17 Jan, 13 | by Iain Brassington
A bit more on the cochlear implant thing that I’ve been mentioning off and on for the past couple of months. William Mager posted a link to something a little while ago on why some members of the deaf community are against CIs. This attitude had always puzzled me. Anyway, this, by Christina Hartmann, is the thing to which he linked.
Not wanting one yourself, I can understand easily enough. Not wanting one for your children based on uncertainty about their benefit, I can understand. But being against them in principle? Couldn’t get my head around that. It always seemed a bit wilfully isolationist – a bit identity-politics. Hartmann’s contribution, I think, makes things a bit clearer.
Without ASL, there is no Deaf community. We band together not because of our “hearing loss” but because of a common language. Like English, Bengali, French, American Sign Language (ASL) informs the cultural underpinnings of the Deaf community. Deaf history shows the importance of ASL to Deaf people. It’s not something we’ll give up easily and gladly.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, many educators tried to eradicate ASL in favor of oralism. They wanted to assimilate deaf people into the “mainstream” community. Many deaf people suffered because of this. They received marginal education because they couldn’t understand the spoken language. One of the older deaf men that I knew in my childhood couldn’t get a job better than a janitor because he received no valuable education from his oral school. They just tried to teach him how to talk, to no avail.
Amidst all of this, a vibrant community emerged. People would converge at Deaf schools and churches just for a chance to use their own language with someone else. A feeling of kinship grew in face of oppression. (Yes, trying to abolish a language and forcibly integrate people is oppression.) Many Deaf people throughout history fought very hard for the right to sign and live on their own terms. One example is the Gallaudet protests of the 1980s. The thought that this hard-earned culture will disappear because parents don’t want to learn ASL sparks abject fear and anger in many Deaf people.
And why not? Wouldn’t you be angry if someone told you that your culture is outdated and irrelevant now?
This last sentence or two seems to me to be important. CIs reduce the need for ASL (or BSL); SL sustains a culture; therefore CIs erode that culture. more…