Persuade me that deafness & hearing impairment are not best thought of as disabilities.

Elsewhere on the Dope, someone I am not trying to start a fight with writes:

This is a sentiment I have heard before; it was drilled into me when I was a relay operator/manager back in the day. Here’s a website on which it is referred to as a gift. There are dear or hearing impaired persons who so value deaf culture that they are hesitant to alleviate hearing impairments in their children when such is possible through technology such as cochlear implants. Such persons often refer to the hearing as “temporarily abled.”

Convince me that this view is correct. Or, if you prefer, argue that it’s wrong.

Why, yes, I did preview this post before hitting submit to make sure everything was capitalized properly, or at least as I intended. Why do you ask?

It’s wrong. People who can’t hear are less capable than those who can, and are lacking a sense that humans are built to have. The position that there’s no such thing as ill health or defects is a silly and self destructive one. I’ve long felt that the real point of turning being deaf into a “culture” is to provide job security for the self appointed advocates of the “Deaf community”; it’s as if advocates for smallpox sufferers had fought the elimination of the disease because they’d be out of a job when the disease was gone.

I agree that the point of view quoted in the OP is misguided. Hearing is a sense, one of only 5. Loss of hearing is loss of quite a few pleasures in life - birds singing, music (especially the kind you can’t feel), conversation, Howard Hawks movies, and so on. The one positive I have seen for it is exposure to sign language, which I’m sure is a very nice language, apparently very expressive, although I wonder if it is more expressive that good spoken English. But there is nothing to prevent a hearing person from learning sign language, indeed many do who have family members who have hearing loss.

I understand not wanting to be thought of as disabled. But loss of hearing is a loss, and I don’t see any way around that.

If there was someone in my world who had a hearing loss I would do my best to accommodate them; but I would be less eager to do so if they would not take available steps to improve their condition. My father was hard of hearing for the last 20 years of his life, but he wore hearing aids so that other people wouldn’t have to shout. I still had to speak clearly and carefully, but we both did the best we could to alleviate the situation. I don’t see what’s wrong with this approach.

I don’t think the development of a deaf culture occurred because of an agenda - it’s a group of people with a distinct language, somewhat isolated from the majority of hearing people.

It’s neither entirely right or wrong, good or bad. We could liken it to a community living on an island - in communication with the mainland, but at a distance. Life on the mainland may objectively be more comfortable, healthy and civilised, but can we rightly insist that some of the islanders join us here? I don’t think we can.

Regardless of anything negative it might promote, it still is a valid culture. If we had the power to eradicate deafness globally with a snap of the fingers, sure, we’d be performing an act of healing, but we’d also be wiping out a culture - which would be morally no better than, say, trying to eradicate the Welsh language or something like that.

In terms of your analogy, eradicating deafness—globally, or in an individual—wouldn’t be insisting that islanders join us here; it would be building a bridge that allows islanders to visit or move here if they desire to do so.

I think the issue mostly revolves around how to treat deaf children. Should they be “cured” if they can, or should they be encouraged to become part of the the Deaf Culture and then decide as adults what to do. The problem is, the most common cure (cochlear implants) is best performed as young as possible.

To me this is just silliness. Humans, as a species, are supposed to be able to hear. Not being able to hear is a net negative, even if it might have some positives. Anyone who actively prevents his child from getting medical help is abusing his child.

If the culture in question will be eradicated by mere contact with outsiders, that strongly implies that it’s a culture that no one would be part of if they had a choice. More of a prison than anything else.

There is no logic to the idea that it is not a disability. Not knowing what is lost because it hasn’t been experienced means such a person lacks the knowledge from which to base an argument.

If I lacked the sense of spacial distance with sonar I’d consider it a reduction of ability compared to those who had it. If it could be restored I would jump at the chance.

I was just driving down the highway today listening to a minute sound associated with the function of the car. If I couldn’t hear it then I wouldn’t know my brakes need to be serviced.

First I have to admit that it is hard for me to argue this and feel like I am arguing honestly in any respect other than logic and my natural inclination to take the other side. My gut reaction would be to fix deafness if at all possible.

To understand why I do not (although not thoroughly) think this is a disability is to think of it functionally. So here’s my main point and how I am going to try and convince you that it is not a disability: In our modern environment, it functionally serves no purpose at all to think of deafness as a disability.

In terms of a full functioning adult deafness does not serve as a worthy-of-concern variant in human physiology:

  1. Holding a job: there are probably few to no limitations on work available to deaf people. This is not to say there are not limitations, but these limitations are akin to saying “I have a disability because I have glasses and I can’t fly fighter jets”. Everybody is limited in their ability to perform some types of jobs and a decent proportion are physical and sensory limitations.
  2. Falling in love: I use this as a euphemism for communication. Deaf people can not only communicate quite well but are really only limited by language barriers. Deafness does not cause any other kind of emotional or intellectual difference that could otherwise cause them to be labeled as disabled.
  3. Culture: Deaf people apparently have a viable and self-sustaining subculture. While thinking about it before posting I decided that this is my own personal line between abled and disabled.
  4. Reproduction: penises/sperm and vaginas/ovum function normally while deaf.

I think as technology advances and our culture advances we will start to see more and more of those whom were considered disabled to lose that characterization. Or at least these people will want to lose the characterization.

Apparently not, if they need to be isolated to maintain it. I mean seriously; Jews survived as a culture for centuries in the face of systematic persecution, and the “Deaf culture” can’t survive being able to talk to people?

All cultures have bogeyman (real and imagined) that, if allowed to, would eradicate the culture: Red Menace. Immigration. Nazis. Crusaders. Concerned parents over video games. Horseless carriages.

I think John Mace is right in that issue is largely around how to treat deaf children. Medical intervention to turn them into hearing children might be great, but we don’t currently have that. Cochlear implants are getting better and better, and technology in general is improving so maybe one day soon we will. I think Deaf people think it is better for a child to be Deaf, with a language and a community that accepts them, than to be a ‘broken’, isolated, not-actually-Hearing child. A lot of people in the Deaf community have had the experience of being that second type of child and they know it sucks. Nobody wants to listen to them, though, and they get frustrated.

Cochlear implants work well for a lot of people, but don’t work perfectly for everyone. They also break, run out of batteries, can’t be worn 100% of the time. So people with implants are still not equivalent to hearing people.

There is a range of opinions on all these things within the Deaf community. I know several Deaf parents who got implants for their Deaf children (while still teaching them sign language, of course), and other Deaf people who have said that they hope their children are have full hearing, because it will make their lives easier. The extreme positions always get more airplay.

I think cochlear implants will make this whole issue go away in a few generations, except for those that implants don’t help. They will be kinda screwed because there will not be a Deaf community for them to join. (This is for countries that can afford the technology.)

Deaf culture depends on sign language. Sign language is how Deaf people communicate with each other. Historically, the more energy people focus on getting their kids to fit in with the hearing community, the less energy they spend on sign language. Partly because hearing parents don’t know sign language themselves, partly because there is only so much time in a day to teach your kid skills and largely because medical professionals - doctors, audiologists, speech therapists, etc. - and educators have told parents not to teach their kids sign, that it will hinder their progress in learning to adapt to the hearing world. This has been a dominant theme in education of the deaf for more than 100 years, that deaf children should not be taught to sign, or in many cases, be allowed to sign. This is pretty destructive to children who children who can’t hear well enough to learn spoken language. They have no way to communicate, or express themselves, and are very difficult to educate - they struggle at school, struggle with reading. If medical and teaching professionals were devoting as much time to encouraging sign language as they do to encouraging spoken language, the Deaf community would have a very different attitude.

I can’t think of too many jobs that don’t have limitations on work available to deaf people.

I could have worded it better I see: “Unable to perform” would be a clearer way of stating what I meant than the word “limited”.

Some years back, we had a thread about a lesbian couple* who were deaf and deliberately sought out a deaf sperm donor. Their objective was to well, have their children turn out deaf.

Ouch! (The kid did turn out to be deaf, but I can only imagine how he or she would have felt if they hadn’t.)

Note: I’m not saying that the disabled shouldn’t have kids. I’m saying that in this case, it comes a little too close to eugenics. “Reverse eugenics”, I guess you could say.

This is not eugenics at all. This is the process that billions of reproducing couples have engaged in throughout evolutionary history, both human and nonhuman. Eugenics is entirely different and its key component involves the social stricture on who cannot breed.

This is ridiculous. If you are going to quote me, quote me. I stand by what I said and the facetious premise to your Great Debate posting may be better suited for The Pit, since you clearly had a bone to pick with me.

Deafness is a disability.

The big difference between deafness and other disabilities such as blindness or parapalegia is that most people produce spoken language with their mouths and understand spoken language with their ears. Deaf people aren’t able to do this, because they can’t hear. It’s possible to use other senses like sight to get some idea of what people are saying, but this is really really difficult. Some people turn out to be exceptionally talented at it, but most people aren’t, and therefore most deaf people aren’t.

This means that you can’t teach deaf kids by speaking to them and expecting them to read your lips. This approach has been tried over and over and it has failed miserably over and over. It does not work. It cannot work. The result is that kids grow up without any language at all. They can’t understand English, because they’re deaf. But you haven’t taught them any other language, because Oral educators feared that if you allowed other methods of communication–like, you know, sign language–deaf kids would prefer to use that easier way, and wouldn’t learn the Oral method. This resulted in generations of illiterate and retarded children who grew up into illterate and retarded adults.

Not being exposed to full language as a child causes mental retardation, just as surely as feeding them lead paint chips or depriving them of iodine.

Now, the problem of exposing deaf children to full language is easily solved, because sign language is a full language. However, the problem is that almost all deaf kids have hearing parents. And most hearing parents do not know sign language, and even if they try to make a large effort, learning sign language as an adult is hard. And so the first impulse of hearing parents is to try to find a way avoid sign language.

Cochlear implants work, some of the time. But cochlear implants don’t cure deafness. They help a lot of kids, but most of the time, those kids cannot be fully mainstreamed because while they can hear and understand some of what their teachers and classmates are saying, they can’t understand lots of it. And this means, that most children with cochlear implants are still deaf, even though they have some hearing.

This is the crucial part of deafness that people have a hard time understanding. Not being able to hear the cars honking, or dogs barking, or a smoke alarm, is a disability, but those are minor issues. What makes deaf people deaf is that they have a very hard time understanding speach.

And so deaf people are linguistically isolated. They go to schools for the deaf, and they learn sign language to communicate. And they often can’t communicate beyond a rudimentary level with their own parents and family. This is why there is such a thing as a “Deaf Community”, when there isn’t a “Blind Community” or a “Parapalegic Community”. Deaf people, especially those who went to boarding schools, are isolated from their families and connected with each other.

And there has been a long tradition of extremely misguided deaf education in this country, which thankfully has improved dramatically. The problem is, as I said above, that deaf children with hearing parents have decisions made for them by their parents, who often have no idea what to do and whose first impulse is to try to stuff their children into the hearing world, declare them cured, and go on with their lives. And so there’s a tension between deaf adults who look back on the education and treatment they had as children, and realize how misguided and counterproductive much of it was, but they are regarded as “holding back” these children, who could join the hearing world if only they weren’t held back by the “Deaf Community”.

And so, deafness is a disability. If there were a magic pill that could cure deafness, every child should be given it, and every deaf adult should be offered it. But there is no such magic pill, cochlear implants are a tool that can help deaf kids but they usually are not a cure for deafness. And so, since there is no cure, deaf people are isolated and turn to each other. And this creates Deaf Community, Deaf Culture, Deaf Identity, and so on.

When cochlear implants were first introduced there was a great deal of skepticism from the Deaf Community. See the move “The Sound and the Fury”. But that was 20 years ago. Cochlear implants aren’t experimental anymore, and resistance to them has died down. But children with cochlear implants who have great success don’t find themselves part of the Deaf Community, because they become mainstreamed. The other kids who had partial or no success, still need the Deaf Community. Deafness hasn’t been cured, and it isn’t going to be cured any time soon.

If you’re married, deafness can be a blessing.