"Fixing" the Disabled

Last night during Special Education class, an interesting thought occured to me. We had just finished watching a presentation about deafness. Debbie, the presenter, talked a lot about "deaf culture", and how her family is proud to be a part of it.

Debbie explained that many deaf people have a prejudice against hearing people, and against hearing culture. They resent efforts that attempt to make them hear. Throughout history, terrible things have been done to deaf people to try to "fix" them. They have learned to adapt within their own culture.

I began to wonder about my prejudices toward deaf people, and toward all people with disabilities. To be sure, I am not adversarial to deaf people. But, do I think of them as abnormal? Do I pity them? Honestly, I would have to answer yes to these questions. Upon reflection, though, I wonder if there is anything "wrong" with deaf people.

I began to see parallels with the way that blacks used to be perceived in the 19th century. Many people thought that blacks were inferior. Unfortunately, some people still think this way, but most people accept that blacks are "equal" to whites and all other races. People used to think that there was something wrong with blacks, i.e. that they were the wrong color. This parallels how many people think of there being something wrong with deaf people. Does it ever occur to people that perhaps some deaf people don't want to change? Especially those that are born deaf. As a matter of fact, those that are born deaf may perceive hearing to be a disability. With this thinking in mind, I can understand why deaf people might resent those trying to get them to hear, even if those making the effort were thinking that they were helping. In the 19th century, people would have been thinking they were helping a black person by making the person white, or more "white-like". It is easy to understand how this would be offensive to a black person, since being black was who they were. It is their identity. It is not a deformity, even though it made life challenging. Is deafness a deformity? It makes life challenging, but is it a deformity?

A few weeks ago, I read an article about how disability has been used as a basis and explanation of discrimination throughout history. Women were seen as "dumb". Blacks were seen as "idiots". So on and so forth. It was an interesting article, and this is an interesting topic that deserves more thought.


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