The Dimity Dornan furore has seen many words written by various people from all walks of life. I have made a few comments and just about all of my friends and acquaintances have said something as well. So I am not going to reiterate what others have said. Let me sit back for a minute and look at this objectively.
Why the hell do hearing people get infected with the desire to “fix” deafness? I know this has been written about so many times by others. But what does it do to them? To help them fulfil an altruistic need? To ensure they do their one good deed a day? To make money? To fix the world?
I can understand them wanting to fix deafness in latter deafened adults as there are so many of them about. The RNID in the UK says 1 in 7 have some form of deafness. This is a lot of people and equates to 14% of the population. If 90% of this 1 in 7 lost their hearing after they turned 18 then that’s a lot of hearing people who want to hear again and I cannot really blame them for wanting to do this and there is a lot of money to be made from them.
But if you are talking about children, 1 in 1,000 are born severely or profoundly deaf and statistic is pretty much consistent throughout the world. In 2009, there were 295,700 births in Australia and 1 in 1,000 equates to 300 Deaf babies born in Australia every year, or about one a day. That is not very many at all and a number which hardly anything to frighten people. And by the time children are of school age, this incidence rises to 3 in 1,000, or another 600 more deaf children to join those who popped out already deaf. So we have 900 deaf children to add to our community when they turn 5.
So why are people so terrified about this “scourge” which must be “eradicated”? The problem is, deafness does not discriminate. Deaf babies are born to the moneyed classes as well as those who don’t have any, and everyone else in between. Moneyed people have clout, witness the John Tracey Centre in LA, the founder Spencer Tracey was a famous actor and had a deaf son. And the Shepherd Centre in Sydney, Doctor Shepherd was the President of the Australian Medical Association at one stage. Very powerful people indeed.
But deaf babies are a pitiful spectacle: “The poor little things can’t HEAR. Here is some money to make things right.” Fair enough, I do not dispute this, poor little puppies tug at our heartstrings was well.
But what I do not understand is why so many hearing people set themselves up as bosses and leaders of the Deaf community? Every Deaf Society has a hearing boss apart from Queensland. Just about all the organisations providing services to Deaf people have hearing bosses, Deaf Australia excepted. Even during the Deaf Olympics 6 years ago, it was hearing people who ran the show.
Why are we deafies allowing this to happen? Why are we allowing hearing people to be the decision makers, after all it is various committees which appoint these bosses not individuals. Why can’t we deafies get ourselves on these committees? Why are these committees not allowing deafies to make the decisions? If you look at other minority groups, their bosses and leaders are members of their particular minority group.
I refuse to support the argument that Deaf people in Australia do not have the required skills, this is rubbish. There are many Deaf people out there who are highly skilled and holding post-graduation qualifications. There are many Deaf people out there who are proven managers and decision makers. Why aren’t they up there with their hearing peers? Many various Deaf-led organisations in Australia are thriving and we are internationally recognised. A previous President of the ICSD was Australian and the current President of the WFD is also Australian. Australians have a history of sitting on International board s over the decades. So we have the talent, and the international reputation to go with it.
This is something we need to look at. 900 Deaf children joining our little community a year is a lot. I accept most of these will be lost to the scourge that are cochlear implants but we can get them back surely? Get them to embrace signing and our community. Work on their parents, invite them to our functions and be as non-threatening as possible. Welcome them with open arms. Don’t argue with the oralists, work with them, identify common interests and goals and set up joint campaigns.
Paul Bartlett is a proud Deaf Australian. He has resided in London since 1996. He is the former CEO of DeafPlus.