So I’m a scourge, am I?

Well, there was me thinking that I was leading a fairly blameless life, studying an MA, looking after my parents, writing small things here and there, getting involved with arty stuff, running for student councillor at Cardiff Uni (yes, my political career, take two) and well, generally getting on with my life. I had no idea that I was suffering from a scourge, or indeed, that I was a scourge – depending on how you interpret this woman’s comments – as described by someone who just won an award for businesswoman of the year in Queensland, Australia:

Thanks for the boost to my self-esteem! The key quote, I feel, is:

“Deafness is a scourge that can be eradicated and consigned to history, just like polio, according to Queensland’s newly crowned Business Woman of the Year.”

Quite apart from the comparison of a non-life-threatening condition to an extremely unpleasant and life-threatening illness, which is poor taste to say the least, when there are other life-threatening conditions the human race can do without (Tay-Sachs, which has no treatment and kills most sufferers by the age of 5, comes to mind) I feel that this kind of emotionally charged rhetoric against deafness, itself a morally neutral and non-life-threatening condition is really unhelpful, and can only serve to alienate deaf adults who have been living with, and in some cases, thriving with this ‘scourge’.

Another quote I found interesting was:

“Dr Dornan founded Hear and Say after she came across a crying boy who had lost his bus money in 1991.
Due to his deafness, Dr Dornan could not communicate properly with the boy about what was wrong and what she could do to help.
A year later, she founded Hear and Say to teach deaf children how to hear and speak and it is now one of the world’s leading paediatric auditory-verbal and cochlear implant centres.”

To me, this quote would look so much better (and her business maybe more inclusive) if it had gone:

“Due to her inability to understand him, she realised that she needed to go on a deaf awareness course and learn sign language forthwith. When she had done this, she realised that services for deaf children in her area were sorely lacking, and set about setting up a business, Hear and Say, in order to improve the situation, with auditory-verbal services and sign language classes, ensuring all deaf children in her area had access to anything they needed.”

Sadly, t’was not to be. Now we have someone who’s apparently providing services for deaf children who clearly believes they are suffering from a dreadful scourge that needs to be eradicated, a scourge just as bad as polio. (I’ve actually met a couple of people who survived polio, who are now wheelchair-users and lucky to be alive. I think they might disagree.) And she’s just won an award, and been given an opportunity to spout this rhetoric across the front page of a local newspaper. I might suggest that as such a public figure, Dr Dornan chooses her words more carefully, or she might just upset the very people she says she’s trying to help. Oh, wait. She already has. Just google ‘Dr Dornan Hear and Say’. I have a feeling this will be staying with her for a while.

Charlie Swinbourne has a few things to say as well – and check out his much more well-considered and researched response to Liz Jones, as opposed to my midnight rant!

Just for using the words ‘deaf’, ‘scourge’, ‘polio’ and ‘eradication’ in the same sentence, never mind the same speech, Dr Dornan, you have at the very least exercised poor judgement. At worst, you’re some kind of post-eugenic nightmare of the deaf community. Congratulations on your award.

5 thoughts on “So I’m a scourge, am I?

  1. Roger

    The condition is a scourge not those with it. For pitys sake, read the comments in context. Seems some look for all opportunities to play the victim? People who are trying to fix heatlh problems in their area of expertise often think of their cause in terms of it being a scourge or something similar. Its a reflection on their passion to actually help not hinder.

    1. deaffirefly Post author

      Hello Roger,

      I did read the comments in context, and they’re still pretty uncalled-for. Please note the heavy use of sarcasm in the title, first paragraph, and indeed throughout the whole post.

      What I am objecting to is the language used to portray deafness – The Black Death was a scourge. Smallpox was a scourge. Polio was a scourge. Deafness is a non-life-threatening, non-boil-causing condition that many, many people manage with every day.

      Passionate as this woman may be, the children and young adults she is trying to help will some day have to come to terms with their deafness / hearing loss. I fail to see how telling them and us that deafness is a scourge to be eradicated is using helpful, positive language to encourage them to go out and be the best they can be.

      As for playing the victim – hardly. I’m deaf, and I’m happy, I get on with living my life, as many deaf people do. Being deaf is simply part of who I am. I certainly don’t see it as a scourge to be eradicated, and I stand by my comments that this lady could have chosen her words far more sensitively, for the sake of the kids in her care if nothing else.



  2. Rosie Coomber

    Hi Donna

    Thank you for another interesting blog. I have read with care all of the information surrounding this as well as Roger’s comments and I have to respectfully disagree with you Roger.

    I don’t believe that the ‘condition’ of deafness is a scourge. I know many Deaf people who are extremely successful and happy and who wouldn’t wish their ‘condition’ to be eradicated. People who are Deaf actually have many advantages in their life that the hearing community do not. I note for example that they have a supportive community life, a wonderful language (sign language) and much improved honest communication in comparison to a lot of hearing people I know.

    I also don’t feel that Donna is playing a victim card. In fact to me her blog reads exactly the opposite. She is a strong, independent academic and would only wish Dr Death (I mean Dornan) could acknowledge that some Deaf people actually LIKE being Deaf! :-O

    I have also seen lots of comments on Dr Dornan’s webpage asking for her views on Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and she has declined to comment. There is a lack of transparency there that worries me.



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