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The End of Deafness?

Michael Chorost, the author of Rebuilt, his memoir about his cochlear implant, has a fascinating account of his conversations with students at Gallaudet about the future of deafness and Deaf culture. Chorost argues that:

the demographics of deafness don’t bode well for the signing deaf community. The causes of deafness are becoming increasingly preventable, and the technologies of hearing are getting better.

The reaction Chorost gets brings out my own able-ism regarding speech and hearing. So I conceive of the Deaf as more linguistically informed, less susceptible to misconceptions about how language works. Call it the “Children of a Lesser God effect.” But Chorost gives us this interesting bit:

The sharpest exchange came when one man said that he had chosen not to get his deaf daughter an implant because she could get one herself later in life if she wanted to. I replied that he was in fact taking away his daughter’s option to speak English fluently, because a person needs to hear early in life to develop the capacity to process spoken language. That’s a biological fact, I said, not a value judgment. “When she’s 18, your daughter may ask you why you didn’t let her hear so she could be fluent in both English and ASL,” I said. He was scandalized. “She speaks English fine,” he told me. Maybe she does. Maybe she hears well enough with a hearing aid to do that. But I was skeptical. It’s very difficult to be fluent in a spoken language without good hearing. We were at an impasse: different worldviews, different assumptions about what it means to speak English. And maybe the translation was an issue. Maybe he was referring to her written English.