Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

What Is It like to Be Deaf?

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

What Is It like to Be Deaf?

Article excerpt

Can anyone really know in depth: What is it like to be deaf or even Deaf? What about hard of hearing? Or typically hearing? Or how about combinations of hearing status with other demographics such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, culture(s), type of language(s) or communication usage? Can we (insiders and/or outsiders) proffer broad abstractions or generalizations that are not only relevant, but also should influence the development of specific guidelines for academic content standards, instructional strategies, curricula, clinical therapies, teacher preparation programs, and so on? Can we even confidently describe the meanings/boundaries/tenets of overarching constructs such as Deaf culture, Deaf identity, Deaf studies, Hearing culture, Hearing identity, Hearing studies, African American or Latino!a culture or studies-how about the academic culture-without delineating all of the particulars (e.g., characteristics, demographics, data collection and analysis procedures) that might contribute to the physical and mental constitutions associated with these global constructs? And if we do proffer abstractions and generalizations, are these assertions fixed and unchanging? Axe they or should they be predominantly driven by the findings of scientists utilizing an objective methodology or by those of selected individuals, representing their respective sociocultural groups? Is there or should there be an ongoing check on congruence of these constructs with the variety of characteristics, beliefs, and mores of the groups or, perhaps, of the diverse individuals within these groups?

I harbor no grand illusions that my list of burning questions above possesses the credentials for belonging in an esteemed category in philosophy known as The Big Questions (Blackburn, 2009). However, scholars concerned with the social and educational welfare or even the empowerment of individuals who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing might be hard-pressed to ignore these questions-or, more precisely, the consequences of possible responses. Clearly, I cannot address adequately all of the above queries in this editorial; however, I hope to provide a few perspectiveswhich, of course, reflect my bias or, perhaps, scholarly approach.

What Is It Like to Be a Bat?

Now to the inspiration for the title of this editorial. I have been influenced by some of the writings of Thomas Nagel (1974, 1986, 1987), particularly his 1974 essay "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" In short, Nagel's argument reflects his rejection of materialistic, reductionist theories of mind, which neglect to consider the construct of consciousness or which attempt to analyze consciousness as purely a set of physical components and processes. Although consciousness is subjective and might be the essence of an organism, I have heard Nagel's argument extended, rightly or wrongly, to mean that it is not possible to understand the joys, pains, travails, etc., of another particular person, or for someone else to understand your own experiences-even though we (humans) all share the same type of consciousness. (Or do we?)

Hold on: I am not relating the experience of being a bat to that of being Deaf. I am trying to arrive at some understanding (an ongoing process, no doubt), personally and professionally, of what it is like to be deaf or Deaf. My guess is that I can proffer a few general interpretative tidbits-and some of my professional/scholarly assertions might be somewhat representative, depending on my sampling and other technical merit procedures. But, I wonder: Can these assertions ever capture the particulars in all possible permutations or situations? Should they? Of course, I know that these tidbits are not eternal-there is a constantly evolving process of qualification. (This is a flaw of human consciousness . . .) Nevertheless, I-and other individuals who attempt this task-need to have some level of confidence if there is a plan to, for example, proffer guidelines for educational and clinical practices. …

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