Monday, April 02, 2007

Lend Me Your Ear

Deafness and interpreting are on my mind because I dreamed in sign language last night. Even when I used sign language daily, I don't think that ever happened. Of course, it was a dream. Bone-headed mistakes don't matter so much in a dream! Then, PBS has a 2-hour special about deafness, Through Deaf Eyes. Since I don't have a television, I haven't seen it yet. It got good reviews, though, and it's on my list of things to track down. Then... (this gets weirder) my sister-in-law knows that I will be on the east coast during the graduation ceremonies of the high school where she teaches and has asked me to interpret the graduation. (There are no interpreters in New Jersey? But I appreciate the invitation -among other things because it puts me in the same state as Math-Man for the weekend.) And finally, I was asked to interpret the Palm Sunday liturgy yesterday. I couldn't do it, because I had already signed up to go on retreat, but still... the universe is clearly trying to tell me something.

Deafness raises some interesting issues about inclusion and social justice. We think of those two concepts as the same, or necessarily related, anyway. Ostracizing people is bad; including them must be a necessary first step toward treating people fairly. It seems obvious, but deaf people might disagree. The only symbol of the deaf community is sign language. There are no wheelchairs or canes to signal to us that the person walking down the street has special needs. There is deaf theater, music for the deaf, a body of literature.... This is a community, largely defined by the use of ASL -a language, by the way, that is almost not-masterable (I'm making up words this morning -a trick that works in sign language and less well in English. Sorry.) by people who can hear.

So, if inclusion means absorption into the dominant culture, then the deaf community will be lost. It's not going to last much longer, anyway, since there are fewer and fewer deaf children being born. (We picked up on the rubella/deafness link and took care of that.) In schools, deaf children are typically in the regular classroom but are signed to in English, rather than ASL. Signed Exact English is an unbearably complicated and clunky tool, but the law is that education happens in English. So, the children learn and practice this different language all day at school, their parents barely know it, and scorn it, to boot.

Sure, inclusion can mean that both cultures broaden. But how do we actually make that work when it's hard to talk to each other? I'm obviously stumped, but I think I'm supposed to be thinking about this.

And pretty clearly, I'm not supposed to be trying to intellectualize about it -because that's certainly getting me nowhere fast. So, what's a girl to do??

1 comment:

Lisa :-] said...

My really are multi-talented. I have always wanted to learn to sign, and you are obviously accomplished at it.

It has been my understanding that the deaf community thinks of itself as exactly that--a community. Not handicapped, just "alternatively gifted." I'm not sure "inclusion" is part of their agenda...