Intellectual debate on Deaf issues

BSL translation coming soon.

There has been a spate of posts on Deaf UK and individual blogs recently discussing audism. Erick Ketcham, an American Deafist ASL user, has recently joined Deaf UK, and has contributed some thought-provoking posts on the following topics:

  • There are cultural differences between the UK Deaf community and the American Deaf Community;
  • There are more oralists than BSL users;
  • Deaf English have an “hearing” identity, and because they cannot hear, they use BSL;
  • Using the term “deafmute” will encourage audist thinking among hearing people;
  • “Deafism” occurs when a Deaf person puts down or discriminates against another Deaf person;
  • When Deaf people discriminate against hearing people, it is “reverse audism”;
  • Parents of deaf children who are not willing to learn BSL are audists, as they are depriving their child of a normal life with full communication accessibility. This can be classified as emotional and mental abuse;
  • There are two groups of hearing people: “hearing allies” and “mask of benevolence”;
  • In America, oralists that refuse to sign in ASL are not considered a part of the Deaf community, and are shut out completely; and
  • Research in America has shown that Deaf children that learned ASL at the same time as hearing children learned a spoken language outperform oral children by a far margin.

(By the way Erick, do you not have a blog?)

The reasons why I wanted to highlight these views here were so that non-readers of Deaf UK can read them, and also because I find them absolutely fascinating.

I’d like to respond to some of these comments:

There are cultural differences between the UK Deaf community and the American Deaf Community

Judging by Erick’s posts, I would say that this is very much clear, although I hadn’t realised just how different. There must be a number of Deaf individuals in the UK with similar views to Erick, but if there are, they’re keeping their views quiet. They need to come out of the woodwork and lead the Deaf community out of oblivion.

Deaf English have an “hearing” identity, and because they cannot hear, they use BSL

This is not correct. I don’t use BSL because I can’t “hear”. I use BSL because I love the language and to communicate effectively with Deaf friends, colleagues and clients.

Parents of deaf children who are not willing to learn BSL are audists, as they are depriving their child of a normal life with full communication accessibility. This can be classified as emotional and mental abuse

This is an extreme view. I was brought up oral, and my family do not use BSL. However, I think to call my parents “audist” would be a step too far. They chose not to use BSL because they were led to believe by “professionals” that oralism was the way to go. Also, in recent times, with encouragement from me, my parents and my sister have agreed to learn BSL. This is due to the fact that Rachel and I are very likely to have Deaf children, and we intend to bring them up bilingually, and would like their grandparents to encourage this bilingualism, and not force the kids to conform to their preferred communication methods.

Research in America has shown that Deaf children that learned ASL at the same time as hearing children learned a spoken language outperform oral children by a far margin

I do strongly believe in this point, which is why we intend to bring our children up bilingually, with emphasis on BSL in the early stages of their development. From personal experience also, I honestly believe that if I had used BSL from childhood, I would have done better academically. All I can remember during academic studies is how hard it process information when focusing on the communication aspects of learning.

More debate on such issues is desperately needed within the UK, so keep it coming.

Related articles

You may also like...

10 Responses

  1. Kyle says:

    I detect a hint of irony. I remember a few years ago, there was fierce arguing about labels (labelism anyone?), and I think we’re coming full circle on the issue again.

    This time round, it seems fashionable to *ism everyone and his dog. Everyone is naturally divisive and inclusive at the same time, and I’m not sure if calling people names is going to help matters – especially with “audism” brandied about liberally like confetti.

    Anyway, deafism as you described seems to be a counter-intuitive and divisive label and would have thought it is “reverse audism”.

    The bottom line is, its going to cause further confusion and I’m sure it’s going to be good as petrol for a while.

  2. Stephen says:

    You raise an interesting point about people coming out of the woodwork. Similar issues were covered in your previous blog entry and feedback from others at http://www.robwilks.com/?p=385

    The sad fact is that people who have tried to come out of the woodwork have burnt out because they have been so few in number and others have relied too much on too few people to drive this forward. For example, the Deaf Power Now website http://www.deafpowernow.org/ does not appear to have been updated since 2002.

    In addition, witness the rise and fall of the FDP combined with the ‘acceptance’ of deaf people to allow hearing run charities such as RNId and RAD to dominate engagement with politicians and to hoover up all the funding to deliver services. The problem deaf people face is that they need access to services but cleverly these hearing organisations have positioned themselves to deliver these services and thus deaf people are afraid to criticse for fear of being denied the services that they need.

    I was in San Francisco a few years ago and visited the public library which had a separate deaf section and took the opportunity to chat to some people within the library. They do not have hearing dominated charities in the way that we have in the UK and thus are much more liberated and have more freedom than we do. There is much more competition for services – take VRS for example, there is a plethora of choices for deaf people to choose from deaf-run VRS providers. As well as that, the understanding of deaf issues and deaf culture is much more ingrained such as when I was in Miami three years ago and buying food in a shop, the 40-ish hearing owner was saying how she had learnt ASL at school… a school of 2,000 pupils all learning sign language in the seventies – we are struggling to get schools to even teach one deaf child sign language 30 years later.

    There are several Hollywood stars who have used ASL in films – Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, Will Smith, the guy in Speed 2, Cruise Control, What Women Want and Sister Act 2, all of which has become common-place. I have yet to see BSL being used in another British film apart from Four Weddings and a Funeral.

    To repeat what I said in my last comment on your blog, what is needed in the UK is for deaf people to support other deaf people. That’s why for interpreters I only use Neal Communication Agency http://www.neal.uk.com and for marketing use Remark http://www.remark.uk.com for IT use http://www.bluecheetah.biz and so on. Indeed, it is also the reason why many deaf people are turning to my company to access employment opportunities as I employ deaf people as employment advisors. http://www.dering.biz

    Rob – why don’t you take the lead and spearhead a campaign to release deaf people from the shackles of hearing run “deaf” organisations? There are many, myself included, who would follow your lead.

  3. Rob says:

    Wha?! Moi!?

  4. Stephen says:

    Why not?

    You are well known, well connected and respected.

    Crucially, you haven’t been to Mary Hare – while in itself, it is not an issue, there is a lot of people who have leading roles in the deaf community who went to Mary Hare (myself included) and it is important that we have a balance of educational backgrounds amongst our leadership. That can only serve to strengthen the campaign by working across educational divides and to unite deaf people together as one cohesive body.

    The main dividing factor for deaf people in the UK is education. People socialize and build their networks based on where they were educated. I am off to a party this evening having been invited by someone who went to Mary Hare and of which 99% of the people going will have been to Mary Hare.

  5. Erick Ketcham says:

    Hi Rob,

    My apologies for my long response. I just saw your entry today. I do have a blog, but I haven’t put any entries in there. This is my blog address:

    http://ketchamized.blogspot.com/

    I have a vlog that I post more often though, the address is:

    http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=ketchamized

    I’m very aware that there’s a barrier there because of our sign languages. For that reason, I hope to learn BSL quickly enough so that I can do vlogs in BSL. I know nobody wants to watch fingerspelling all the time. :o)

    Maybe I’ll consider making more entries in my blog. It’s just that I have so much on my plate… I have a 19 month old son to take care of, and many things that require my attention. For now, I’ll continue to post on the Deaf UK yahoo groups, but I will seriously consider making entries on my blog.

    At any rate, here’s my response to your entry:

    In regards to the comment where there is a cultural difference between the Deaf community in the US and the UK- There was a time when like you, I knew there were some differences, but didn’t realize how deep it goes.

    I personally think it’s great that we’re discussing the differences and the definitions of things pertaining to the Deaf community and its issues. I truly believe that it’s a good way to figure out what’s next, and how to improve things for all Deaf people in the UK, US, and the rest of the world. I feel that it is important that Deaf people all over the world gets together and work together to make things happen for all of us.

    It is not sufficient, in my opinion to stand alone in our respective Deaf communities and consider it as a battle for our respective country only. The reason for that is, audism exists everywhere in the world. For this reason, it separates the Deaf from hearing people in the world. The only way we can truly combat audism is to stand together.

    As for my statement in regards to being Deaf, therefore using BSL. Thank you for correcting me on that issue. To be honest, I was confused by the level of desensitization on the Deaf UK groups by some users. That’s why it appeared to me that Deaf identity wasn’t that strong in the UK. But I can see now, that it was just certain individuals that just viewed themselves as “hearing, but with a hearing problem”. I jumped the gun on that issue, and thank you for setting me right. :o)

    In regards to that statement about parents being audists if they didn’t learn BSL- I responded recently to a post on that same issue. I’m not sure if it was you, or if it was someone else- But basically, in my recent response, I said that it is not audism if one was mislead by other audists. I personally understand your parents’ decision.

    It would have been another story entirely if they knew about BSL, and if they turned it away because they felt that BSL was not good enough for you, and for them. Evidently, this is not the case, so that wouldn’t be an issue.

    In the US, there are many hearing parents that sends their Deaf children to a residential school for the Deaf- of which its primary language is ASL- and the parents themselves do not sign in ASL. I have seen too many parents that doesn’t even communicate with their children at all. In many cases, the parents literally treat their children as if they were morons, and they just point their fingers at everything in order to communicate. And their children notice this and feel hurt by this. These parents are the kind that I was referring to. Perhaps this doesn’t happen too often in the UK because of the oralist system dominating pretty much everything. In the US, most Deaf people are signers. So, that might play a part in the way I view things. Again, the cultural differences between the Deaf community in the UK and in the US are great.

    I wanted to say that I throughly enjoy the Deaf UK groups, and communicating with all of you. I hope that more Deaf people will join the discussions and give their perspectives and their opinions as well as their experiences. This is progress… This is too important to give up on.

    Best Regards,
    Erick Ketcham

  6. Erick Ketcham says:

    Kyle,

    In response to your comment, you are correct, it is reverse audism. The reason why there is a term as “Deafism” is simply this- a matter of perspective.

    It is considered a positive view by BSL activists and ASL activists alike to be considered a Deafie. At least that’s certainly true in the US. The Deaf community in the US is proud of being Deaf, therefore, they view oralism as a negative thing. This very view is reverse audism… But the thing here is, speaking has nothing to do with hearing. So what do you call that?

    In addition to that, audism is supposed to be a negative word, yet it’s good to be a Deafie and to practice Deafism (reverse audism)- from a Deaf culture perspective. So, how do we make it a good thing?

    That’s why there’s a separate term. I hope that helps clear it out. You’re right, it can confuse people. But once people get the hang of it, it’ll work out.

    You’re right, there are too many “isms” out there. I can’t argue with you on that point. But, while other groups of people have the power of words such as “racism”, “Nazism”, “ageism”, “fascism”, & “Sizeism” to empower them to stop it from happening- we have none that is officially in a dictionary. This is why we are campaigning for the term “audism”.

    People need to understand that it is wrong. People need a term to be said to their face so that when it occurs, they can say “you’re an audist”. This should send a shock to the offending party in terms of “I’m an audist….” And hopefully, that would stop their act of discriminating…

    Whenever I have used that term to a hearing person, boy, it has worked. I have seen great improvements in them the next time I encountered them. It works. It truly does. It does take a set of steel nuts to do it, though. Got steel nuts? :o)

    Regards,
    Erick

  7. Erick Ketcham says:

    Stephen,

    I agree with your statements 100%. That’s exactly how I see it. Deaf people need to get together and support each other. That’s why I’ve joined the UK Deaf Yahoo groups.

    And you’re very right… About how things are relatively good here in the US in comparison. It is my hope that Deaf issues around the world can match and surpass of what we have in the US. It is my hope that the Deaf UK will go as far as possible. Even the US is not perfect. We have issues in our Deaf community that needs to be addressed as well. In fact, all Deaf communities in the world has things that needs to be addressed.

    The reality is, it all boils down to one thing: Audism. Once we fix that, then other things will follow, like a ripple effect.

    Stephen, Excellent post!

    Best Regards,
    Erick

  8. Erick Ketcham says:

    Stephen,

    I also agree with your 2nd comment. Educational background does seem to play as a divide between Deaf people in the UK. It does the same thing in the US, but on a smaller scale.

    Best,
    Erick

  9. Kathleen says:

    Erick, I am an audiology studen tand have read some of your articles. I’m a bit saddened by your opinion of the profession of audiology and that all audiologists are audists. The majority of the clients that we see in the clinic are people who are elderly and only ever learned one language- english. My intention when becoming an audiologist was to help these people access the only language they ever learned, and that is a spoken one. As you may know, it is very difficult for someone to learn a new language at 70 or 80 years old. Are you saying that I am an audist for giving them access to speech sounds? Are you telling me that they are audists for wanting to continue communicating the only way they know how? I consider myself an open minded person but I feel your views may be a bit extreme.

  1. 26 May 2007

    […] on e-list he belongs to. I would love to quote these posts, but there is just too much information. Rob Wilks has summarised the main talking points, so you can bone up on the […]

Leave a Reply