We symbolise the deepest darkest fear for many of you. You cannot comprehend how to live without your drug. Without your god. Without your need to be heard. And so you rape us, you molest us, you break us, you “fix” us. You spit on us, you laugh at us, you mock us, you make sure you are always superior to us. You create impossible loopholes in the system that cannot be circumvented by us without the benevolent help of ‘qualified’ people from your supreme race. You are the disabled people, not us. Glutting on sound, your literacy has drained slowly away. Your music, once a joy for us to read the lyrics to, has become what you accuse us of being. Your newspapers, radio shows and television news, once touted to be beacons of truth have withered away to propaganda machines pumping fear and hatred to ensure your consumerism is fed. You force-feed us images that haunt us both waking and sleeping. You beat us down with stupidity and always win because you are the experts. (Which you aren’t.)
Edan Chapman – We Are The Deaf. (Click on the paragraph to read the full article)
I was mesmerised by this piece of writing by Edan Chapman. Chapman is a brilliant man. He has Usher Sydrome. Usher Syndrome is a genetic condition that leads to the person becoming both deaf and blind over time. Despite this Edan is an artist and photographer. He is well known and respected throughout the Deaf community. He does not hold back with his views. He is also, very clearly, an angry man.
Many who read Edan’s piece, We Are The Deaf, will be horrified. The language of the article is blunt and deliberately provocative. It makes you sit up and take note. At its best, and worst, it is horrifying, even cringeworthy. But what sparked Chapman to write this? What motivated him to paint people who are hearing as hell on earth?
Interestingly it is all indirectly related to Deaf model Nyle Dimarco. Of course Dimarco is the Deaf man who won America’s Top Model and is currently the most recognised male dancer in the world, bar none. (Ironic that) Dimarco is brilliant. He uses ASL and promotes the Deaf community as a vibrant and talented community that it is. He makes it very clear that he is happy being Deaf and would not have it any other way.
Through the positive imagery of Dimarco the Deaf community has had a kind of rebirth in the eyes of hearing people. People are fascinated by sign language. I imagine in America hearing people are lining up in droves to learn ASL. I imagine parents of deaf babies, seeing the positive vibe of Dimarco, are lining up to have their deaf children learn ASL and become Billingual, just like Dimarco. Its been an absolute boon.
So spectacular has Dimarco’s impact been that it spooked the Alexander Graham Bell Association. So much that they felt the need to respond. I am not sure what came over them. But writing a letter that stated that sign language was in decline right in the middle of the Dimarco craze was not very bright.
In part the letter said,
The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing applauds DiMarco’s achievements and recognizes that ASL exists as a communication option for deaf children. However, it is just one such option and its use is declining. The reality is that most deaf children – more than 95 percent – are born to parents with typical hearing, and 90 percent of these families are choosing listening and spoken language for their deaf child, according to data from BEGINNINGS for Parents of Children who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing in North Carolina. (Click on the paragraph to read the full article letter.)
The underlying intent of this letter seems to be to undermine sign language and belittle its significance in the development of the deaf child. It was a really ill thought out response and the Deaf community erupted. Facebook abounded with Vlogs of Deaf people signing their outrage towards the Alexander Graham Bell Association. They refuted that ASL was in decline. The Vlogs showed a loud and very proud Deaf community. They showed a Community that were not going to let anyone besmirch Dimarco or their language. The Bell letter also motivated Chapman to release his article.
Chapman indicated on his Facebook page that he has been sitting on this article for several months and that the Bell letter was the straw that broke the camels back. Perhaps he worried that the article was too strong for the mainstream. Perhaps he worried that the language and allegory he used within the article would be too offensive. Only he knows why he sat on it but the Bell letter was the last straw and he published.
I loved the article. I loved its structure. I loved his passion. I loved Chapman’s guts for calling the shots. But there is a lot wrong with the article and I think it needs to be challenged.
Firstly the title WE ARE THE DEAF needs a disclaimer. The title and the language within the article makes it seem like Chapman is speaking for all Deaf people. It makes it seem like he is expressing the views of the whole community. Of course he was not. The article was simply expressing the frustrations that many in the Deaf community feel about the oppression that they often receive at the hands of hearing professionals.
These professionals like Doctors, teachers, journalist in the media and so on are constantly portraying deafness in a negative light. They paint deafness as a disaster and tragedy that needs curing and fixing. Deafness is a deficit that needs eradicating. That there are hearing professionals that feel this way is certainly true. The problem with the article is that it seems to make a sweeping generalisation that all hearing people are like that.
Of course this is far from the truth. There are many hearing people who are allies and supporters of the Deaf community. There are many hearing people that have spent a good proportion of their lives supporting, encouraging and advocating for people who are deaf. These people include among them teachers, interpreters, doctors, audiologist, researchers, social workers and so. Chapman has, unfortunately and probably unwittingly, lumped all hearing people in one basket. He needed a disclaimer somewhere to acknowledge this fact. He didn’t and he has unfortunately put many people offside as a result.
Then there is his choice of language. Chapman is a brilliant writer and does not hold back. But he has said that hearing people have raped, molested and disfigured deaf people. We all know that this has occurred. Deaf kids were sexually abused in schools for the deaf and in the catholic church for example. There was a recent DOCUMENTARY highlighting this.
This abuse probably was committed by both hearing and deaf people but Chapman has not acknowledged this. He has simply lumped all hearing people into the category. Then and again Chapman may have been trying to highlight how hearing people destroy everything that deaf people hold dear as they try to make deaf people hearing like them. Either way the language was damaging and for many very offensive.
Worst for me is that Chapman appears to criticise the choices that hearing parents make for their children. Chapman says this,
“Instead of listening to us (oh the irony!) you insist on ‘fixing’ us. Drilling holes into our barely formed skulls and installing decades old technology to break something that was not even broken in the first place,”
I can only imagine the pain this will cause parents who decided to give their deaf child a cochlear implant. Parents do this, not because they want to harm or damage their children, they do so because they are acting on the expert advice that they have received. Sure the advice might have been biased but for many the deaf child is their first ever experience of deafness and they are grieving and wanting their child to be hearing. They want the best for their kids. They don’t need nor deserve this sort of criticism.
I know Chapman was probably targeting the professionals and doctors providing the advice to parents when he wrote this but it can be interpreted either way. The bottom line is we have to acknowledge that the cochlear implant has benefited many kids. Anecdotally I can say that many have better English language skills than the deaf kids in the 70’s and 80’s. These kids with implants are finding their way to the Deaf community and they still wear their implants. That shows they value it.
I just feel we need more sensitivity to the trauma that parents face in making a decision to implant their child. Chapman’s choice of language would have been incredibly offensive to many of them. And besides, even Deaf parents of Deaf kids have chosen to implant their children. They have recognised the dual benefits of hearing and sign language and this is a good thing.
This was incredibly hard to write. I am a great admirer of Edan Chapman and remain so. However, this article, unwittingly, paints a picture that this is the view of the Deaf community and Chapman is representing them. It also unfortunately tars every hearing person with the same brush and overlooks the great support and the many allies who are hearing and who support the Deaf community.
Mostly, for me, much within is really challenging and offensive to hearing and deaf parents of deaf kids who are have had to make difficult decisions for deaf kids. They do not deserve this sort of attack. They deserve our empathy and fully respect.
For these reasons Chapman’s article needed to be challenged. Dimarco has shown what positive imagery can do, we need more of that.