For those of you joining me via the NAD's link, welcome. I know my cover's blown, but c'est la vie. Enjoy, anyway.
Let's see... I left off my thoughts at the Friday evening entertainment, hosted by JAC and CJ. That night I perused the program book to see what workshops or events I wanted to go to the next day. I know conference planning is never exact, but I regret that I had no way of knowing which workshops were going to be held when, and that I (along with tons of others, I'm sure!) was forced to schedule my trip far in advance. As a veteran of several history conferences, among other gatherings, I'm used to having a program book or schedule sent to me along with registration. It's too bad this didn't happen with NAD. Fortunately, I was able to attend the second half of the Deafhood workshops.
A caveat before I continue: I haven't yet read Paddy Ladd's Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood
. Because of this, I've largely avoided the discussions of Deafhood in various venues, and confined my comments to fairly broad opinions based on my own personal experiences. I now have the book, and I'm in the process of reading it. I may change my opinion as I go along, and I certainly will be better able to understand and discuss the concept when I'm done.
That said, I was impressed by Genie Gertz's presentation. Genie's main message was that linguistic, cultural, and audiological differences can and should be stripped away-- that underneath, we are all deaf. The differences that we have are dimensions of our experience as deaf people, but at heart, we share the common experience of being deaf. She explained that Deafhood was a process, and one that repeated itself as a cycle throughout our lives. This is true for all parts of our lives, really-- we all go through different types of cycles in our lives, as we learn, grow, mature, and start all over again. For someone who is born deaf or someone who has recently become deaf, they will experience their deafness individually, and often collectively, but there will always be examples of new experiences, new challenges, new coping mechanisms, new reactions and proactive behaviors. Nothing is ever the same.
It's a rather simple concept, and in a sense, not even new, but it's a new paradigm, a new way of thinking, that I think is important to each of us. Most, if not all, of us have accepted that we are deaf-- whether this happened almost innately due to being deaf from birth, or as part of a longer, more difficult adjustment as children, teens, or adults, we have come to terms with our deafness. There have been quite a few books published on this, from David Wright's Deafness
to Henry Kisor's What's That Pig Outdoors?: A Memoir of Deafness
, to treatises on deaf identity such as Leo Jacobs' A Deaf Adult Speaks Out
. Most books that discuss deaf education, deaf identity, and just plain being deaf are and were written by medical and audiological professionals, parents of or children of deaf children/adults, and others who are directly or peripherally involved with deafness. There have been quite a few memoirs, but their focus has been on unusual journeys or aspects of people's lives; for example, Frances Parsons' I Didn't Hear the Dragon Roar
, which focuses primarily on her travels through China and with less emphasis on the development of her identity as a deaf woman. While essentially a biography, John Man's The Survival of Jan Little
is far more memorable for its tale of a harrowing experience homesteading in the Amazon than it is a reflection of being deaf-blind. We're starting to see books and first-person narratives about the deaf experience that explore identity from an overall perspective. I especially enjoyed Mark Drolsbaugh's Deaf Again
-- his experiences encompass a wide range of the deaf experience, and speaks of common experiences that we've all had, regardless of our educational bona fides and choice/use of language.
With external audiences writing about and defining deaf people as deaf, it's difficult sometimes to find common grounds. It's even more difficult when you have such variety within the entire deaf and hard-of-hearing population. Even with the many people who came up during the Q&A sessions after Gertz's presentation, and later, during David Eberwein's session on the politics of Deafhood, and outed themselves as products of mainstreaming, the audience at NAD by and large were largely white, middle-class, fairly well-educated, and for the most part, could afford to travel in the summer to a conference in a man-made oasis in the middle of the desert. The audience also used ASL or other signed languages. Despite NAD's inclusive offering of captions, I doubt that there were that many people there who really needed it (and if they did, woe to them-- "deaf" came out as "teaf;" Eberwein's discussion of the parallels with AIDS and acceptance within the larger community was captioned as oralism until the interpreter finally corrected the mistake; and heterodoxy
came out as HeteroDo XY-- yes, I'm aware heteros do stuff that contributes to the mating of X and Y, but somehow I think the speaker wasn't exactly examining sexual practices). (For a somewhat more detailed summary of Eberwein's presentation, see Jared Evans' account
that he wrote for the NAD.)
So while I thought Gertz did a wonderful job, and Eberwein's pronouncement that we need to think in terms of "politics of the possible," that at this point, the discussion is geared both to those already in the know, so to speak, and towards those of us of a certain class and educational background. What *is* important is that everyone, hopefully, will return home and continue the discussion with their friends, neighbors, and co-workers who couldn't attend, and that this conversation (and it needs to be a conversation!) filters down, out, and across. As I and others have noted elsewhere, we each need to shoulder the responsibility for examining our own identity, and then helping the community to find its identity-- an identity that needs to be open and welcoming, whether dealing with class, race, sex, or other variables. Eventually we need to reach out to other populations (and they need to reach out to us!) on issues and aspects in common: our childhoods (regardless of whether you used sign, cuing, voice, etc., there are experiences we share-- feelings of being left out, of not fully understanding conversations or situations, of having to struggle to make ourselves heard, etc.), our adult lives, our needs, our desire for equal access, and areas where we can and need to fight together.
I'm not just talking about captioning advocacy, either. I've done plenty of that, and that's a common and obvious area for cooperation. I'm talking about employment issues, access to education, telecommunications, and tons of other aspects of our daily lives. NAD is already working with other groups on these issues, but these group efforts need to be better publicized. Regardless of whether we consider ourselves culturally deaf or not, we need to support efforts to reach across the aisle.
This doesn't mean, of course, that we will have a kumbaya moment, that all deaf people will be as one. There are still sharp differences, especially where education is concerned. But even within such broad gulfs, there are and can be points of overlapping, of likeminded goals. For example, pushing for a mandate that all infants be given hearing tests. Not all states require this at this point, and I can't see where anyone would disagree on asking that this be implemented.
It's also going to be hard work; no one has said the process is going to happen overnight. But it is important for us to let go of the grudges we bear from the past; it's important for us to reinforce a sense of open-mindedness and acceptance in our youth. It's important to remember that for most of us, we didn't have a choice as to where we were educated or how we were brought up
This last point is very important, and I think the success of this nascent movement is how it will be viewed, discussed, and disseminated a year from now, not just this past week and the next few weeks. It will be quite important this fall, as Gallaudet welcomes students for the fall semester, and the FSSA movement either strengthens or falters, wins or loses its battle. While Gallaudet is a key part of our community, it is not by itself the culturally deaf community. It is not the end-all and be-all of who we are. For most of us, it is a pleasant four- or five-year interlude (for others, slightly longer, but I digress); our lives as deaf adults continue long after graduation or departure from campus. The key to welcoming everyone to our community and recognizing them as deaf is to remember that while we may have been forced to go to an oral program or be mainstreamed by ourselves, no one forces students to attend college. Most people make that decision themselves. Regardless of the high numbers of mainstreamed and oral students enrolling at Gallaudet, they are attending Gallaudet. They are attending NTID. They are choosing large mainstreamed programs like CSUN.
When the average person has guests come to their home, they open the door, and they welcome that person in-- whether for the first time or the thousandth. We do not bolt the door and refuse entry. We need to view the deaf community the same way-- we open the gates, and welcome each person in as a deaf person-- whether they are well into the process of Deafhood, or just beginning the journey. We don't call them "borgs," or insist that they stop using their voice (and this is the community's dirty little secret-- there's far more of us that have the ability to use our voices than we care to admit-- it's not the only thing about us, it's not the only thing that defines us; it's simply a part of who we are, not the whole); we accept them for who they are, and in turn, they will accept us for who we are.
I could go on and on (and I think I have!), but this is what I took away from me from the workshops. In that sense alone, this edition of the NAD conference has left me with much to think about.