The end of deafness?

Ted Evans’ award winning short film, The End, poses the question, ‘if there was a cure for deafness, would you take it?’ 

In its raw, documentary style The End explores what could indeed happen if deafness was eventually eradicated.

For those of you with hearing or with no exposure to the deaf community, saying ‘yes’ to a cure for deafness would most likely seem an automatic response. 

But for those who are well and truly part of the deaf world, the prospect of eliminating deafness would signify a loss rather than a gain. 

The existence of sign language, deaf humour and rich artistic expressivity would all cease without the deaf community that gives life to them.

For this community, deafness is seen not so much as a dis-ability but rather an ability to converse in a unique language and enjoy the perks of living in a much quieter world. To them, deafness has many gifts.

I have known deaf artists say it is actually their deafness that enables them to be so successfully creative. 

Deaf writers have expressed how it was their deafness that encouraged them to seek wider platforms for their ‘voice.’ 

Even I, as a dancer, have noticed how my sense of rhythm and musicality is stronger than most – and yes, I am deaf! 

Countless deaf professionals have all said it is because of their deafness that they have succeeded and not despite of it. So without it, who would they be?

This is perhaps why charities that focus on ‘curing’ deafness are often shunned by the deaf community. Offering a cure, however well-meaning it may be, could be read as:

“You are not normal.

We want to fix you.” 

By emphasising what is lacking or medically lost, is it any wonder the deaf community may feel inadequate when viewed from a medical perspective?

Yet as a friend of mine likes to point out, what is normal anyway? 

Without our variations and differences the world would be a very uniform and uninspiring place.

Going back to question, to say that I would meet the offer of a cure with an immediate ‘no’ would be a lie. I was not born deaf; therefore I know exactly what I am missing. And even with all the perks of not hearing, there are times I really do miss music…

For myself I have concluded – should a cure ever be invented, much further consideration would have to be given. It’s simply not as easy as yes or no.

And so congratulations must be given to Mr Evans who, with his thought provoking and poignant film, has encouraged deaf people worldwide to seriously consider The Big Question…

“Would you?”

A response to ‘Strangers’ – a short film by Brian Duffy

I’ve just got round to watching Brian Duffy’s short film ‘Strangers’. Using dialogues led by a young deaf guy and his parents, it showed its audience just how possible it is for a deaf person to feel like an outsider towards their own hearing family.

Isolated and frustrated, mainly because his parents were poor communicators, the young guy was only actually heard by his parents when a sign language interpreter was present.

We were shown glimpses of how oblivious the Father was to his son’s talents and knowledge of the world, and how his Mother appeared completely unaware of just how much her son was excluded.

The climax of the film came when the son confessed to his Mother that he had no idea which of his Grandmothers had died and felt unable to grieve for someone he did not know. Presumably, because he was not able to communicate with her.

We were then left with his Mother attempting to fill in the missing pieces about his Grandmother with her broken, hesitating sign language. Was it too late to make amends, I wondered. Judging by the smile on the sons face as the film faded, evidently not.

You see, it’s a natural desire to want to communicate freely and easily with our parents and it is sad to think that this can still be an issue in this day and age. But the majority of deaf babies are born to hearing parents, with most having no prior knowledge or experience of sign language or the ‘deaf world’ for that matter.

Take my parents, for example. They were stunned to find that they had not only one but two deaf daughters and with nobody visiting them with information on sign language or support groups, they just cracked on with what they thought was best and my sister and I acquired English as our first and main language.

My sister and I were both able to lip-read and speak clearly enough to chat openly to our parents and it wasn’t until we went to secondary school with a hearing impaired unit that we discovered sign language, hence the beginning of all our private conversations.

It has always been a great comfort knowing we both had each other. Together we would sit in silence on the sofa at distant relatives’ houses; being beckoned to if we wanted a drink and ignored the majority of the time. Our parents would speak and answer questions on our behalf and we pretended to laugh along at jokes we didn’t understand and smile at all the right times.

It appeared that our distant relatives felt that because we were deaf we were unable to participate fully in conversations and that the only option, rather than work around it or make any effort, was to pretend that we weren’t actually there.

My Grandmother on my Father’s side recently confessed that she wished they had made more of an effort with my sister and I when we were younger but never felt able to talk to us because we were deaf. It was only as we grew in confidence and age and moved past the blushing stage every time we misunderstood something that we both began to speak for ourselves.

They then realised, perhaps a little too late, that we were actually interesting people with personalities, hobbies and lives of our own. What was there to be so scared of after all?!
The sad thing in my case is it wasn’t the lack of sign language knowledge that prevented these relatives from communicating with us. It was their own fears and preconceived ideas that held them back from getting to know us.

Luckily my grandparents on my Mother’s side were the total opposite. Unafraid of being misunderstood and happy to repeat themselves countless times if need be, we were able to forge strong loving relationships. They saw us not as ‘the deaf grand daughters’ but as their beloved granddaughters who just happened to be deaf. They saw past our deafness and into us as people.

So upon reflection, both from my experience and Duffy’s film, it appears that the biggest obstacle for any deaf person in a hearing family is not the communication method as such, but the ability to look past the stigma and stereotypes of deafness and for the family to be willing to adapt.

As we first meet a person, whether hearing or deaf, we naturally discover their own communication preferences. Using this we are then able to get to know the unique individual they are, one who most certainly has a voice and a right to be heard.

But I do believe that the desire to communicate effectively and break down those invisible barriers is more important than anything. Because whenever there’s a will, there will be a way.