Monday, May 22, 2006

“Deafness is not a disability” (argumentum ad consequentiam)

Many deaf and hard of hearing individuals resent being told they have a disability. Passionate opposition to this idea is for instance found in the official documents of The National Association for the Deaf in the US:


Many within the medical profession continue to view deafness essentially as a disability and an abnormality and believe that deaf and hard of hearing individuals need to be "fixed" by cochlear implants. This pathological view must be challenged and corrected by greater exposure to and interaction with well-adjusted and successful deaf and hard of hearing individuals. [source]


Extreme proponents of this view regard giving a deaf child a cochlear implant or hearing aids as akin to ‘correcting’ the colour of a black person’s skin by making them white. They argue that deaf people are unlike hearing people, but that deafness is only a disadvantage to the extent that deaf people are unfairly excluded from a society engineered around the concerns of the hearing.


From an evolutionary point of view, this position is almost impossible to maintain. It would be to claim that the sense of hearing has no selective advantage in humans. But without it, an entire channel of information about potential threats and opportunities is closed off, information that a hearing person can exploit to great advantage. Hearing people have access to information about events occurring behind their backs, through occlusions and in complete darkness. Without looking, they have access to exceedingly subtle information about their surroundings. They can tell whether they are in a city or in the countryside, indoors or outdoors, in a large room or a small room. They can tell the difference between sounds produced in a room with tiles versus carpet. Even the sound produced by tapping on something reveals subtle information about the kind of material it is made of and whether it is hollow.


Hearing people take this information for granted and tend to focus on the consequences that hearing loss might have for their ability to communicate. But in the context of language, a stronger case can be made that the disadvantages associated with deafness are basically arbitrary, a result of the broader culture communicating via a different but equally expressive code. If hearing people communicated using signed languages, the code would be accessible to deaf people and in terms of expressiveness there would be nothing lost, signed languages being just as systematic as spoken languages and capable of conveying meanings that are just as subtle and precise. Indeed, a perfect comparison can be made with signed English, which is English in exactly the same sense that both the spoken and written forms are – just conveyed via yet another medium. In terms of what can be expressed, signed and spoken languages are equivalent, but there are nevertheless advantages and disadvantages associated with each. If you know a signed language, you can communicate through panes of glass (useful for expressing final sentiments through the window of a train as it pulls away from the platform), and in noisy environments such as nightclubs and factory floors. You can converse without waking babies and without alerting enemy soldiers. And you can talk with your mouth full. On the other hand, if you can speak and hear, you can communicate with someone in another room or in the dark. You can also converse while your hands and eyes are occupied – chopping vegetables or whatever. Hearing people can of course learn to sign if they choose, thus availing themselves of all the benefits of both modes of communication, but the reverse is not true. The ability for deaf people to communicate via the auditory channel is incontrovertibly impaired. 


Sound carries subtle information about the environment and allows communication in contexts that sign language does not, but sound is also a source of subjective pleasure, the experience of sound having a richness that is very difficult to explain to the congenitally deaf. How can one explain the contagious effect of laughter, the drama of rolling thunder, or the penetrating effect of a baby’s cry? These sounds get into us, affecting our emotional state directly. The same is of course true of music, but its effect on the hearing must seem almost mystical to those who have never heard it.


It is hard to avoid the conclusion that deaf people are genuinely missing out on something that hearing people experience, and there are almost no advantages to being deaf that would compensate for this, the exceptions being situations in which a deaf person is untroubled by sounds that a hearing person would find unpleasant or distracting (noisy neighbours, elevator music, construction sites, and so on). But even in these cases, a hearing person has the option of plugging their ears.


To most hearing people, going deaf would be far from an insignificant event, which is why it is often surprising for them to find that those who are born deaf usually view their condition quite differently. Hearing people and those with acquired deafness usually equate it with suffering, but those who have been deaf all their lives generally don’t think about it in this way. After all, they have never known any other life so have nothing to compare it to. It would be like a person lamenting that they couldn’t fly. We are not filled with bitterness and regret about being unable to fly because we’ve never had any serious expectations of being able to beyond a few bone-breaking experiments in childhood. This doesn’t mean that many of us wouldn’t like to be able to if we had the option, but it is senseless to pine for something that is impossible to obtain. With this in mind, imagine birds looking down at us from the tree tops endlessly offering their sympathy to us – their unfortunate flightless companions – and you may go some way to understanding why the deaf resent the ‘poor you’ attitude of hearing people. For the average hearing person, meeting a deaf person is a novelty, which confronts them with a contrast that fills them with pity. But for deaf people who know nothing else, these expressions of sympathy are jarring and misplaced. They are justifiably frustrated at constantly being made to feel like victims and yearn to be seen as more than just deaf [example]. This may go some way to explaining why there are those who deny that deafness is a disability, but this would be to miss the target of a legitimate complaint. The legitimate complaint is the same as that of anyone who stands out from the crowd for reasons that are beyond their control. People get described as the ‘tall guy’, the ‘fat girl’, the ‘one with the big nose’ and so on, descriptions that obviously overlook virtually everything that’s important about a person. Likewise, that ‘deaf girl’ is never just that. She might also be someone’s sister, love animals, have a keen interest in photography, or whatever. She is a complete person.


There may also be more familiar reasons for people denying that deafness is a disability having to do with people simply believing what they want to believe, but there is an important difference between dealing with something that we accept is unpleasant and dealing with it by denying that it is. This is of course, easier said than done. After someone dies for instance, there is no easy way to reconcile ourselves with the intolerable proposition, which leaves us shaking our heads in disbelief, that we will never again be able to talk to our loved-one again. Nor is there an easy way to accept, when a relationship ends, the intolerable proposition, which leaves us unable to breathe, that the person who knew us more intimately than anyone else in the world and who is therefore most qualified to pass judgements about us, has judged that we are no longer worthy of their love. Also intolerable is the proposition that there is something wrong with us, like being deaf, that will put us at a disadvantage for the rest of our lives. It is very difficult to console ourselves when confronted with the unbearable permanence of these things, so it is little wonder we find ourselves concluding – without evidence – that our dearly departed are now “in a better place” where we will someday be reunited with them, that our lover will someday come back into our arms once they realise their mistake, or that the problem lies not with us, but with a condescending society that treats us as though we are broken and need to be fixed.


Most of us see it as profoundly insensitive to challenge the views of those who we think are suffering, which is no doubt why victims get away with saying blood-curdling things on the steps of criminal courts, why there was so little opposition to the US invasion of Afghanistan directly after the 911 atrocities, and why there was so little opposition to establishing the state of Israel after the second world war. But, at least in these cases, the ‘profoundly insensitive’ option may actually be better than the consequences of not debating the issues.


Though at a different scale, the consequences of uncritically denying that deafness is a disability would be to legitimise the attempts of deaf parents to have deaf children by design [example], or to legitimise their attempts to deny their deaf children hearing aids or cochlear implants during the critical period of brain development when auditory input is necessary for the proper development of auditory processing capacities. Both of these decisions would lead to avoidable suffering, and without the child having any say in the matter. If, when the child grows up, they wish to discard their hearing aids or switch off their cochlear implant, they have that choice, but the reverse is not true – you cannot raise a deaf child without these devices and let them choose whether they want them as adults because, by then, the critical period of brain development will have long since passed and they will never be able to make sense of the sounds they hear.


The consequences of a belief being true frequently account for why people hold it far better than the evidence supporting it (this is the logical fallacy of argumentum ad consequentiam) and the issue of whether deafness is a disability is no different. For deaf people, these consequences are emotional – it liberates them from the intolerable proposition that they are physically flawed, while also providing an intellectually convenient way of dismissing the understandably frustrating attitudes held by many hearing people. On the other hand, to deny that deafness is a disability would be to legitimise decisions of deaf parents to have deaf children by design, or deny a deaf child hearing aids or a cochlear implant when they could otherwise benefit from them. These consequences tell us why it matters to those on either side of the debate, but the truth is what it is, good or bad. Only evidence can tell us whether deafness is a disability, and on this basis, it is hard to deny that it presents a disadvantage that, although not as grave as some other disabilities, is a disability nonetheless.

26 comments:

  1. hello mano,
    wanting to fly is an interesting analogy. If the majority of humans could fly and I couldn't, I would definitely feel a pang of jealousy. On the other hand, a deaf person who has been deaf all their life cannot see people hearing. This raises many questions that obviously cannot be expounded in such a small window.

    Cap'n

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  2. Yes, I think you have to know what you're missing to miss it, which is why I am arguing that people who've been deaf all their lives aren't constantly wishing they could hear. Maybe if they thought about it they'd be curious about what it would be like in the way that people are curious about being able to fly, but like flying, it's not something we devote much thought to because it's completely unattainable. If we are forced to think about what we're missing, we might feel bad about it. At this point we have a number of options:

    (1) we could waste a lot of mental effort being jealous and wishing we could fly even though there is no way we'll ever be able to,

    (2) we could try to convince ourselves that being able to fly wouldn't really be that much fun after all so we're not actually missing out on anything, or

    (3) we could just accept that we can't and forget about it.

    I consider it a real virtue to be able to confront and accept unpleasant things forthrightly without dwelling on them. Flying is a good example because even though many of us would like to be able to if we gave it some thought, there are surely very few of us who do actually devote any thought to it and therefore very few who suffer any anguish about it. It's not what we are missing out on as such, but the way we work it over in our heads that causes the anguish.

    Thanks for the comment Cap'n...

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  3. What is it like to "hear" a hand?
    You have to be deaf to understand.

    * - William J. Madsen.


    Should we try and avoid deafness ? With the use of genetic technologies to select against it, is it ethical to avoid the conception or birth of children with congenital deafness ? Deaf communities are now recognised as cultural and linguistic communities ( minorities) and current application of screening will surely only lead to the elimination of this linguistic/cultural group then acting to ensure that deafness is ethical and not regarded as a disability at all.

    I feel that as long as the term "disability" does not carry negative connotations with it - meaning, that as long as it is not used to degrade, embarass, isolate or exclude people with disabilities, it can be used sometimes to inform others if or when necessary. However, since it is not a perfect world, the usage of the term is sometimes utilised to do just those things: embarass and exclude etc.


    Being disabled - incapacitated by illness, injury, or wounds; broadly : physically or mentally impaired ( Mirriam-Webster).

    The deaf can actively lead normal lives, can drive, can cook, can hold a crying baby ( which perhaps being deaf maybe useful in this situation !) , they can pay the bills and even work ! Many deaf people have actually acquired deafness or are deafened - they are 'disabled' through loss and more often than not have another physical condition.

    My patient - R is a four year old toddler who is a born communicator and I believe a symbol of amazing changes now sweeping 'Deaf culture'. In our session today, he
    communicated hands flying using sign language but also is learning to hear/speak in standard English due to his new cochlear implant. He will soon be able to speak and
    sign joining together the two very separate worlds of what his elders couldnt even dream of. He will be fluent in two or more languages ( and sign language is not a mirror of English, it is a foreign language with its own sentence structure and idioms) but still society insists on labelling him 'disabled'. Unfortunately we are now all 'pigeon holed',
    most children 'apparently' have some form of ADHD, ADSD, Dyslexia or Dysphraxia if they can not read or write at a certain age, many children are discriminated for being non conformist, being imaginative is seen as being hyperactive , even laughing according to a recent article in teachers.net can be a warning sign of attention deficit disorder.

    However my patient is still a deaf child with his cochlear implant although now has to encounter the difficulties of attending a mainstream school, the social discrimination or the delayed social development.


    Parents who dont opt for their child to have an implant then have to encounter the difficultes of speaking and learning Sign Language, they have to adjust to the public attitude to speaking to their child in public using sign. The stares, the stigma....Since it is therefore easier to change the child rather than the parent, are parents purely agreeing to their children receiving the implants to give themselves more assurance that their child may hear and speak and therefore be more like them. Are their children more likely to become part of mainstream culture ?

    Is this a good thing ? A deaf child is still deaf and becoming mainstreamed may not fulfill the deepest requirements for simply feeling that you genuinely belong. Would it be like black people born into a white family ? It would be difficult to find your identity ?

    We all need help or aids to assist us in daily living, so what difference is it to have implants ? We all have the freedom to choose and are lucky to live in a place where we have the right to choose and are aware of what consequences our choices will have.

    Every deaf person has to be considered individually and if having a cochlear implant increases their chance of leading a normal life, it should be welcomed.

    We use ventolin to help us breathe.
    We put glasses on our eyes to help us see. !
    We wear a hat to keep our head warm ( and to hide our bald patch!)
    We have cochlear implants to help us hear ( which unlike conventional hearing aids which are used to purely amplify sounds, can now 'replace' the function of the damaged cochlear in patients)

    R's Mum said " I can now take my son to the park, watch him run and pick flowers for me, I can say thankyou, my son can hear my voice and I can watch him instantly respond, I can call him if he runs off to quickly towards the road and next week our family will sing Happy Birthday to him ".

    It is painful and frustrating to encounter discrimination because of the stigma that any disability carries with it, so I realise that many people do not use the term "disabled".

    However, I also notice that some people with disabilities refer to others with more severe disabilities in a dismissive way too , as if to say, "I don't want to be confused as being like THAT person with THAT kind of disability" or, "I am NOT that badly off!" When you discriminate against someone else because of their "inabilities", it makes it
    strange for you to complain if or when you encounter some kind of discrimination yourself. How many deaf people are claiming disability benefits ? How many of the carers of the deaf claim caring allowance for the disabled people that they 'care for'. What proportion of this group then fight to maintain that they are not disabled and can lead a normal unaided existence.

    I love my friends and my family. I would love my brother if he had 5 ears, 3 eyes, 1 leg and a stutter. I wouldnt call him disabled, he probably wouldnt call himself disabled but if it helps him not to be as excluded in todays society to give himself that label to advance his career, to get a good education, to receive more financial help or to meet people who have has the same condition. At the end of the day - disability is only a word, the person is a person..... warts and all.

    Sparkle .

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  4. Thanks Sparkle, your wf made me think about many things (as usual)...

    The Deaf culture movement has adopted the rhetoric of the civil rights movement referring to itself as a minority group, but to my knowledge, the minority status of Deaf people is not recognised in the laws of any country on the planet. Instead, there are laws that make deafness grounds for receiving disability benefits, and that demand that organizations cater for the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people (e.g., The UK's Disability Discrimination Act: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1995/1995050.htm).

    Most Deaf people agree that they are at a disadvantage, but take this to be a result of prejudice against people of their 'minority status' rather than their physiological condition itself, so feel justified accepting benefits even if they don't think the title of the benefit should include the word 'disability'.

    To argue that Deaf culture should be protected as a tradition is not unlike the loss-of-heritage type arguments that are the last defence of a lot of other barbaric practices. For instance, pro-hunt campaigners in the UK have used this kind of argument against the ban on fox hunting. In the arguments about traditional family values in the US, the appeal to tradition has the same effect and is used to justify discrimination against women, single parents, homosexuals and so on. Cultural traditions have also been used as a defence of whale hunting by the Japanese, female circumcision in various Muslim countries, and the list goes on.

    The bottom line is that hearing people are better off than deaf people and not just because of society's prejudices. Although prejudices surely play a part, I've tried to argue that the disadvantages would still be there even for a person living alone on a desert island.

    Irrespective of whether you wish to call it a disability, I think deafness is something that we should take reasonable steps to prevent if possible. Whether screening against deaf embryos is a reasonable step is not obvious to me though because it raises other ethical issues, but I certainly think that there can be no valid moral justification for doing the opposite - deliberately screening for, as opposed to against, a deaf embryo in the way that some deaf parents would like to (e.g., http://jme.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/28/5/284).

    As in many other cases of disability, deafness can be supported in such a way that the demands of daily life are unaffected. Just as a person who is unable to walk can use a wheelchair to give them the mobility that others enjoy, some deaf and hard of hearing people can benefit from devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants. For these people, throwing these devices away would be like an amputee throwing away his or her wheelchair – a perverse choice to make from the point of view of employment prospects and quality of life. Of course, not all deaf and hard of hearing people can benefit from hearing aids and cochlear implants depending on the nature of their disability and one's options should be considered carefully. But the question of what to do about deafness is quite apart from whether it is a disadvantage. Where that disadvantage can be mitigated by hearing aids, cochlear implants, TTY systems, loop systems, closed captioning and so on, I think we have a moral obligation to do so, but the problem of deafness can't always be mitigated, or mitigated in the same way for everyone. In many cases, hearing aids are preferable to a cochlear implant because the latter actually destroys whatever existing hearing a person has in the implanted ear, which it may be better to amplify than replace with the lower fidelity sound provided by a cochlear implant. In some cases, neither hearing aids nor a cochlear implant will improve a person's quality of life.

    And there are all kinds of questions about whether to teach a deaf child a signed or spoken language or both. Some advocate not signing at all so that the child is forced to learn the spoken form. This would run counter to standard understanding about bilingualism, which says that a child will just naturally pick up all the languages that they are exposed to without any special effort being required. The problem of acquiring a signed language is however made more difficult by the fact that most deaf children are born into hearing families who don't yet know a word of sign. The consequence is that the richness of the language the child is exposed to is not as good as it would otherwise be. Some within the Deaf community have advocated the rather extreme position that children should be forcibly removed from their families under these conditions (frighteningly reminiscent of the Australian government's assimilation policy which, up until the 1960s, involved forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their families to raise them according to the traditions of white culture).

    It is worth pointing out that Deaf culture does have extremist elements like this within it, but even within the mainstream Deaf culture, dissent about the issue of whether deafness is a disability is very rarely tolerated. You simply cannot be accepted as a member of that community if you happen to believe that it is. You must swallow this belief as a mark of loyalty or be ostracised. This may be at the core of the issue of why it is in the interests of many deaf people to defend this indefensible view since being accepted into this exclusive social group is the only tangible benefit associated with throwing one's hearing aids away.

    So Sparkle, I guess I just produced a long breathy wf in return...

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  5. You state:
    "How can one explain the contagious effect of laughter [. . .] or the penetrating effect of a baby’s cry"

    I would argue that there is nothing inherent in the sound of laughter or a baby's cry that produces an emotional response in us hearing people. The emotional response is created because we are happy when our loved ones are happy, and we are distraught when our loved ones are unhappy. The laughter or the crying are nothing more than audible cues to fill us in on the emotional states of those around us.

    Since a deaf person can pick up visual clues as to a another person's emotional state, they can experience the same reaction as a hearing person. Its like they are reading the same story, but it has been translated into a different language.

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  6. Interesting "deafness is not a disability"
    Why are so many lawsuits being filed in the name of ADA?
    I can respect the true deaf community-however, when there are hearing impaired parties who are only "along for the ride"and filing lawsuits frivolously this hinders the integrity of the "true deaf culture"
    the hearing impaired are secetive when identifying themselves as deaf or hearing impaired.or none at all.
    I loss some hearing capablilities in an artillery unit in the marine corps-I must surely qualify to be accepted into the hearing imapired community right?
    If not-why are the hearing impaired considered "part of the culture/"

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  7. It is interesting reading your argument. Wanting to fly is an interesting analogy that works in some ways but does not in others, since no humans can fly.

    I think that there is a bias against the signed languages and some values of Deaf cultures (one of them being valuing signed languages). And I do think that bias lends to it being much easier for most people to understand Deaf people as disabled than as members of a linguistic and cultural minority. I also think that since not all people who call themselves deaf are culturally/linguistically Deaf, it is probably important to be clear who we are talking about. If a deaf person cannot sign and participate in the relatively barrier-free deaf community, perhaps that does make that deaf person more disabled? And, presenting the argument as disability v.s. cultural/linguistic minority might be misleading, because it is a possibility that both are true, for some.

    Also, you mention the issue of hearing (non-signing) parents being unable to provide a "rich" model of a signed language. I believe in Norway there is a program supporting a fluent signer living with such parents when a baby or young child is found to be deaf.

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  8. Wanting to fly is an interesting analogy that works in some ways but does not in others, since no humans can fly.

    That no humans can fly (and I mean unaided) is important for the analogy because it's something hearing people have no prospect of being able to do and therefore don't spend time thinking about it. Likewise, people who have been deaf all their lives aren't sitting around thinking about what they'll never experienced either. Hearing people often don't seem to realise this, so they might offer their sympathies as if it were an ongoing concern in the mind of a deaf person, but it's not, and that's annoying.

    I think that there is a bias against the signed languages and some values of Deaf cultures (one of them being valuing signed languages). And I do think that bias lends to it being much easier for most people to understand Deaf people as disabled than as members of a linguistic and cultural minority.

    The article wasn't addressing whether being a member of the Deaf community is a disability, but it was addressing whether deafness is. I doubt very much that the public need to be told that a hearing person who identifies with the Deaf community (by for example using or valuing a sign language) isn't disabled. Also, to avoid any confusion, a deaf person who self-identifies as capital 'D' Deaf is no less disabled than a deaf person who does not. You could argue that members of the Deaf community are in a linguistic and cultural minority, though many of these people will also have a disability by virtue of also being deaf or hard of hearing.

    I believe in Norway there is a program supporting a fluent signer living with such parents when a baby or young child is found to be deaf.

    Sort of like having a nanny who signs, I guess. Thanks for the info.

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  9. I just stumbled across this post. I grew up partially deaf due to fever damage as an infant. My parents wanted me to live in the hearing culture and I didn't wear hearing aids as a kid. The technology wasn't very good back then and I wouldn't have liked them anyway. So I made do and I lipread (with sound). Needless to say my life has often been made difficult by this hearing loss but I totally agree that if you don't know what you're missing, you just don't miss it. I never felt "defective". Without my hearing aids in, I feel very normal and peaceful and my world is more zen-like. It's beautiful.
    I don't like people to treat me differently, though I do acknowledge that for the Hearing it can be more of a challenge to communicate with a hard-of-hearing or deaf person. They have to remember to face you when speaking and that's hard for them.
    The thing that bugs me about the way hearing people look at deafness and being hard of hearing, though, is that they really seem to associate it with low intelligence, across the board. It's a horrible prejudice still found in hearing society. They don't associate vision problems with lack of intelligence -- quite the opposite. So I can fully appreciate Deaf pride (I'm there!) though I wasn't so lucky as to be exposed to Deaf culture and don't know any now. I'm sure I would've loved it and loved signing, as a kid.
    Still, I am about half-hearing (without my hearing aids -- I do wear good digital ones now) and I thought about it but I would not give up hearing culture, even though so often strangers basically look upon us as mentally defective because of our hearing. I'd have to live in both worlds, for what that might be worth, and to the Deaf it isn't worth anything, I guess.

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  10. I have a thought or two about Nan's comment: "The thing that bugs me about the way hearing people look at deafness and being hard of hearing, though, is that they really seem to associate it with low intelligence, across the board. It's a horrible prejudice still found in hearing society. They don't associate vision problems with lack of intelligence -- quite the opposite."

    The truth is, you can't assess another's intelligence just by looking at him/her; the person must EXPRESS some thoughts before you can evaluate the intelligence of them. Now, the problem is, if you hear but don't sign, and the other person signs but doesn't hear, how effectively are ANY thoughts going to be communicated? Poorly, at best. BUT what if you hear and see, and the other person hears but doesn't see? Is there a barrier to expressing ideas? No. You just talk.

    So, really, it's not about intelligence; it's about communication. No one thinks the deaf or hard of hearing are "mentally deficient because of [their] hearing" -- generally, people don't know WHAT to think, because they don't know what YOU think. Unfortunately, when communication is hindered by obstacles, most people won't be bothered to do the work that's required to overcome them. This phenomenon is true across the board -- hearing, deaf, American, French, Chinese, Greek, whatever -- people think better of you when they can talk to you. It's really not about "hearing vs. "hard-of-hearing."

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  11. So, really, it's not about intelligence; it's about communication.

    I would make a slightly different case that it's not about deafness per se, but more about the communication barriers it raises. Unfortunately, the inability to communicate sometimes leads people to attribute low intelligence to whoever they're failing to communicate with. This happens with interactions between native and non-native speakers of a language too, with occasionally very similar results. Deaf people, like foreigners, also behave a bit strangely to unfamiliar eyes, and if one isn't able to see the sense in another's behaviour, 'strange' to 'stupid' isn't much of a psychological leap.

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  12. Let's settle it right now! This author should voluntarily undergo cochlear implant surgery or the equivalent. Maybe on both sides as I've heard of parents doing to their deaf kids.
    And then if he/she still says "Chop chop!" whenever a deaf child is sighted, and hollers about windows, maybe we should feel impressed rather than appalled.

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  13. From one of my comments above on the cochlear implant issue: "As in many other cases of disability, deafness can be supported in such a way that the demands of daily life are unaffected. Just as a person who is unable to walk can use a wheelchair to give them the mobility that others enjoy, some deaf and hard of hearing people can benefit from devices like hearing aids and cochlear implants. For these people, throwing these devices away would be like an amputee throwing away his or her wheelchair – a perverse choice to make from the point of view of employment prospects and quality of life. Of course, not all deaf and hard of hearing people can benefit from hearing aids and cochlear implants depending on the nature of their disability and one's options should be considered carefully. But the question of what to do about deafness is quite apart from whether it is a disadvantage. Where that disadvantage can be mitigated by hearing aids, cochlear implants, TTY systems, loop systems, closed captioning and so on, I think we have a moral obligation to do so, but the problem of deafness can't always be mitigated, or mitigated in the same way for everyone. In many cases, hearing aids are preferable to a cochlear implant because the latter actually destroys whatever existing hearing a person has in the implanted ear, which it may be better to amplify than replace with the lower fidelity sound provided by a cochlear implant. In some cases, neither hearing aids nor a cochlear implant will improve a person's quality of life."

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  14. Why if the deaf community does not want to be regarded as "disabled" do they accept SSDI? They accept free government assistance because they are covered under the umbrella of being disabled, which allows them to collect taxpayer money.

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  15. On the issue of disability benefits, most adherents of Deaf culture agree that deaf people are at a disadvantage, but take this disadvantage to be a result of prejudice against people of their 'minority status' rather than because of the physiological condition itself, so many of them feel justified accepting benefits for that reason, even if they don't think the title of the benefit should include the word 'disability'.

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  16. Hi there,
    My name is Patricia Mogensen and I am working on a argumentative research paper for a school project and have found this blog particularly insightful. Some wonderful points and varied emotional responses towards deafness have inspired some points that I would like to address in my paper. I was wondering, for citing purposes, if the writer of this original blog, Mano, would be willing to disclose his or her name so that I could give credit to some ideas in my research? If this is something that you don't feel comfortable doing I can find other opinions to integrate into my work, but some of the conversation topics that have been addressed play right into the questions that I am posing in my piece and I would love to be able to enlighten my readers on other people's perspectives on this issue.
    Thank you

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  17. Hi there Patricia,
    I'm glad you found the article useful. You may cite me as Mano Zezez. Best of luck with your research paper and feel free to share any other insights you may have on the subject here.
    Mano

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  18. Regarding Nan's comment that "The thing that bugs me about the way hearing people look at deafness and being hard of hearing, though, is that they really seem to associate it with low intelligence, across the board. It's a horrible prejudice still found in hearing society. They don't associate vision problems with lack of intelligence -- quite the opposite."

    I would speculate that speech impediments are fairly common in various forms of mental retardation and brain damage and that there is some similarity to that in the sound of the speech of people who are deaf. I think that is likely why a hearing person is more likely to erroneously assume a deaf person is mentally deficient than that a blind person is. I can also see how that would seem terribly unfair if you'd never been able to hear the differences of speech yourself.

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  19. ^Yes, that's quite plausible. Thanks for the comment!

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  20. Your reliance on an evolutionary argument doesn't hold up. What's a propos is the issue of mental optimization of perceptual input. Counting the number of sense faculties is not the issue. Are ten senses "better" than five? Twenty "better" than ten?

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  21. I'm afraid I don't recognise my own position in the argument you're dismissing. Evolution doesn't favour increasing sensory abilities indefinitely. All organs come with a developmental and metabolic cost that has to be offset with a sufficient gain in terms of reproductive fitness. If that cost is not offset, the organ will tend to diminish over evolutionary time and become vestigial (e.g., the eyes of cave fish). There is no suggestion that hearing ability in humans is superfluous in this way. On the contrary.

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  22. I have been accused of being "anti-Deaf culture" and could possibly lose my job with an organization for the deaf, because I support the view that deafness is a disability. My organization expect me to 100% endorse its cultural perspective philosophy! I believe there needs to be a balance. We are all born biological human beings but we learn how to be cultural social beings. How we culturalized have a lot to do with how we were socialized with or without deafness. Hearing aid no longer benefit me and so I am now a cochlear implant recipient. Hearing aids and cochlear implant are among the many helpful communication tools such as sign language, speechreading, blackberry, videophones, interpreters,posters, drama, etc that helped me get so much information about this wonderful universe. For me, the deafness as a disability viewpoint is not about being sick and needing to be fixed. It is about getting all the support I can get to help myself and others. I will not deliberately put away my helpful cochlear implant (CI) speech processor and then go around sueing doctors for not providing interpreting services for me, as if punishing doctors for their medical perspective. Don't get me wrong now. My doctor is patient and totally support interpreting services for deaf people. With my CI device I have heard the bloodcurling screams of hearing infants of deaf mothers sitting closeby without a clue that the infants probably needs to be rush immediately to the hospital. How do a deaf mother expect to visually determine the dept of pain the infant feels after a serious fall in another room out of her sight? Just sign, "Hush,hush,never mind"? I cannot hide from the realities of my deafness especially in dangerous situations with bad dogs and crazy motorists. I am expected to voice off in Deaf culture and yet expected to turn on my Cochlear Implant ears just so that I can hear and interpret for those who cannot hear. The stone the builder rejected becomes the chief corner stone. Imagine rejecting me because of the tool I use to hear and yet only need me to use it to help you understand what hearing people are saying! Speaking from my experience as a deaf person, deafness in itself is far more complex than sign language and culture. People of other languages and cultures can learn other languages and certain cultural norms that are based on the abiltiy to "hear". I enjoy the music created by my piano much better with my cochlear implant turned on that with it turned off. Was music meant to be silent and vibrationless like the deaf ears? Many things about deafness are not answered by simply saying it is a perfectly normal condition. If that is so why do deaf people rely on other people's hearing ears for information. If deafness is not a disability then interpreters should wear earplugs and deafness should should not be on the list of disabilities recognized by law. Culture and language can change, deafness remains a constant variable.

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  23. Thank you very much for the comment. I think you raise some important issues. In particular, your experience highlights very well the link between the act of rejecting the disability label and being accepted within Deaf communities. This belief is used to measure a person's commitment and loyalty to the group, so there's a social pressure to agree that potentially interferes with an objective appraisal of its truth.

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  24. I find it interesting that Deaf people (those with a capital "D") bash cochlear implants but embrace hearing aids, TTY, voice relay operators, interpreters to shadow them around all day, and so many other countless technology/gadgets/people required to help them function in the hearing world. They say deafness is not a disability, but yet they're also the first in line to receive disability benefit checks. Just calling as I see it.

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  25. Nice article. In the broader sense all people are disabled. What I consider to be my most limiting disabilities are: inability to operate without sleep, the need to use clumsy gadgets to interface with computers, possibility of forgetting things, having a limited lifespan, having only 2 arms and no tentacles...

    All these medical problems are considered curable in the future.

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  26. I think that it is good towant to be seen as someone who is not disabled if one is deaf. I think it is up to the individual, as how they want to percieve themselves. Their does not need to be a arguement here, as not everyone is in denial, I am sure. Many people with disabilities feel this way, and the consensus is just getting stronger that they want to be able to be seen as equals.

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