If you were to only read one entry out of this entire series about my my tech story, I think this is the one I’d want you to read.This part is a long one, but it’s really important and I couldn’t figure out a way to break it in half without each half feeling incomplete.
I know how much those who love a Deaf person want nothing more than the most crucial component of humanity – that of language and communication – to not be a barrier. It’s also totally natural to want the Deaf person to speak the language and live the life that the rest of the family does, because it seems like it’d be easier all around. It is a completely valid and understandable desire and thought process. But it is also commonly a very strong and uninformed desire, so strong that people are overly optimistic and driven, often to the point of potential unintended harm.
The success stories are far less common than the stories of those who have been harmed by expectations, language deprivation (because any language in which you do not have 100% full access when those around you do is deprivation), social deprivation, and technology itself. Those stories of harm come to fruition either in childhood or lay dormant until later on in the Deaf person’s life. It doesn’t matter when it comes to fruition, only that it does.
Those who make decisions for a child usually mean well and want the best for them. So much so, that the aforementioned optimism and desire for easy communication often makes them blind to the statistics and the stories, leading them to take that large risk of their child’s story ending in harm in favor of the small percentage of that story ending in success. A success, I’d like to point out, that is often a success only by their own definitions and standards, because a child can be successful with only ASL and being Deaf if measured by the Deaf yardstick rather than the hearing one.
The problem is, so many are focused on the hearing yardstick. That’s what children (and adults!) get measured by, and even if both yardsticks are used, the hearing one gets priority 9 times out of 10. I can honestly say I’ve seen a lot of parents claim to give both yardsticks equal weight, but then they show signs that they clearly don’t and favor the hearing one. I’m not even sure they are aware they do this. The hearing yardstick and tech go hand in hand – one results in the other.
I am a “success story” if measured by the hearing yardstick. In the few areas I fall short, parents tend to think “well, my child will be more successful because she was implanted younger / has better speech and AV therapy / there are more resources now / the technology is better etc etc etc”. I sadly rarely see “Well, my child will be more successful because I will be using the Deaf yardstick.”
A Deaf person, child or adult, will always be able to score higher on a Deaf yardstick than a hearing one. Which is why when parents make the hearing yardstick a bigger priority and center a child’s life around that instead of the Deaf yardstick, I am confused and heartbroken. This is where the harm comes from, ranging from physical harm due to device malfunctions and fatigue to psychological harm like depression and isolation.
I’m only a “success story” by the same hearing yardstick parents are using today because it doesn’t take into account actual quality of life and effective functionality measures. I achieved everything my mother wanted in terms of speech and lipreading/”hearing”. I was able to “make it” in a hearing world by her definition and that of many other parents like her even today. I climbed higher on that yardstick with CIs. I can communicate with hearies, but I still miss out.
The hearing yardstick is inaccurate in my case. I don’t feel my life is a success. I’ve felt held back, constrained, blocked. I feel like my entire life has been a huge struggle. A lot of the psychological and physical damage I have is due to the effects that the limits of the hearing yardstick had on my life. I feel like a Deaf yardstick would have yielded not only the same success the hearing one did, but more and different kinds of success. Like the kind I could feel. The kind I could have built on. The kind I could have healed with. The kind I could have lived a fulfilling life with.
I know parents favor the hearing yardstick because they are hearing. Or they think “it’s a hearing world” and that for their child to survive in it they need to measure up to the hearing yardstick, forgetting that there’s a Deaf world too and the two can and do coexist just fine. Maybe they don’t know the Deaf yardstick offers more success and less harm in BOTH worlds. Maybe they do know that, but they are too scared of not measuring up on the Deaf yardstick themselves. But here’s the thing – Hearie parents aren’t supposed to be measured against the Deaf yardstick. It can’t measure them because they are hearing. So why are Deaf children being measured against hearing yardsticks? They are Deaf. Why not measure them by that which doesn’t limit them, so they can flourish in both worlds?
Last part tomorrow.