Ladd, P, “Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood”, 2003, Multilingual Matters Ltd
People with disabilities, Deaf people, and others who might not even consider themselves as having a disability have been relegated to the margins by the very people who have celebrated and championed the emergence of multiculturism, class consciousness, feminism and queer studies, from the margins. 1.
Deafhood is not a ‘static’ medical condition like ‘deafness’. Instead, it represents a process – the struggle by each Deaf child, Deaf family and Deaf adult to explain to themselves and each other their own existence in the world. In sharing their lives with each other as a community, and enacting those explanations rather than writing books about them, Deaf people are engaged in a daily praxis, a continuing internal and external dialogue. This dialogue not only acknowledges that existence as a Deaf person is actually a process of becoming and maintaining ‘Deaf’, but also reflects different interpretations of Deafhood, of what being a Deaf person in a Deaf community might mean.
Deafhood affirms that how we have been these past 120 years is not all that we truly are. It affirms the existence of a Deaf sense of being, both within the individual and throughout the collective, which like a river surging against a dam, cannot rest until it can find a way through that will take it down to a sea of life, where all human souls are enabled both to find their fullest self-expression and to interpenetrate each other.
Deaf communities around the world have devoted much energy during the past 250 years towards recognition of the true nature of their being-in-the-world. However, only in Scandinavia during the past decade has there been sustained governmental recognition of their linguistic minority status, recognition that has also been enshrined in policy and equipped with appropriate resources.
In the past 20 years, the repression of sign languages has slowed or halted, so that in numerous countries they have become visible once more.
Sign language users are those who were born Deaf or became so at an early age. For them, the issue of loss has no meaningful reality. By creating their own communities and utilising their beautiful languages, they have created a linguistic and cultural environment in which they take both comfort and pride. Moreover, Deaf people are easily able to adapt from one sign language to another and, as a result, to form a global ‘language’ of communication, to become, in effect, Citizens of the entire planet. Such a powerful experience cannot continue to be constrained by the feeble diminutive of ‘deafness’; hence the concept of Deafhood seeks to encompass those larger dimensions.
This third concept concerns the belief widely held among signing Deaf communities – that their existential situation is primarily that of a language minority, rather than as a disabled group.
Disability theory achieved a breakthrough in the 1980s when disabled people identified attitudes towards them as originating in a belief that they were not full human beings because of the absence of, or damage to, a physical faculty and terms this a medical model of disability which in effect ‘blamed the victims’ for their inability to achieve equality.
The disability movement inverted this pattern, pointing out that societies were constructed solely for the benefit of non-disabled people, so that any attempt to gain equal access and rights was seen as an ‘adding-on’ process, which left them at the mercy of benevolence, munificience and charity.
They proposed instead a radical social model which asserted their fundamental equality as human beings with entitlement to full citizenship. Societies should, they contended, be built and managed with all its members in mind, taking collective responsibility to ensure equal access and full citizenship for all, and refusal to do so should be seen as social and political discrimination.
This radical approach has made considerable progress, being adopted in numerous domains, and the 1990s have seen the beginnings of processes to ensure comprehensive legislation to enforce this model. It should be noted however, that the powerful medical and scientific sectors continue to pursue their own model, as can be seen in the current genetic engineering discourses.
Deaf communities have been swept along with the social model movement largely because they lacked the power to make their own views known. In so doing, they have received a (limited) number of benefits from this association, which has also compromised their ability to express their reservations.
Many are uncomfortable with their inclusion in the disability social model because, however it might try to construct itself to assimilate them, the criterion used for including Deaf communities in their ranks is that of physical deafness – in other words, the medical concept. Thus social-model legislation is suitable for needs arising out of individual hearing impairment, such as flashing light doorbells, text telephones and TV subtitles, and applies to Deaf and deafened people alike – these are not specific to Deaf communities, nor does it address their own deeper needs.
Deaf communities, therefore, find that such an approach does not address the true nature of their being-in-the-world, the issues which arise
from this or the politics and policies needed to embrace it. Instead, they see themselves as having far more in common with language minorities.
However, not only this is argument new, but it is one that society, ‘brainwashed’ as it is by the medical model, cannot easily grasp because it requires that Deaf communities are seen as intrinsic ‘dual-category members’ – that is, that some of their issues might relate to issues of non-hearing whilst other relate to language and culture. Thus, one has no only to contend with suspicion from language minorities, but with governments who seek simple categorisation for administrative ease.
For all these reasons, the Deaf case has not been comprehensively constructed and presented.
Only in Scandinavian countries has the rebellion become a revolution, and bilingualism installed at the heart of (sign) language-planning policies and education.
Towards Deafinitions (statistics, numbers of D/deaf and hard of hearing in UK).
These communities have come to adopt Woodward’s (1972) formulation of ‘Deaf’ with a capital ‘D’ and to refer to themselves as ‘culturally Deaf’.
Deaf communities have found it difficult to estimate their numbers, because of traditional governmental disinterest in undertaking a census. This is compounded by use of different criteria by the few studies in existence.
Thus the potential size of a British community consisting of such people ranges from 60-120,000. In the US, similar percentages result in a potential community of a quarter of a million, whilst in China and India, numbers are a million or more. When applied cross the globe, therefore, this becomes an estimated figure of 4-5 million sign language users.
Over the last 100 years, ‘medical’ and ‘social’ models of deafness have viewed Deaf people as disabled and situated them accordingly within its practices.
However, the very recent ‘culturo-linguistic model’ has produced a contemporary Deaf discourse which refuses this categorisation and denies that degree of hearing impairment has relevance for cultural membership.
What is wished for is simply the removal of oppression. And so it is with Deaf people. It is having a cultural community, a high quality collective life, that marks the difference. And it is this struggle between the differing cultural values and concepts of individualism and collectivism which informs all the actions we shall observe throughout this book.
RNID and its role/relationship with the government