Audism vs Deaf Culture (Round # Infinity-minus-one – I don’t know how the Romans would show an indefinite, apparently unbreakable, repeating pattern…. I need more math!)
It seems The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing is quite unhappy with Pepsi’s pre-superbowl commercial featuring classic deaf humor in American Sign Language. AG Bell claims to be “the only representative” of deaf and hard-of-hearing people who “use spoken language and hearing technology to communicate” with what they deem “mainstream culture.”
The logic of the letter relies on an extreme bifurcation, as if no continuum of communication technologies can possible be mixed in use by individuals, as indicated by Jamie Berke in Deafness Blog:
“…although I am very oral in my communication, I need sign language to communicate and understand people. I depend heavily on writing back and forth on notepad at work when an interpreter is not available.”
AGBell accuses Pepsico of presenting “a limited view” based on a “somewhat misleading stereotype.” These organized advocates of oralism are concerned, apparently, with the exposure of Deaf Culture in a normalized context: a few friends encountering a typical problem and resolving it in a humorous, albeit quite practical way. The insidious prejudice exposed in the AGBell organization’s aggressive letter proposes that Deaf individuals who have embraced American Sign Language as their primary technology for communication have somehow failed to exercise the imagined “courage” necessary to “meet the challenge” of their “condition.”
Pathological thinking could hardly be more explicit. The perverse twist in the letter’s conclusion is the need to “promote appreciation for those individuals that go above and beyond to overcome the absence of something many of us take for granted.” One might infer that (some of) these heroic individuals are apparently in doubt of what, exactly, they have “overcome” and what or how they have benefitted from “going above and beyond” in order to satisfy the longings or fears of other’s imaginings.
I have no doubt that many individuals whose lifepaths have taken them away from sign language/deaf culture and toward speech and what we can only call ” hearing culture” are happy, satisfied, and not even curious about “what if” things had been different. Probably most individuals who have chosen or been encouraged along this route are as happy as anyone else, given all the challenges, barriers, and obstacles to meeting that illusive modern fantasy of stable contentment. This is the essence of what it means to be human: we embrace the conditions of our lives and make the best of them, whatever they are.
There’s no venue for social-group betting, but if we could, what an experiment that would be….how many hard-of-hearing people would find themselves able to form bonds of commonality with members of the Deaf community if proper communication accommodations were made – enabling them to meet as persons, instead of being posed in classic confrontation as abstract enemies by the auspices of national organizations?