Deaf vs deaf
People in 2018 are very aware of labels, names, categories, etc. It is not politically correct to call people "disabled",but some people prefer to be called 'disabled.' Others prefer to be called "differently abled." I have learned long ago, that it is not my place to decide what to "label" or "call " people. I do my best and hope people will politely share with me how they would like to be addressed.
When it comes to hearing loss, there are many ways people want to be addressed. Some people say, "Deaf". Some people say, "deaf". Some people say, " hearing impaired," while others feel offended by that term. Some people say, " hard of hearing " even if they have no hearing and use a cochlear implant.
When I work with my students, I try to explain the medical terms vs the cultural terms. It is not my place to decide for them how they refer to themselves,but I do try to educate.
If a person is 'deaf', that literally means that on an audiogram, when their hearing is tested, they have a significant hearing loss. That means they can not hear without amplification. For some, it means that even with hearing aids, there is no understandable hearing. This person may use a cochlear implant and be able to understand spoken language after much therapy. For someone to be labeled "hard of hearing", it usually means a person has hearing loss,but in the mid ranges. This person does get benefit from a hearing aid and is able to understand spoken language.
When a person identifies himself as " Deaf", it is related to culture. It means he feels he belongs to the Deaf culture-knows/uses American Sign Language, does not feel like he has "lost" anything because he can 't hear some or all spoken language. He may have a significant hearing loss or a mild one,but it is how he culturally feels. A person who calls herself "hearing impaired " usually is someone who fits in more with the hearing world and sees the hearing loss as a deficit medically, not a culture.
There is no right or wrong way a person should label herself. People 's perspectives and understanding of their hearing losses may change over their lives, due to changing hearing loss or due to the people they meet. It saddens me when one group tells the other group that they are wrong. My hope is that people in both the 'deaf' and the "Deaf" community can come together and be open for all people to flow in and out of each group.
Is ASL universal?
I get this question often, 'Is ASL universal?'. Ummm, no.. First off, it means AMERICAN sign language. Second of all, does the world speak English? Sure, most Europeans learn it as a second language, but it is not their main language. Why is that, you might ask? The answer is simple=culture.
Culture plays a huge part in our language and how it evolves. Do you know that in some cultures, it is disrespectful NOT to look an elder in the eyes, yet in another culture, it is disrespectful if you DO look an elder in the eye. Did you know that Eskimos have such levels of cold that there are 50 spoken words in their language that describe snow alone!
Transfer that over to signed language. Motion, dialect, gestures, facial expression, eye contact all play a role in these visual languages. So, no , there is not a universal sign language.
When I went to Europe, I met 3 different groups of people who were signing and talked to 2 of the groups. It was comical,about as comical as me trying to speak English to someone in Slovakia who didn't know English. We tried, pointed and smiled alot. The first group I met was from Italy. How did I know-they drew the shape of the country in the air and then , yup, wrote ITALY on a paper;) Interestingly, they knew the sign for America that is in ASL-not sure if it is the same in Italian signs. They were thrilled to have me come over and chat and we muddled through with pen, paper and gestures. Later, I met a couple in Iceland. They knew English, so they could read my lips and half gestured and half spoke to converse with me. The last group I saw in the Iceland airport. It was crazy busy at the ticket counter and I was beyond exhausted, so I didn't converse. It was magical to me, though, to see signing all over Europe. It was frustrating, and mildly brain confusing, to not be able to understand it. It is such a given to me that when I see someone signing, I can understand.
My daughter is constantly pushing her brain to learn new spoken language.. I am going to look into seeing if I can find apps or something to try to learn some foreign sign languages... Keep ya posted!
Allison Schley is a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing children. She took her passion for kids with hearing loss and became an author. She wants all children with hearing loss to know they are amazing and that hearing loss will not keep them from following their dreams.