Deafness as Disability

May 24, 2009 at 6:17 am 1 comment

I’m reading The Mask of Benevolence by Harlan Lane. In it he argues that various professionals that claim to help the Deaf community are actually harming them. I was reminded again by the book about how many Deaf people do not see themselves as disabled, but rather as a linguistic/cultural minority. That the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated certain changes, like mainstreaming of deaf students that actually held them back. Education of the Deaf might be more comparable to ESL/ELL than to other special education programs. If everyone knew ASL, maybe deafness wouldn’t be much of a disability. But as it is, though Deaf people can live very full lives and can do most things that hearing people do, they are still subject to inherent disadvantages of being deaf, and discrimination. The ADA protects  Deaf people from such discrimination but only if it’s classified as a disability. Sorry guys, you can’t have it both ways.

A few years back when I wrote a paper on the disability rights movement, I included a section on the Deaf President Now! movement at Gallaudet University. But was that appropriate? Are Deaf people part of the disability community or rights movement or should they be seen as separate if they want to be? DPN happened in the 1970s as other aspects of disability rights were emerging. Obviously, the Deaf movement is part of a larger social trend towards self-determination and changing social views of disability.

Another thing that bothers me about the “we aren’t disabled” argument is the sense that they see themselves as better than people with other disabilities. Now to be fair, there has been a similar tendency among the Asperger’s/high functioning autism community to reject the “disabled” label. I myself have questioned this.

We might actually have a better case for that- after all there is nothing that all AS/HFA people are incapable of doing, like hearing, seeing, walking, reading etc. However our brains are wired differently in a way that gives us disadvantages in society.

I’d like to reach out a hand to Deaf people and say, we would like to be your friends & allies. You have a distinct community, culture and movement that gives us a lot of inspiration. Most of us may be hearing but face other challenges, so we empathize with you. We understand what it’s like to feel excluded from society. So let’s work together.


Entry filed under: Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Disability Rights. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. JS  |  May 31, 2009 at 1:01 am

    I have read “Mask Of Benevolence” and have met Mr. Lane at a conference. He is very articulate, both in print and in person.

    The claim of actually harming the Deaf community while believing actions are a help is fairly true. This is because certain actions are based on a false belief that we cannot set, accompoish, nor restructure goals on our own. The harm also comes from the belief that deaf is a disability – as can be seen by those who advocate CIs. The idea that a CI is a necessary and sufficient tool in order to learn or function in society is false. What happened *before* them? Are the goals and/or accomplishments *before* they were iinvented anything less?

    The “inherent disability” view of being deaf is becoming less and less accepted. If this is the case then the automatic design of devices also is less and less reasonable.

    Was the DPN movement valid? I believe so in that this helped make the administration more conscious on a personal level of what deafs are capable of.

    True, *some* who are deaf see themselves as “better-than” others. However, I’d assert that this is a extremely small minority. Personally, I do not see myself as any “better-than” anyone else; be they disabled or not. Differences in functioning are only that – differences. To say that one group of persons is “better-than” another group is to use a *quantitative* measure for a *qualitative* function.

    Yes, we need to work together and respect each other.


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