The OTHER awards speech…

First, I’d like to say thanks to my good friend Rosie for giving me a heads-up on this. Seems so much attention has been focussed on Dr Dornan’s acceptance speech for the Businesswoman of the Year award,that her OTHER award (The White Pages Community and Government Award) and acceptance speech have been almost unremarked upon, even though that particular video is still available on youtube, here:

Even better, the CC button works, and it seems that CC can handle Australian accents better than British, perhaps they’ve been trained on Americans. I digress. Apart from a few phonic mistakes, most of the speech is still understandable, and if this is anything to go by, I can see why the other video has been taken down. Stand-out quotes include:

“…because I would like to decimate the very significant impact of deafness around the earth” (1.26)

“deaf children have the potential to speak just like children with normal hearing, and develop at the same rate”(1.54)

She then goes on to say that what deaf children (in Australia) need now is a nationwide newborn hearing screening programme, access to hearing technologies and cochlear implants – and I give her credit for saying ‘if they need it’ as that allows some room for grey area – but, and perhaps the captions screwed this bit up, she apparently makes no mention of access to sign language.

It’s ironic she talks about helping people to communicate with each other (3.14) – though due to caption trouble, I’m not sure of that context – since there are other ways to communicate than speech.

She then goes on to say that “the job needs to be finished” (3.39) – ominous, and somewhat overly optimistic.

She seems very passionate, and it’s great that she thinks that deaf children “are worth it” (3.47) and she does say that there will be a whole new generation of deaf children who are ready to take their place on the world stage, which is at least ending on a positive note. Unfortunately, I lost the rest of the speech to CC glitches, but I think I got the gist. The theme that runs throughout the whole speech is that speaking clearly, cochlear implants and hearing technology are the be-all and end-all.

I wear powerful hearing-aids. I was mainstreamed. I speak well. I can hear speech, in that speech is within my frequency register.  I even ‘pass’ occasionally, in that people don’t notice my hearing aids and thus don’t notice my deafness.

The truth is, at school I was hopelessly lost. I have never been able to cope in hearing social situations; the constant back and forth, the background noise, the chatter. And when you speak well, the assumption is often “they can’t be that deaf”, even as an adult. In fact, I have a profound sensori-neural hearing loss; I’m missing an average of 95dB and a couple of frequencies, and my hearing-aids, whilst powerful, are not magic. Noises are blended together, radio is worse than meaningless, and music has to have a beat or something I can ‘hook into’ before it makes sense. Wailing guitars and random wailing are a no-no. Sign language was my saviour.

The point I’m trying to make here is that being able to speak well does not give one automatic access to the world. Far from it, if anything it hinders slightly, because of the assumption that you can hear better than you actually can. I still need assistance to access the world around me, whether via sign language interpreters or palantypists / captions, I still cannot use a telephone, and instead use minicoms and relay services. The upshot is that you can communicate with the other person, but it’s hard for them to communicate with you, and for some reason sometimes it’s hard for them to understand I am actually that deaf, and sometimes they won’t write things down or speak more clearly for you. Such conversations usually end in frustration.

Communication is a two way street. Just because they understand you, doesn’t mean you understand them.

Furthermore, cochlear implants are not suited to every deaf person. However far technology advances, it’s going to take something more than an implanted amplifier to ‘fix’ deformed or absent auditory nerves, or malfunctioning auditory processors in the brain. Cochlear implants are offered only to those who are considered suitable for them, hence reasonably high success rates. Mention is rarely made of those who cannot use them.

All this means the job will not be ‘finished’ as soon as Dr Dornan apparently hopes. The comment I found most objectionable though was “deaf children have the potential to speak just like children with normal hearing, and develop at the same rate”(1.54)

Not all deaf childen have this potential to speak; all children are different, and this comment infers that deaf children who do not speak well will not develop at a similar rate to hearing children, and this is wrong. I have friends who have never or rarely spoken in their lives, and yet have university degrees, which they accessed entirely through written English and sign language. Speech is not the most important thing. Having an understanding of language is. If a deaf child is taught written English and sign language, there is no reason they should not flourish. Speech, if they are able to develop it, should of course be an option, a fun game like it was for me, not something they have to do, even if they can’t or don’t understand. My parents made a game out of getting sounds right, without any pressure. Making a child do something they don’t understand is one way to put them off for life – ask one or two people I know who, after leaving school, literally threw away their hearing-aids and never looked back.

I fully support that deaf children should have full access to services that can help them, and I can see Dr Dornan’s passion even if I object strongly to what she has to say, but what I really, really object to is the idea that being able to speak clearly and hear speech sounds will fix all of a deaf child’s or person’s issues.

I know for a fact that this isn’t true.

3 thoughts on “The OTHER awards speech…

  1. Piers

    Absolutely! I’ve a good friend who has perfect speech but struggles to understand hearing people at best of times, has the exact same problem as you, people refusing to believe that she’s deaf and not adjusting to match her communication needs.

    I’m lucky, my speech sucks and it’s fairly obvious that there’s something wrong with me, but sometimes my speech comes across reasonably OK in a noisy environment and they think I’m forrin or something and are surprised that I don’t understand them until I explain I’m deaf. My biggest issue in fact is that most deaf people absolutely refuse to believe how deaf I am. Not as big of an issue as yours, obviously, but still a surprising pain in the butt. I hear absolutely nothing without my cochear implant, and I mean nothing. Stand me next to a jet engine and set it to full power and I won’t hear a thing – though I’d feel all the vibration. Fire a gun off next to my ears and nada. My audiogram shows just two totally, completely flat lines on the NR notch at the bottom. I can’t even hear pneumatic drills. Once as a kid, I was watching TV and there were people doing roadworks right under the window literally 2 metres away – my mum came down and asked me if I could hear the drills – at that time I was wearing Phonak PPCL4 hearing aids turned up to 11 with fresh batteries – those things boost sounds up by 130dB – and I was completely unaware of the work going on furiously outside. I try to explain this to deaf people and 99% think I’m bullshitting them. It took me 3 solid months to convince my deaf girlfriend of this fact and even now she’s still not completely convinced. Amazing. The reason why this is an issue is that I often use this as one of the good reasons why I need a cochlear implant (please note “I” not “everyone”) – most deaf people think “I can hear fine with hearing aids, therefore it’s true for every other deaf people”. I realise I’m a rare minority but I don’t understand why deaf people find it hard to believe.

    1. deaffirefly Post author

      That’s more impressive than my ‘I slept through a thunderstorm while I was in a tent’ but in fairness I’ve also slept through a garage break-in, a small earthquake and Michael Fish’s hurricane. Maybe people find it hard to believe because they find it hard to empathise with something they haven’t experienced; many deafies still get low pitched vibrations on the eardrum or get quiet sounds (quiet to us anyway!) or in my case, raging tinnitus on a bad day, so a completely flat line and the accompanying nothing is hard to imagine. Even so, of all the people in the world, you’d expect deafies to be able to get a handle on the concept more than most! Everyone is different, even deaf people 🙂 Perhaps, to finally convince your girlfriend of the truth, get a gong or a cymbal, and get her to wait until you’re asleep and then bash it next to your ear with all her might. That should do it! Alternatively, I have a 120 dB panic alarm you can borrow 😉


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