Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Deaf with a little "d"

I did not realize the difference between "deaf" and "Deaf" until I had a child with hearing loss. With a little "d," the word just describes not being able to hear. Using the big "D," implies involvement in the Deaf community. Almost every book on ASL includes some background information about Deaf culture. Because Evan has profound hearing loss and because we are trying to teach him ASL, I assumed that he would become part of the Deaf community. In the ASL class Jeremy and I are taking, out textbook talks about Deaf culture in greater detail than what I've read before. The more I learn, the more I realize...it's complicated.

There are three requirements for being part of the Deaf community--1) a person must be deaf, 2) he or she must use ASL, and 3) the shared experiences that come from beign deaf. It makes sense that the Deaf community would be defined in this way--these shared experiences and challenges form a common bond that unites deaf individuals across racial, ethnic, or social divisions. A hearing person might be fluent in ASL, they might even have family members who are Deaf, but they will never be a part of the Deaf community because they are missing the first-hand experience of what it's like to have a severe or profound hearing loss. Another person might have a significant hearing impairment, but if they do not know ASL they will not be able to communicate with members of the Deaf community.

As I read the chapter, I started to get a sinking feeling. For months, I have referred to my son as being Deaf. But profound hearing loss does not equal Deaf. It's not that simple. Evan does not know ASL now, and realistically he may not ever have a good grasp on the language. This "minor" detail would be a deal-breaker in terms of being Deaf, of being part of the Deaf community. Evan is deaf with a little "d." I am disappointed because it's one more place where Evan does not really fit.


Anonymous said...

Don't worry. This is not new. The Deaf community will accept him and teach him ASL. This is not a problem!

Eva Nichole said...

Sarah, Eva is in the same boat as Evan. She cannot get the hang of ASL and somedays it worries me. They are working on picture communication with her at school and I am not sure about that either. What is she going to do as she gets older take pictures with her everywhere??
Good luck with everything,
Crystal and Eva

Connor's Mom said...

I think that your textbook has a pretty rigid definition for being part of the Deaf community.

For one thing, it doesn't seem to be taking into consideration all of the CODAs out there, who while they are not deaf are certainly considered part of the Deaf community. ASL is not necessarily a requirement either-- there are those out there who communicate in PSL or SEE or are deafblind and use the finger-palm method, and for the most part they aren't excluded either. I think that as long as you bring Evan to Deaf events and he has a chance to interact on a regular basis with the Deaf community, he'll be accepted without any difficulty. I mean sure, you'll have the occasional extremist who insists that you must meet those requirements, but do you really want him hanging out with those people anyway?


Dianrez said...

Let's also not forget that most of the Deaf community members were raised oral and broke out of that system to learn ASL, often in their late teens.

Some children may have differences in learning systems, and this could explain why some have difficulty learning ASL while very young. As with learning other modes of communication, that could resolve itself over time. For example, my daughter, hearing, simply did not talk or sign much until age four, then the floodgates suddenly opened on both.

Don't second-guess young children...it's impossible to predict what they will do in a few years to ten or fifteen years down the road. Just give them all the learning you can in all the systems available. This includes ASL too.

Amy, Mike and Ben Russo said...

I learned something new about "deaf" and "Deaf" from your post. I hope even if our kids aren't accepted as "typical ones" in the deaf community that they are still included... and that is all I wish for. I think once they meet them, how can they not :)

Anonymous said...

You know Sarah Elizabeth, Evan is a "little d" right now, but who knows what the future will hold for Evan, with all the advances in technology with regeneration of your own body parts. My class is reading the story of the "Great Ball Game." It's about these two teams arguing over who is better, the animals, because they have teeth, or the birds, because they have wings. Then there was bat, who had teeth and wings. The birds didn't want him, because he had teeth. The animals didn't really want him either, but they decided he could be on their team but just sit on the sidelines. As the game went on and it got dark, the birds were ahead and the animals decided to let bat play. The birds couldn't see when the small little bat swooped in and stole the ball and won the game. And it was bat the set the penalty for the ones who lost the game. Right now Evan can swoop down and steal their hearts and they will be very glad to have Evan and his talents to be a part of that team. I hope Evan will be a member of both communities.
Love, Grandma

Sarah said...

I did not know the difference between the two either. As a mom with a child with profound hearing loss in one ear and deaf in the other. I can't believe I didn't know the difference. I believe that our kiddos will 'fit' in though. Look at how much they continue to fight and persevere.
God Bless,
Brian, Sarah, and Caleb Hlebiczki

Eva Nichole said...

Sarah I tagged you on Eva's blog check it out!!

The Claytons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jesse James said...

"Conner's Mom" is right. I am part of the "Deaf" community, and I'm not deaf.. not even a CODA. I just attend their events, share their language, work with them, and (as a psychologist-in-training) study them.

Perhaps Evan (like me) can't BE "Deaf," but he certainly can be part of the Deaf community.

The hearts of mankind aren't limited by textbook definitions.

Catherine said...

Having a similar thought process too and boy is it complicated. When I sign to our DHOH teacher, she laughs at my signed exact English with ASL words. So much to learn. Just Followed You (finally setting that up, sorry). You know I hang onto Kristi's words re Reuben who is unable to vocalise but signs beautifully. He can't speak. Yet. Yet is a powerful word and full of hope... love Cx