Deafness in Society

How deafness plays out in individual lives and in communities is very closely related to human communication, language and the competencies we acquire for participation in society. But, strangely, this strong relationship between deafness, communication and social roles is often hidden to all except those with direct personal experience.

Saying something concise but useful by way of introducing ‘deafness in society’ is a bit like trying to answer ‘how might I live?’ There are just too many important things to say and starting with one may diminish the importance of all the others. ‘Deafness’, ‘being deaf’, ‘having a hearing loss’, ‘living in a hearing community’, ‘celebrating being deaf’, ‘relating to people with a hearing loss’, as well as the ‘epidemiology of hearing and deafness in society’, are all valid starting points. Because we are intending the Deafness Foundation Victoria web pages to be only a starting point for further investigations on matters related to deafness, it might be useful to simply list some of these starting points to enable you to choose your next step in the journey:

Cece Bell describes her own journey as a primary student with a hearing loss. ‘El Deafo’, her beautifully illustrated children’s book includes an account of how her newly fitted hearing aids gave her superhuman skills in hearing her teacher not only in the classroom but wherever she was in the entire school.

Ruth Sidranski opens her account ‘In Silence – Growing up hearing in a deaf world’: If there were a way, if I could, I would write this book in sign language. I cannot. Signs do not transpose to the printed page; they are understood only in the flesh, hand to hand, face to face. And so I write in universal printed English, words to conjure the magic of my first language—words my mother taught me, words my father taught me—words told by the flick of a finger, the sweep of a hand. Sentences, liquid, rising not from the human voice but from the human body.

Access Economics in ‘Listen Hear! The economic impact and cost of hearing loss in Australia’ say there are two models used to ‘socially situate people with a hearing loss’.

Firstly the medical disability model which applies to the vast majority of people with an acquired mild to moderate hearing loss who see it as a sensory deficit in the body.

Secondly Access Economics suggest the cultural linguistic model also applies, where some people who are born severely or profoundly deaf may grow up or join the deaf community and deafness may be viewed more as a cultural/linguistic experience.