that there are many deaf children leave with gcse’s so where does the fault lies?

6 02 2008
MM

I think the MM approach works best, I say and do what I want…. life is too short for dogma…

16 08 2010
suzie

Oh me, I read this and weep. I find myself not even being looked at anymore. People just talk to my hearing friends and I feel so unimportant and not even my age . Its a challenge to remain peaceful and calm and still love yourself and be that love. I feel the challenge is in decideing whether to join more of the deaf and HOH crowd or continue with hearing people crowds.
The silence is not the problem in a crowd, its me thinking they think Im stupid because I dont laugh with them or repsond. Its a lonliness that only we can understand and we must know that from this pain we become more compassionate about others as a result. But my anger can really fly, and after it flys I feel so cut off.

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