Will the year 2007
    be a great year?


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Deaf 2084

Got this essay from a friend - the author's name is Dianrez. The only explanation included with the email was "Jane Fernadnes opened Cochlear Implant Center at the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center in 2000. Here is a five-star essay by Dianrez."

Thought it was kind of interesting how Dianrez used the George Orwell's title to do her/his essay.

Imagine that in 75 years all schools for the deaf are abolished. Instead, all deaf children will have CI's, handheld electronic reading aids that use voice recognition, and will watch video interpreters on small laptops in their neighborhood schools. Even at that, the ultimate goal is to reduce deafness to a medical condition curable at birth by surgery, like clubfoot or cleft palate and eliminate all expensive special accommodations.

Legislators, pressured to cut expenses, cite the Least Restrictive Environment argument to support mainstreaming deaf and formerly-deaf kids. They seize upon the selected success stories of CI children and require insurers to support implants for all deaf babies. Public relations people promote hearing restoration out of a misguided concept that it eliminates all the effects of deafness. Distressed parents and uninformed public call for first fixing hearing at all costs and eagerly support anything that goes in that direction.

Closed captions become optional and slowly disappear from TVs, replaced by cued interpretation on the same basis as the old closed caption system. The interpreters appear in 3-D behind TV hologram speakers, their hand waving in circles near mouth and chin. This sometimes is replaced by a cartoon face with lights blinking in the same positions near the face.

Newspapers have disappeared; instead people carry super ipods which they wave at terminals to download facts to listen to on the way to work. Formerly deaf people squint to read the captioned/cued version on their ipods; the screens are bigger but still hard to read. The lucky few will be able to understand snatches here and there of conversation. Those that don't must dock their Ipods with handheld reading aids and adjust the voice recognition dial until rolling captions have the fewest mistakes.

The opinions of the elderly deaf are dismissed as ignorant, crackpot talk akin to Luddites trying to block technology. No more SSI/SSD and no more Vocational Rehabilitation funds will be available for the coming generation. Interpreters are obsolete, no longer a public expense. A culture of Dyborgs (deaf cyborgs) are created; using a strange sign language that resembles a cross between Cued Speech and Signing Exact English called Newsign and looking down on archaic signers. The younger generation is definitely a huge gap away from the older generation Deaf.

Deaf people not using aids or Newsign will be driven underground by popular opinion saying "You want an interpreter? Go get a CI!" Avoiding public disapproval, they hide in old Deaf clubs, pass for Hearing in shopping malls, and again covertly depend on family members to say what they need. Their choice not to accept the imperfect hearing of CI's will be scorned as deliberately choosing dependency and being a willful drain on welfare.

Genetic screening and CI implantation at birth will be mandatory for all hereditary Deaf to prevent bringing children into a system that has closed schools for the deaf. Charts displayed in medical conventions proudly show the population of deaf people shrinking every year; by the year 2100 there will be none left. History books will describe them in chapters next to chapters about lepers and include mention of the horrors of institutional schools for the deaf and complicated politics of deaf colleges.

Success is measured by dollars saved everywhere--educationally, in government access programs, and in rehabilitation. (Not counted is the expense of surgery, followup, aural rehabilitation and speech training.) A modern society free of disabled people is touted as the wave of the future.

Historically, this has actually happened. Whole communities of people have been absorbed, decimated, legislated against or exterminated in the interests of achieving a perfect society. It could be within this century, or the next one that deaf people will be the next ones they come for.

We laughed at 1984, enjoying the hair-raising specter of a totalitarian society and were relieved to see that year come and go, not realizing that Big Brother has arrived since then. Electronic surveillance is everywhere, freedoms are limited in the interests of defense from terrorists and increased protection from drug-corrupted criminals. We can not access public buildings without walking through surveillance machinery, nor can we obtain medicines without signing in and showing ID cards. In this vein, we may face child neglect charges if we do not implant our Deaf children, maybe even lose parental rights.

What we can do now is increase the visibility, outreach and information from us, the deaf community. We ask for sign language interpreters everywhere. We make our Deaf children more visible, our presence in the neighborhoods more noticeable, and instead of running for office in our Deaf community, we run for office in our public school boards, town halls, and county elections. We blog in hearing blogospheres as Deaf people, commenting on topics of interest to everyone. We spread information on our Deaf culture, interests and values. We share our lives with others openly and welcome them into ours.

We need to graduate more Deaf teachers and ask that they be hired in public schools that have Deaf mainstreamed children. We can create new private schools and draw upon the best of the community and not base them on paternalistic old-time schools for the deaf with lowered expectations. We can draw into our society Hearing friends and teach them to teach others about us. We get involved in legislation and block ill-advised and ignorant bills that limit or cut off our access and schools. We do this as an integrated, diverse community, carrying our hearing aids, CI's, special technology and rights to our opinions with us.

We can become more visible and more influential in our own communities with ADA provisions and the principles of No Child Left Behind. We use technology to enhance and protect our rights of access and require that they apply to all people. Once we are fully visible, we can slow the machinery that is rolling to close our schools and limit our freedoms and accessibility. We can fight those who erroneously think future advances will completely normalize deafness and make it a nonissue but which will actually leave a majority of us still disadvantaged.

Those who think this cannot happen should look at the Milan Conference and the hundred years it unleashed upon us of oralism, the last miraculous advance that would normalize deaf people. How successful was that for all of us?

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