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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USbj2l_M6zg
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.