Sound Judgment

Cathy Young calls the Deaf Pride movement a "reductio ad absurdum" ("Sound Judgment," April). Is that Latin for nucking futs? Deaf parents refusing to allow their deaf daughter a cochlear implant for "cultural" reasons is just outrageous.

My hearing's toast, a combination of RH factor and scarlet fever as an infant, along with guns, chainsaws, and other power toys later in life. While I still do OK in "normal" society, I twitch to contemplate what my life will be like if, when my hearing goes completely, an implant can't fix it. The thought of practical isolation from the wider world should frighten everyone. Yet it seems that various groups -- not just the deaf -- seek precisely that, wallowing in their isolation and their insular views under the fig leaf of "cultural diversity," often state-subsidized.

And yet diversity-niks criticize the rest of us for being small-minded? I do know the hand signal for what I think of that, and it needs no translation.

Dave Skinner
Whitefish, MT

Cathy Young does not know what being deaf is. Why should she make a mockery out of it? "Maybe the best way to learn something from the Deaf Pride movement is to see it as a reductio ad absurdum of modern identity politics," she writes. This is an insult to all of the Deaf Community. It borders on blatant racism.

Carl Denney
Via e-mail

Cathy Young made a few good points, but I found her piece biased and poorly researched. American Sign Language does not "impose unique and severe limitations on its users." She cites the example of not being able to sign when your hands are full. Can the hearing talk when their mouths are full? No, but the deaf can. Another advantage of signing over speaking: signing to someone across a loud, crowded room, or through a window. English and ASL both have their benefits.

I think the deaf do realize the contradiction in accepting government funding and legal protections for the disabled while at the same time advocating themselves as a cultural minority. However, how successful would they have been in obtaining legal protections of their own (such as mandated interpreting services) if they hadn't joined with other disability groups?

The anger that Young discusses (picketing at oral deaf schools, for example) is perhaps a backlash on the part of the deaf community after years of "benevolent" hearing people controlling their lives and denying them their language (ASL). The history of the deaf is complicated and it seems Young has not taken this history into account.

Finally, Young seems to tout cochlear implants as a cure for deafness. This cannot be farther from the truth. A cochlear implant can help some deaf people hear better in certain situations, such as one-on-one conversations. It may amplify certain sounds in their environment. But what it cannot do is make a deaf person hear as a "normal" person would. If this were the case, there would not be any need for my interpreting services for my many deaf clients with cochlear implants.

Adrienne Kearney
Dallas, TX

Cathy Young replies: Adrienne Kearney is correct in pointing out that cochlear implants are not a "cure" for deafness. However, particularly when performed early in life, the procedure does in many cases enable the recipient to function normally, and in most other cases results at the very least in substantial improvement. What's more, as even some deaf activist groups recognize, the technology has improved considerably since its inception.

Sure, one can cite a few instances in which users of sign language are advantaged over hearing people -- just as one can cite a few situations (e.g., functioning in total darkness) in which blind people are advantaged over the sighted. And even those are debatable; for instance, since people generally use their hands when eating, I doubt that a user of ASL has much of an advantage over an oral speaker in carrying on a conversation at the same time, and seeing another person across a crowded room doesn't seem easier than hearing him or her. In any event, the fact is that hearing (like sight) is one of the most basic faculties of the mammalian organism. Its absence is not a racial identity, as Carl Denney's letter would imply; it is a defect. Many people can live happy, productive, reasonably full lives despite this defect (just as do people with many other disabilities). But to suggest that a cure -- even a partial cure -- for this condition would be in any way detrimental is...well, Dave Skinner put it rather well.

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