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The first of these is often referred to as the “medical/pathological ” model.

Those who support this viewpoint will regard a deaf person like me as someone who cannot hear, who is lacking auditory capability, who is deficient in some way because they may not be able to communicate by “speaking” and “hearing”. This viewpoint focuses solely on what a deaf person cannot do – that is to hear – and disregards the many positive attributes and abilities of individuals who are Deaf. It is a narrow and negative viewpoint in which Deaf persons are viewed as needing assistance and in which “deafness” requires a cure. This view places a deaf person as “disabled” and in doing so I believe leads to people believing themselves incapable because they are disabled.

The opposing viewpoint – often referred to as the “cultural model” – is promoted by Deaf persons themselves, and by advocates and professionals working within the Deaf community. It postulates that the inability to receive audible information is not and should not be the sole and exclusive defining characteristic of any person or group of people, and that a far more effective and inclusive approach is to view a Deaf person for what they can do rather than what they cannot. A simple yet pivotal argument often used by Deaf advocates is that since Deaf people can communicate easily and fluently amongst one another using American Sign Language, the communicative abilities of Deaf individuals are not diminished at all; they are simply perceived as diminished by “hearing” standards of receiving and expressing information audibly. Deaf people could in fact just as effectively argue that it is “hearing” people who are at a disadvantage, since few “hearing” people can communicate fluently in ASL the way a native ASL user can and does.

The culture model leads to empowering people by not categorizing what they can’t do as a disability. I went to a hearing school, hearing college and worked 6 years in IT as a professional IT security specialist. I managed people, performed reviews and carried on my life in every way with minimal expectations from others. I’ve never viewed myself as disabled. As a matter of fact I can read lips from across a crowded room, through glass, in a noisy dance club and many places hearing people can’t “hear” the conversation well enough to understand it. I hear with my eyes.

it’s also important to note hearing people perceive a percentage of language with eyes and body language. Not all of it is truly discovered audibly. I am not deaf to that portion of language. So in some ways a portion of conversation being perception is also heard by me in the same manner it is heard by those who hear.

In the first half of the 20 th century, the leading proponents of deaf education favored what is known as the “oral method “, which essentially focused on teaching deaf children to speak and to use speech-reading to comprehend what was being said to them. This approach did not take into account that children who are very severely deaf will find it impossible to acquire spoken language skills on a par with “hearing” individuals; it also did not address the issue that speech-reading is a complicated and very variable – hence sometimes unreliable – skill set. The focus was on making Deaf children as “hearing” as possible, regardless of the consequences for the Deaf child and his or her parents.

Let me explain why lip reading is “sometimes unreliable”. Accents is what you’d know it as. Different regions even here in America speak differently. What I am saying is visually not everyone pronounces words, even the same word in the same way. There are also cultural slangs for example the word wash is pronounced worsh in Pittsburgh by native Pittsburghians.

Much more recently, research has conclusively shown that communicative abilities in infants develop long before the ability to speak does. In fact, parenting magazines and experts encourage hearing parents of hearing children to develop some form of sign language with their infant so that communication can be established before speech is developed, eloquently making the point that the mode of communication is fairly irrelevant as long as one exists. This finding is in stark contrast to the central tenets of the “oral method “, which stressed the overriding importance of spoken and audibly received communication and strongly discouraged sign language.

I learned to speak about 900 English words and read lips. But my friends and family all learned ASL. I sometimes felt guilty making them learn ASL a skill still needed with me at times. I still spend half my day deaf, there are still words I do not understand. In these cases, pen and paper, text message or ASL comes in for me. I must admit even when I hear with my new ears it can be fun to talk only with ASL so most people can’t understand what I’m saying. Especially with people like Sarah who grew up speaking to me in sign.

American Sign Language plays a central role – as all spoken languages do – in the context of understanding the culture of the people who use it to communicate. Deaf people throughout the world have developed unique and distinct forms of sign language; even regional dialects exist in geographically diverse areas within individual countries.

ASL is far from being a simple visual translation of English, American Sign Language is in fact a language all of its own; it is formally recognized by many governmental and educational institutions as being the equivalent of any other foreign language. It is available in the curriculum of several of the country’s leading universities as a viable option for hearing students wishing to meet their foreign language credit requirement. The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), which operates under the auspices of the United Nations Organization and consists of national state and country Associations of the Deaf, even created an universal sign language, Gestuno, much as the UN tried to establish Esperanto as the “universal” hearing language.

Deaf Culture manifests itself both within the language (ASL) and within the social norms of the Deaf community itself, which differ substantially from those in the “hearing” world. Like any other culturally and linguistically diverse group, Deaf individuals tend to commingle and congregate at events where their language is the preferred mode of communication. I never really did this and that is why I’m not fully accepted in deaf culture. The things I wanted in life required me to push beyond my own deaf identity.

Today, Deaf individuals can be found productively contributing at every level of state, public and private enterprise and within our communities; the only areas where Deaf people cannot succeed are those where the medical/pathological view is firmly entrenched and Deaf people are viewed based on misinformed stereotypes or prejudices that have no basis in fact. I am thankful my employers have been more open minded. I’ve always been an individual to them and never a disabled one. They always treated me with respect and appreciated me for the talents and contributions I brought to their enterprises.

For persons interested in understanding more about Deaf Culture, it is worthwhile to examine the history of the 1988 “Deaf President Now” movement.

“Deaf President Now”

Deaf students at Gallaudet University – the world’s only liberal arts college for Deaf students located in Washington, DC -. When the (hearing) Board of Trustees chose a hearing candidate to be the 7 th president of the university – rather than one of two Deaf professionals also in the running – a massive protest erupted. Deaf students and their supporters locked the gates and took over the campus. After several days of growing protests, the hearing candidate tendered her resignation, as did the hearing board president; Dr. I. King Jordan – a Deaf professor at Gallaudet – was appointed as new president of Gallaudet University. This event attracted widespread media coverage on the major networks worldwide, and has to this day remained the Deaf community’s seminal civil rights accomplishment.

I’m thankful to those who paved the way for me to be part of society and viewed as a person and not as disabled. Today I enjoy being viewed for what I can do and not for what I cannot do. I can do things others can’t just as well as hearing people communicate audibly better than I can and probably ever will. I can program computers, not everyone can. I read and write four languages, read lips in three and speak ASL and now English (pretty well). How many people can only speak one language?

Not everyone has a bachelors degree, can surf, or play volleyball as well as I can. We all have strengths and I am glad I’m judged on those in today’s world. I owe that to movements like “deaf President Now” and the deaf people who came before me.

I was never fully part of “deaf culture” because I wouldn’t let my deafness define me. I was never part of the hearing culture because I couldn’t hear. I’ve been fine sitting right where I am, a hybrid living in both cultures and thriving because of a strong family.

Today I plant my freak flag and fly it with pride because culture can’t define me, nor contain me. I’ve made my way the only way I know how. Being the freak I am proudly.

See me for my ability and not a precieved disability!

~Michelle

Freak is something or someone different than the norm. I am and never will be normal. I am a hybrid hearing during the day, though not as well as true audible culture people. I am deaf by night, though removed from what’s often known as deaf culture. I surf, paly volleyball and video games. I program computers and can be a stripper. I am not and never shall be part of the norm and I’m proud of that.