Ramblings

069_3726elvis-presley-posters1Elvis was on Max Cable TV. I was in a hotel flipping through the channels. There he was with his own private audience. In his black leathers, sitting, singing and  playing his guitar. He snarled, the girls screamed and bopped. I bopped along with them, though screaming may have been slightly out of place in a hotel so I refrained. What on earth was I doing. I have long since flat lined as far as hearing goes but here I was bopping along to Elvis even though I couldn’t hear him. But somehow I could. Whether it was the way he moved, swayed or shook his leg, the music seemed crystal clear in my head. Was I going nuts? Nah, it was just my phantom hearing coming into play.

Elvis can do that. He has a way of grabbing an audience and evoking memories. They showed old clips of him. He had dancing girls, dancing men and choreographed fight scenes in time to the music. As he moved to the music, as the dancers moved to the music … as his face changed and his hips swivelled a whole range of sounds came to my head …   guitar rifts, saxophones, trumpets and even Elvis’s distinctive voice were clear in my head. I lost my hearing between the ages of 8 and 10 and my memory of his music is still clear. In our day we used to religiously watch his movies during the school holidays. Bad as they were we loved them. Can anyone remember the Monkees TV Show ?- Mickey rocked –  Or the Beatles cartoon? – Ringo was everyone’s fave.  There goes my phantom hearing again – “Hey, Hey for the Monkeeees.”

What one hears through phantom hearing  will depend on the sounds that they have experienced. Phantom hearing has been likened to having a limb amputated. You still feel it there and moving, the nerve endings are still sending messages to the brain. Every deaf person will experience deafness in a different way. For example those born Deaf and who have immediate families who are Deaf will generally not experience deafness in the same way as someone who has lost their hearing later in life. David Wright in his book, DEAFNESS, acknowledges this fact when he says, ” Very few are absolutely deaf. Their experience must  necessarily be different from that of the severely deaf, the partially deaf and the hard of hearing. The partially deaf, it seems to me, have the worst of both worlds. They hear enough to be distracted by noise but not enough for it to be meaningful.” (Wright, DEAFNESS, 1969)

Naturally the experience of deafness will vary according to the age of onset. Similarly the ability to cope with deafness will be different as well. Those who have experienced deafness from birth will not fully understand the grieving and heartache that accompanies a person who suddenly loses the sense of hearing that they have relied on all their life. Likewise those that have heard and valued seemingly trivial things such as the birds singing outside the window at sunrise will find it hard to understand the relative insignificance and dismissal of such things from those who have never heard it.

I once had a discussion with a Deaf man from a large Deaf family. I compared his experience of deafness with my own. I spoke to him about his thought process. Because I have heard, when I think I hear my voice is in my head. My voice helps me to analyse, verify and decide. If I am hungry a voice works in my head sorting through the options that I have – ”  A sandwich perhaps? Or a piece of fruit? Maybe a grease attack at the local fish and chip shop?” A little voice in my head sorts through all of the various options at my disposal. But what of my Deaf friend who has never heard? How does his thought process work? I asked him as much.

He thought about this for a while. Surprisingly he found it hard to explain. I asked him if there was a little man in his head that signed to him. He said that this was the case sometimes and at other times it was just a series of visual cues. For example when deciding what he might like for dinner visions of various food might come into his head, fish, fruit, bread etc. He might then visualise the signs that would allow him to explore these options further – “Bread maybe, no” or “Fish, grilled or fried?”  In this sense his thought process was not all that different from my own except it was more visual while my own was more verbal. Of course when I am verbalising in my head I have visual images of what I want to eat too. Different from my friend? – yes, not really, maybe … It was an interesting conversation and one of the very first times that I really analysed what being deaf meant.

But it is not just deaf people who experience deafness in different ways. Hearing people do too. Recent articles of The Rebuttal have been highly critical of Dr Bruce Shepherd and Professor Graham Clark for the misinformation they spout about cochlear implants. Shepherd, I believe, is a parent of deaf children. Clarke , I believe, had a deaf mother. Clark became a Doctor and ultimately pioneered the cochlear implant. I read somewhere that his mother inspired him to go down this path. He wanted a cure for his mother. Shepherd, being a Doctor, perhaps was frustrated that he could not “fix” his children’s hearing loss. The experience of these two imminent Australians, probably and ultimately, shaped their attitude towards deafness. Deafness to them is a sad and tragic affliction that requires fixing at all costs.

What of a child of a deaf adult? CODAs we call them. Some of them have parents who lost their hearing after giving birth to them (Not from giving birth to them). Some of them have parents who are deaf and who predominantly speak. Others have parents who only sign. My own children have parents that move from signing to speaking at will. Some will have been brought up predominantly around other Deaf people in the Deaf community. Some will witness their parents or parent severely isolated within hearing families and the hearing community. The experience of a child of a deaf adult is infinitely variable. I asked my own three boys what they thought of deafness and all three gave a different answer! “Sad” said one, “The same as anyone else.” said another, whilst the third shrugged his shoulders and said “Dunno.” The first later recanted his sad comment claiming that he had misheard me. He said he thought I wanted to know about death! Pushed he said – ‘You can make me deaf if you want. I wont care.”  Needless to say I was not convinced.

If three boys from one family whose parents are deaf can have such varying views then how can we expect society as a whole to have any kind of consensus. And this is the crux of the matter. People experience deafness in different ways. For some it is a positive way of life. For others it hinges between positiveness and frustration. Many just see deafness as the pits and causing complete turmoil in their lives. For others it is to watch on in frustration as a loved one struggles to fit in and overcome the isolation that deafness can inevitably cause. For others it is to see parents living life fully within the Deaf community but struggling within the hearing community – and themselves wondering which community they belong.

For a parent the deaf child is often the first time they have had to confront deafness in any shape or form. Not surprisingly they want their kids to be like them. They want them to be able to hear and speak because it is all they know. So called experts like Shepherd, Clarke and  many an audiologist will feed this turmoil that hearing parents must deal with by providing biased information based on what they see as the WAY! Billy Graham has nothing on these evangelists.

And yes I am rambling. I am rambling because I am trying to make sense of recent events. the cochlear debate rared its ugly head again. Ex aspiring Prime Minister, Brendan Nelson – who is thankfully about to retire, saw fit to host a symposium on deafness and exclude Deaf Australia and the views that they would bring to the table.  Deaf Australia have protested and indeed Deaf people throughout Australia were mightily offended by his actions. For those with little knowledge of deafness the conflict probably seems bewildering. Many will favour the oralist and audist view simply because it is all they know.  Will we ever console these different views or are we forever doomed to be waring factions with our own vested interests.

I don’t know. But in the meantime Elvis lives on in my head. His music and voice forever in my memory. Do I want to be able to hear it again independent of my phantom hearing? Yes cos its what I know but at least I respect and understand all the other scenarios that deafness gives rise to.  But that’s another ramble for another day.

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Nelson Silences Deaf People: Continues the Grand Tradition of Oppression and Exclusion

Just a belated notice about what is happening in the Australian Deaf  Community. Coming so soon after some great Australian philosophers who farted romantically about the cockleer implant.

I have emailed a response, which a can be read in the comments. Yes it is very complimentary of his great intellectual prowess, and liberal thinking. NOT!

You can express your tears of gratitude to the Australian MP, who wasn’t even popular as the opposition Leader [Ha, Ha, Ha], here. But then again, he is a doctor isn’t he!

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Media Release

19 August 2009

Nelson silences deaf people

Dr Brendan Nelson MP will tomorrow exclude the voice of deaf people from discussions about the needs of deaf babies and children.

Dr Nelson is hosting a parliamentary symposium on infant and early childhood deafness at Parliament House, Canberra, tomorrow, 20th August.  According to a list sent out on 4th August, 24 people have been invited to the symposium. Of these 24 people, 12 are providers of audiology, cochlear implant and speech training programs which exclude the use of Auslan (Australian Sign Language); four are medical doctors, three of these specifically cochlear implant surgeons; and two are Cochlear Limited (the manufacturer of the cochlear implant) representatives. The remaining six are a provider of general support services for deaf children; a parent representative; an education expert; a representative of the general deafness field, including service providers; a deaf person who has recently published a book about his life experiences; and Health Minister Nicola Roxon’s advisor.

A total of 22 hearing people (including only one representative of parents of deaf children), and two deaf people will come together to decide what is best for deaf children. However, of the two deaf people, one is representing service providers as well as deaf people so is hardly likely to be in a position to put the interests of deaf children before the interests of service providers. This leaves only one deaf person who is, however, able to represent only his own personal views.

Concerned about the serious lack of representation for parents and deaf people, and the obvious bias towards cochlear implants as “the solution” to infant and childhood deafness, Deaf Australia wrote to Dr Nelson requesting a place at the symposium. Dr Nelson refused this request.

Recently the Australian Government released a report, Shut Out! which details the lived experience of people with disabilities and the shocking extent to which they are excluded from Australian society.

“Dr Nelson is clearly intent on continuing this appalling record of exclusion by deliberately refusing to allow at the symposium an advocate for the very people – deaf people themselves – who have most to offer the discussion and the most important stake in the decisions made,” said Deaf Australia President Kyle Miers.

“Until policy makers look outside the medical and allied professions and make an effort to understand and accept what bona fide representatives of deaf Australians and their families have to say, deaf children will continue to have access only to very limited services that do not address the needs of the whole person or ensure they receive the best possible language acquisition and education programs to fulfil their potential. This is the tragedy of the current situation in Australia and we see this symposium as unlikely to do anything to improve it,” Mr Miers said.

Recently Deaf Australia sent to the Australian Government a policy advice paper outlining the current situation for early intervention programs for deaf and hard of hearing children, and calling for the development of a national plan for the widespread provision of world’s best practice bilingual early intervention programs for deaf children, including those who have a cochlear implant.

Bilingual early intervention programs, provided that they also support the family to acquire Auslan, are the only programs that allow the child to acquire a native language (Auslan) naturally and to also acquire a spoken language. Every child should be enabled to develop to the extent possible their ability to speak. No child should be denied access to Auslan.

“Regardless of what happens at this symposium, Deaf Australia will continue to work with the Australian Government towards reforming our early intervention programs for deaf and hard of hearing children,” said Deaf Australia Executive Officer Karen Lloyd AM.

About Deaf Australia:

Deaf Australia, established in 1986, is the leading national peak body managed by Deaf people that represents, promotes, preserves, and informs the development of, the Australian Deaf community, its language and cultural heritage. It provides an information and advocacy service for Deaf people who are bilingual in English and Auslan (Australian Sign Language).

Deaf Australia is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Further information:

Deaf Australia Inc.: www.deafau.org.au

Contact:

Karen Lloyd

Executive Officer

Email: karen.Lloyd@deafau.org.au

Ph: 07 3357 8266

Jumping the Gun

excited_manTommy was eager. He wanted it and he wanted it now. The new PlayStation Number 17 was out. He saw it in the shop window. Glistening metallic black, shiny. alluring and only $1 299.  He had to have it. Out came the credit card. It was his! Of course he had to get a few games too. There were only five on the market at this early stage. He purchased Texas Chainsaw Massacre 22. The graphics were awesome. Every little bit of blood, every droplet and every spurt was in glorious 3D. He was the first of his mates to have one! He couldn’t wait to show off his newly purchased toy.

Peter, his mate looked on. Peter wanted a PlayStation 17 too but had resolved to wait. And wait he did. Patiently he waited for the inevitable price drop and within 6 months the price was $700.  He decided to wait a little longer and three months later the consoles were selling at $599 and there were a multitude of games to chose from as well. It pays to wait. Unlike Tommy who jumped the gun! And Peter owned his! Meanwhile Tommy is still paying his off.

Australia’s Deafness organisations are a bit like Tommy. They get excited when anything is on offer and grab it as early as possible. In recent years the Deaf community have benefited from the National Auslan Booking Service (NABS) and the Auslan for Employment Scheme. Great programs that have benefited thousands. But in hindsight one needs to ask – Are these good programs? Did the Deafness sector get starey eyed like Tommy and accept what was on offer too early? Could they have been more astute like Peter and waited? In their excitement to show off to the world and take credit did they jump the gun? Or were they just looking for profit? After all $17 million is going to pay for an awful lot of overheads, isnt it?

Personally I have always found NABS to be a strange program. Sure there are many that need Auslan interpreting when they visit a private doctor but equally there are Deaf people that need interpreting when they visit a lawyer, buy a home or attend a personal training session at the local gym.  I often wonder if it would have been better for the Deafness Sector to push for more to be included in NABS. Sure it would put great demand on current interpreting supply in Australia but is it an astute use of funding to have the program only targeted at private medical appointments. Perhaps the Deafness Sector could have waited like Peter .. could have said  to the government, “Thanks this is great, but maybe we can make the program even better.” They could have spent another 12 months developing the scope of the program and consulting with the Deaf community.  Perhaps it could have been developed into a program more akin to an interpreter allowance. They could have looked at the scope for adding Live Remote Captioning to the options. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but one can not help thinking that time and thought could have lead to an even better program.

The Auslan for Employment Scheme (AFE) is another strange program. This program is $5 million over five years  and was introduced at the beginning of 2007. The aim is to provide interpreting for Deaf people starting work or who have their jobs at risk. If they so wish they can use  some of their funding for deafness awareness training. Again on the surface this seems a great program. BUT it’s limited to $5 000 a year. It’s actually for only nine months then you have to apply again and if you are lucky and convince the funders your job is at risk you might get another nine months. If you do not work full time the funding can be even less.

I got funding to pay for some of my interpreting needs through the AFE. The $5 000 lasted three months. That’s my lot and my employer must now foot the bill for any remaining interpreting. They are happy to do so but not everyone is as lucky as me. A lot of small employers cannot afford interpreting costs.  Sure the funding helps but it’s a bit like  giving a kid two licks of an ice-cream and taking it away. Again you have to ask whether the Deafness sector were too eager to accept funding without thought for the big picture goal. Could they have been tougher and said ..”NO! that’s not a good use of  funds, lets make it a strong program straight away rather than some half arsed chocolate cake that will collapse in the middle.” And what about those deaf that need communication that don’t sign? Did anyone think of them?

There is a train of thought in the Deafness  sector that we must accept what is on offer from the government. The idea is that once you get your foot in the door  you can negotiate upwards from there. It is a strong argument and has some merit. However, there is another train of thought and one that many are reluctant to visit. This train of thought actually involves telling the government NO! Telling the government that the funding and program that they are offering is inadequate and can actually be construed as a waste of funding. This train of thought involves continuing to negotiate with the government to develop the strongest possible program at any given time. It is a much harder and can be a soul destroying process. It is also not without risk because the government may withdraw anything on offer and it is possible to end up with nothing.

BUT perhaps it is time to visit this method. Perhaps it is time to say to the government that the Deaf sector is not out for handouts  an help but wants the government to INVEST in deafness and INVEST properly at that. Deaf and hard of hearing people are not asking to be HELPED but included and seen as value added rather than a drain. Proper and well thought out investment adds value and leads to better outcomes. In short we should tell the government to take their AFE and shove it! Not quite in those words but we should leave them in no doubt that the AFE is woefully inadequate to the point that we would rather not want it as it was offered.

Perhaps the Deaf sector needs to get tough. Rather than grabbing at short-term gains and profits they should hang out for real change and benefits. In doing so perhaps the government will see that Deaf and hard of hearing people are a whole economy in themselves. This ecomomy adds value to the country if invested in properly. American President Harry Truman once said, Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads.”  It’s simple – the country needs us, not the other way around … It’s time to remind the government of this and in a BIG way.

Hype-Mania (The final word on the cochlear implant hype)

big kevGeorge is on the Morning Show. He is a tradie and is selling ladders… “Call in the next hour” pleads George, “…and you will get, absolutely free, this amazing new work bench.” According to George his ladders are the safest in the world. Guaranteed, says George, to prevent workplace injuries, Do It Yourself Injuries and give you confidence to climb to the heights without fear. “Buy one get one free as well as this amazing work bench.” screams George, hands held up to the heavens as if he is your saviour. Now for some reason George got me thinking about the wonderful Professor Clark and Dr Bruce Shepherd, Australia’s Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee of Cochlear Implant salesmanship.
One can imagine the stately Clark and the slightly more robust and rotund Shepherd on the Morning Show. Beaming smiles, suit and tie, looking directly at the camera and holding in their right and left hands respectively, a cochlear implant. “Never not hear again,” cries Clark, “And stop being a burden to everybody,” screams Shepherd – “.. Have one implant and get the second ABSOLUTELY FREE.”, they sing in unison. Creepy indeed but that seems to be what has happened of late. Hype and the cochlear implant seem to be going hand in hand.
Hype seems to be following deafness around like a bad smell actually. Last year we had that revolting television advertisement from the Cora Barclay Centre. There was a young lad struggling gamely to sign. Telling all who were watching that this ungainly form of communication that is sign language was how deaf kids of yesteryear used to communicate and then suddenly breaking into a sweet, slightly lispy but engaging voice and telling all and sundry that, “…THERE IS A BETTER WAY.” And in doing so telling legions of watchers that sign language is primitive and speech is the only way forward. One only needed Yazoo in the background singing, “… THE ONLY WAY IS UP BAAAAAAABY FOR YOU AND ME NOW.” This advertisement was simply the most disgusting and misleading piece of television advertising on deafness I have ever seen.
I am beginning to wonder if Clark and Shepherd are, in fact, Cochlear’s number one and two shareholders. (For the record Professor Clark is apparently on record as having no shares in Cochlear.) In The Age newspaper recently Clark said the implant was needed by, “…deaf children to compete with their hearing peers on a normal footing. In Sweden, 95 per cent of profoundly deaf children have a cochlear implant.” Not to be outdone in the field of misleading the naive Dr Shepherd has been saying similar things, this time at the launch of the New Born Hearing Screening initiative and in the presence of Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. Said Shepherd of the implant; “It means that these children, rather than becoming drawdowns on the community and welfare, will become productive members of the community and go on to lead productive lives and happy lives, able to communicate with the entire community and not just with the few who might be able to sign.”
It’s clear isn’t it! Being deaf is a drag and a burden and the way to fix it and be equal with everyone is to have a cochlear implant. Meanwhile the cash registers of cochlear are going KA-CHING and no doubt the dividends for its shareholders increased with it. It is likely donations to Shepherd Centre for hearing impaired children improved dramatically as well.
Sadly hype is not the sole domain of Messrs Clark and Shepherd. Deaf Australia unfortunately added their own kind of hype to the debate. In the same article that Professor Clark uttered his immortal line Deaf Australia claimed that the cochlear implant; ” ….implies that deaf people are ill or incomplete individuals, are lonely and unhappy, cannot communicate effectively with others and are all desperately searching for a cure for their condition.” I am sure the many hundreds of deaf people who have a cochlear implant and are part of the Deaf community were puzzled and perhaps a bit offended by the statement. The Deaf Australia comment, sadly, like Clark and Shepherds’, was just misleading and divisive hype.
In the midst of all this hype there is, thankfully, some sanity. Tricia Kemp is the mother of a child with a cochlear implant. She is also the coordinator of a cochlear implant support group. She, one among many who should know better, states a simple fact; “Cochlear implantation is not a miracle that immediately gives access to mainstream education for all children. Undoubtedly it provides this for some but even within this group the amount of support necessary will depend on the individual child. Other children will need more support and will be better suited to placement in a Hearing-Impaired Unit (’Unit’) where more specialist help is available and others will need placement in a special school.”
She further goes on to say, and I hope Professor Clark and Dr Shepherd with their tendency to spew hype read this; “Amongst the population of deaf children, with or without cochlear implants, some will need sign support, others are oral (to varying degrees), some will need very little support, others will need a great deal; and some will have additional difficulties”.
It is people like Tricia who should be promoting the cochlear implant. Not people like Clark and Shepherd who, arguably, have a vested interest in every public statement that they make. It is a simple but true fact that the cochlear implant benefits many, some more than others. Some will chose to learn to sign some will not. But people with a cochlear implants are still DEAF … the cochlear implant does not change this! But mostly it is poppycock that the cochlear implant somehow makes people who are deaf equal to their hearing peers… Clark and Shepherd HEAR this… We already are equal and we do not need ignorant professionals like yourselves to tell us otherwise.

*Further reading:
http://www.saltbar.co.uk/2009/08/eternal-sunshine-of-the-cochlear-mind/

http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=9235&page=1

Deaf to the potential – By Michael Uniacke – posted Tuesday, 4 August 2009 -http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=9235&page=1

catcochlearPerhaps the juiciest part of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s press conference late in June to announce universal screening of newborns for hearing impairment was the lone question asked by an unknown journalist at the very end.

This press conference was a joint affair between Mr Rudd and the former Opposition leader, Brendan Nelson. The hapless journalist asked Dr Nelson a question about the latest turmoil in the ranks of the Liberals. “We’re here to talk about deafness and hearing,” scolded Dr Nelson, and that was that.

The journalist’s feeble attempt to get onto something interesting was a rich indicator of how dull was the news that Mr Rudd appeared to be doing something to help deaf babies become hearing. The Herald Sun’s perfunctory report showed the obligatory photo of Mr Rudd with a small boy whose name, according to the caption, was Tanya Plibersek. The report in the Sydney Morning Herald was much more engaging and readable, but still framed the event in the context of political foes dropping their differences.

No wonder journalists were bored. Politicians have always taken advantage of being seen promising to help disabled kiddies and scoring photo opportunities with small children. But Dr Nelson was only half right. The press conference and announcement had everything to do with hearing and nothing to do with deafness. In the room was a bellowing elephant to which everyone, apparently, was deaf.

The press conference took place at the Shepherd Centre in Sydney, which describes itself as one of Australia’s leading providers of audio-verbal therapy for hearing-impaired children. It is a place where specialists devoted to the sense of hearing regard deaf people and sign language in much the same way that butchers regard vegetarians.

There is of course nothing wrong with a screening program to detect hearing impairment in newborns. My concern is what the centre’s founder, Dr Bruce Shepherd, said after Dr Nelson declared that all small deaf children should have a cochlear implant (aka the bionic ear) before the age of one:

“It means that these children, rather than becoming drawdowns on the community and welfare, will become productive members of the community and go on to lead productive lives and happy lives, able to communicate with the entire community and not just with the few who might be able to sign.”

Dr Shepherd’s statement, with its murky subterranean cavern of insinuations about deaf people and they way they live, takes some beating. My own reaction was, “here we go again”. Dr Shepherd is not the only one to say something like that. Jack O’Mahoney, the former CEO of Cochlear, the implant’s manufacturer, said the same thing. So has Professor Graeme Clark, the inventor of the cochlear implant. So did the late Peter Howson, the former minister in the McMahon government. But unlike Dr Shepherd, they did not make such statements in the presence of beaming prime ministers.

It has long fascinated me why sign language provokes otherwise intelligent men into making comments of such inane stupidity about deaf people. There was one immediate clue: two of the three dignitaries presiding at this press conference were medical doctors, with Dr Nelson the former head of the Australian Medical Association. Little wonder they regard deafness as a pathological condition which requires a cure. Such an attitude is the polar opposite to that of deaf people, for whom deafness is simply a part of their lives.

There is another clue. The raison d’être of specialist places like the Shepherd Centre is small deaf children. The good Dr Shepherd sets a shining example for the staff who know very little about the lives of deaf adults, apart from a conviction they live silent and unhappy lives. They know nothing about the language they despise.

There is a third clue. There was a scene in the film Rabbit Proof Fence, where the abducted Aboriginal girls were having their first meal at the Moore River settlement. An Aboriginal overseer rebuked one of them for speaking their native language: “We’ll have no wangka here. You talk English!” The admonishment was repeated by one of the sisters at the settlement.

This comparison with the historical suppression of sign languages is not exact. Hearing children can learn another spoken language more readily than deaf children. However, common to this suppression of sign languages and aboriginal languages, and our third clue, is fear. It is fear that those who hold power might not only not know what is going on, but also that the speakers and users of minority languages might actually know more than they let on.

Sign language in Australia, which is known as Auslan, is not going to conveniently disappear. It is a subject for study at VCE level, at adult education centres and universities, and numerous people – academics, researchers and interpreters – make a living from it. Auslan is a community language. Across the Tasman, New Zealand has three official languages – English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language.

The cochlear implant does not somehow “immunise” children against deafness, in the way the good doctors suggest. Deaf people with a cochlear implant are a normal and unremarkable sight at gatherings of the deaf community. It is normal to see deaf people with cochlear implants using fluent Auslan.

Dr Shepherd does not explain why deaf people lead unproductive lives, and how a cochlear implant will magically make them productive. The ability to lead a productive life, in the sense of seizing opportunities for example, comes just as much from within the individual as from external trappings. The state of being deaf itself proffers numerous opportunities in life to those willing to look beyond ignorance and stereotyping. And if opportunities for deaf people are limited, then Dr Shepherd’s self-serving attitudes are one of the reasons why.

Doctors Nelson and Shepherd are saying to parents of young deaf children that the cochlear implant is the only way (and the truth, and the light, one is tempted to add). Parents are much more intelligent than to swallow that. They need to gather as much information as they can about deafness, and this includes meeting people for whom deafness is a normal part of their lives. Parents who do this will gain a far richer knowledge of deafness than the good doctors will ever want them to know.

Dr Nelson has no idea that parents of deaf children have numerous choices open to them. The cochlear implant is one of those choices, but it is emphatically not the only choice. The benefits of a cochlear implant for deaf adults and children have been much extolled, and rightly so. But the good doctors doth praiseth too much. By their own logic, a cochlear implant is the ideal prescription for legions of unhappy hearing people who lead unproductive lives and who are drawdowns on the community and welfare.

As the Chief Protector of Aborigines lamented in the very last line of Rabbit Proof Fence: “If they would only understand what we are trying to do for them”.

Exactly. If these good doctors would only understand what deaf people are trying to do for them.

(Article used with kind permission by Michael Uniake original posted at  http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=9235&page=1)