Sound Judgment: Does Curing Deafness Really Mean Cultural Genocide? (Columns)

By Young, Cathy | Reason, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Sound Judgment: Does Curing Deafness Really Mean Cultural Genocide? (Columns)


Young, Cathy, Reason


EVEN THE LEAST reactionary among us may sometimes agree that the celebration of difference and pluralism has brought modern Western culture to the brink of lunacy. One such occasion was the recent broadcast on public television of a documentary, Sound and Fury, examining the controversy over a technology that can enable a deaf person to gain near-normal hearing: the cochlear implant, a device that is surgically inserted into the inner ear. The controversy is not about how well the implant works or whether it poses health risks; it's about whether such a technology is a boon or a bane for the deaf.

Sound and Fury focuses on the conflicts in one Long Island, New York, family: A deaf couple, Peter and Nita Artinian, refuse to let their 5-year-old daughter, Heather, get an implant--much to the dismay of Peter's hearing parents. "If somebody gave me a pill that would make me hearing, would I take it? No way," Peter Artinian asserts in sign language. "I'd want to go to a hospital and throw it up and go back to being deaf. I want to be deaf....If the technology progresses, maybe it's true deaf people will become extinct, and my heart will be broken. Deaf culture is something to value and cherish. It's my culture." Other deaf people in the film echo his views, praising "deaf culture" and deriding attempts to cure deafness.

Militant "Deaf Pride" activism first gained national visibility in 1988, when six radical students at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the country's only liberal arts university for the deaf, successfully blocked the appointment of a hearing university president by organizing student protests. This movement has consciously modeled itself not only on the civil rights activism of the 1960s but even more directly on the gay pride movement. Just as gay activists sought to remove the stigma of "sickness" from homosexuality, deaf activists have been trying to challenge the view of deafness as a deficiency. They draw an explicit analogy between efforts to restore hearing to the deaf (or to prevent deafness altogether) and efforts to "cure" homosexuality.

The activists also insist that "deaf culture," complete with its own language--American Sign Language, or ASL--is no different from any other ethnic or linguistic culture. The only deaf people who are truly disabled, deaf activist M.J. Bienvenu has been quoted as saying, are those who "learn forced English while being denied sign." In her view, "for the rest of us, it is no more a disability than being Japanese would be." From such a perspective, "fixing" deafness is nothing less than cultural genocide.

Of course, neither the gay nor the ethnic analogy really holds up. Deafness, all the positive thinking notwithstanding, is defined by the absence of a basic faculty. One may define cultural deafness as the ability to sign, but hearing people can and do learn to use sign language.

Gays, arguably, would not be disadvantaged at all were it not for social prejudice and discrimination. The same can hardly be said of the deaf. While linguists now recognize ASL as a legitimate language, it imposes unique and severe limitations on its users. If it's dark, if your hands are busy or full, if the person to whom you're speaking turns away, you are effectively rendered speechless. Surely, too, the inability to hear environmental sounds that may signal danger to oneself or others--an oncoming car, a falling object, a baby's cry--is a real impairment. Notably, while deaf activists insist on redefining deafness as difference rather than disability, they are in no hurry to give up disability-based legal protections and government funding.

Perhaps it's not surprising that some deaf people would try to come to terms with their condition by insisting that they are so happy being the way they are that they would never want to be any other way. (In Sound and Fury, Peter Artinian rhapsodizes about how "peaceful" it is to live in a world of total silence. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Sound Judgment: Does Curing Deafness Really Mean Cultural Genocide? (Columns)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.