Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Deaf Culture and Gallaudet

by In Wales Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 11:18:47 AM EST

In one of the breakfast threads I mentioned the current issue of protests being held at Gallaudet University for Deaf and hearing impaired students in Washington DC.

The thread began to raise some issues around Deafness, Deaf Culture and sign language which I said I'd write a diary on.  Since the situation at Gallaudet is still ongoing and picking up support from Deaf Communities across the world, I thought it would be a good context to put this discussion into.

First things first.  Gallaudet University is the world's only liberal arts University for Deaf and hearing impaired students and was founded in 1864. Lectures are delivered in the medium of American Sign Language (ASL) and through the use of Blackboard technology, across a range of disciplines including arts, languages and some sciences.  41% of the University staff are deaf or hard of hearing. ASL and English co-exist but direct sign communication is central to Gallaudet's vision.  The University admits up to 5% of hearing students to its undergraduate courses.

Gallaudet is widely held up as an example of how political action has advanced the status and rights for the Deaf community in America and consequently this has set precedent for similar progress elsewhere in the world.

On March 6, 1988, the Board announced the appointment of Zinser {a hearing candidate} as Gallaudet's next president. Students and their supporters reacted swiftly. They refused to accept the board's decision and instead, launched the historic Deaf President Now [DPN] protest.

DPN united faculty, students, staff, alumni and members of deaf communities across the country and abroad in support of the notion that it was time that Gallaudet was led by a deaf person. The week-long protest captured worldwide attention and created great awareness of deaf people, and their language and culture. Two days after being appointed the new president, and under pressure from DPN, Zinser resigned. Gallaudet's eighth--and first deaf--president, I. King Jordan, '70, was selected. Philip Bravin, `66 became the first deaf chair of the Board of Trustees, and the board began the process that would fulfill a demand of the student protesters that 51 percent of the members of the Board of Trustees be deaf.

The current protests
To my understanding, the situation at Gallaudet today is similar to the one in 1988. Except the incoming President they are protesting against, Jane Fernandes, is Deaf and is a fluent user of ASL (although she did not learn ASL until in her 20's).  The issue appears to focus on her desire to expand Galluadet to accommodate a wider definition of d/Deaf to take into account those who are born Deaf but have been given cochlear implants or use other technologies that give them more hearing.  Fernandes still considers those people to be part of a wider community of Deaf people.  An interview she gave to the Washington Post outlines this.  She believes that she is not considered to be 'Deaf enough' to hold the post.

The protesters say that the issue is around Fernandes lacking the skills needed to lead effectively and in light of her poor record over the last few years as Provost, there is no confidence in her to improve on issues such as racism and audism or to reflect the diversity of the student body. (Audism is oppression of people on the basis of hearing ie those who cannot hear - I think it is a fairly American term, I've only come across it recently in the UK).

An interview with a student and faculty member gives an insight into the reasons for the protests.

The situation in Washington has been building since the appointment of Fernandes in May. A Tent City was set up in protest during May for 12 days, behind the main gates of the University.

The Tent City then returned on October 2nd in the heart of the Campus and by October 13th it was all over Gallaudet, with student blocking access to the campuses from the 11th onwards.

The faculty voted 82% to 18% to demand that Jane K. Fernandes resign as president or be removed

She still states she is refusing to do so, and is backed by outgoing President I. King Jordan.

133 protesters were arrested on Friday night (13th) which is when the issue really sparked up interest across the world - hitting the Deaf community email lists in the UK.  Many are objecting to Deaf students being arrested and detained without access to interpreters.  There is plenty of talk about standing in solidarity with the Gallaudet protesters and so Tent Cities are being held across the world, with one in the UK coming together tomorrow in London.

The real issues?
There's plenty of internal conflict for me here because this is exactly the situation that makes me an outcast as far as the Deaf Community is concerned.  Being Deaf doesn't just affect access to education. leisure, work, travel, politics and so on, but it is totally significant to my self identity and in how others categorise me according to their own beliefs, prejudices and societal norms. This applies to hearing people and Deaf people.

I don't believe that if I turned up to London's Tent City tomorrow that I would be widely welcomed by the Deaf Community there.  As soon as they realise that I am d/Deaf but not a fluent British Sign Language user, they are not interested in engaging with me.  I'm one of that group that Fernandes wants to extend a welcome to in Gallaudet.  I float on the edge of never quite belonging anywhere.  A hearing person supporting the Deaf Community would be more welcome than I would in the Tent City.

You'll note that I have talked about the Deaf Community and d/Deaf people and hopefully you can see that there is a clear cultural/social identity attached to that.

There are 2 main models of disability - medical and social.  Medical focuses on the impairment and implies that the impairment itself is the disability.  ie someone is disabled because they cannot walk, therefore they are the problem and should seek to be fixed or cured or to have the problem alleviated as much as possible. It puts the individual at the centre.

The social model states that a person with an impairment is disabled by barriers in society that prevent them from having full access to opportunities around them.  Rather than viewing the individual as being problematic and needing to change, it looks at society's role in becoming more accessible to eliminate those barriers to participation.

I very strongly subscribe to the social model.

Taking d/Deafness, it is constructed in a similar way. deaf refers to a medical view of deafness.  Hearing impairment, partially hearing and deaf refer to hearing loss in medical terms and with diagnosis the approach tends to focus on wearing hearing aids or having a cochlear impant, learning how to listen and speak clearly and basically adapting to fit in with the hearing world. Being deaf isn't part of someone's identity, it's a medical problem.

Deafness has a cultural association attached to it and we see that playing out strongly at Gallaudet right now.  Deaf people are those who have usually grown up as first language Sign Language users, within the Deaf Community and with a history of Deaf storytelling, cultural norms and Deaf role models. The Deaf Community is extremely defensive of it's identity and culture and opposes any moves which they believe to threaten the strength of the Deaf Community.  The Deaf Community is a linguistic minority and they do not consider themselves to be disabled. About 70,000 people in the UK are first language BSL users (unless you look at the BDA website which plucks up a figure of a quarter of a million).

British Sign Language is not recognised in law as an official indigenous language of the UK.  Cornish is recognised even though far fewer people use it, and it is confined to a small geographical area.  BSL campaigners want to see a BSL Act, similar to the Welsh Language Act, to give the language a proper status in the UK.

An announcement by Maria Eagle (Minister for Disabled People) in 2003 recognised BSL as a language of the UK, and in 2004 £1.5 of government funding was provided for 10 projects to promote BSL and increase opportunities for people to access the language, but still, no legal recognition.

"The Government recognises that British Sign Language (BSL) is a language in its own right, regularly used by a significant number of people ... BSL is a visual-gestural language with its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax."

For the record, I fully support the full legal recognition of British Sign Language and I have actively campaigned, petitioned and raised awareness on the issue for a number of years.

Deaf Politics
This is a complex and emotive issue and has been alluded to throughout this diary.

Deaf people do not consider themselves to be disabled and say the DDA does not apply to them, yet the only real way forward to win new rights for Deaf people is through current disability legislation.  Got to start somewhere.

Anyway, there is hostility from some members of the Deaf community ('Deafies') towards hearing people ('hearies').  When I worked in the student movement a colleague of mine was putting forward a motion on the genocide of black people and I discussed with her the parallels of that and with what the Deaf Community consider to be a genocide of Deaf people.  It's a hugely controversial and uncomfortable issue which I didn't understand and so looked into it.

The approach of the medical school of thought is to test babies for hearing loss and if hearing loss is found then the intervention is often to fix that child somehow.  New technology has opened up possibilities of providing 'hearing' through cochlear implants, hearing aids and so on.  Deaf children are not necessarily coming into contact with the Deaf Community or with sign language - as happened with me.  The Oralist approach advocates teaching deaf children to 'hear', speak, read and write.  This fails to address the isolation that many such children face in mainstream education and in a 'hearing' world.

Some more radical views from the Deaf Community consider this as a Government led, deliberate attempt to eradicate the Deaf community and Deaf people and as such it is refered to as being a genocide of Deaf people.  My jury is still out on that one.  I think it goes too far but there is still a point to the negative view of the Oralist approach.

Organisations for the Deaf/deaf/hearing impaired spectrum are viewed cautiously by Deaf people. The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) is utterly loathed by the Deaf community because it is seen to focus on hearing impaired people, mainly those who have lost hearing later on in life and it holds a monopoly on interpreter services and other forms of service delivery for d/Deaf people.  However, they are very good with service provision, well co-ordinated and professional and although I agree that they should not lay claim to representing Deaf people, they do a great deal to improve services and policy for the wide spectrum of deaf people.  The British Deaf Association (also known as the Sign Community) are more representative of Deaf people but nowhere near as well organised as the RNID, therefore their policy impact is less significant and the self-organisation and profile of the Deaf Community within mainstream politics is very weak.

The Deaf Community are very defensive and exclusive. So much so that people like me who were born d/Deaf but grew up outside of the Deaf Community are generally not welcome unless we choose to shun the hearing world and immerse ourselves soley in the Deaf world.  I am not willing to isolate myself in that way.

My identity
I am stuck between two worlds and frankly I'm used to it now.  I do not view myself as being 'deaf' because I don't think there is anything wrong with me.  I just do things differently and I have adapted to my hearing loss.  I do see myself as being disabled because society frequently throw up barriers that make it much harder and sometimes almost impossible for me to go about living my life in the way I wish to. I am at a disadvantage in that respect.

I would like to identify myself as being Deaf because I strongly link my self identity to my Deafness.  But despite my strong support in many ways for the Deaf Community and British Sign Language, I am not accepted as being Deaf by the Deaf community as a whole (no disrespect to a number of Deaf people who have been very supportive and welcoming to me).

I haven't had chance to touch upon issues such as the evolution of BSL and other sign languages, regional dialects, difference sign languages across the world, linguistic differences and so on. I'm fairly sure I've missed out many other things too. Perhaps there will be scope for this in another diary.  However, fire away with any questions that you may have, I'm difficult to offend (unless you are clearly trying to!)

To go back to the Gallaudet issue, I find it hard to put my support forward for the protests, because they are, in my eyes, protesting against allowing people like me being viewed as worthy of inclusion at Gallaudet University.

I've heard about Deaf-as-ethnic-group before and I find it very hard to fit into my universe:I suspect I'm not alone. I'll have to think hard to figure out why it bothers me so. I think its the echoes of nationalism though: I can almost imagine a Deaf separatist movement campaigning for a Deaf homeland. Part of it is that, as usual, it's the radicals that get more coverage than they deserve.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 01:04:44 PM EST
Living in Wales, I draw a strong parallel between BSL and the Deaf Community and Welsh language and the promotion and preservation of Welsh heritage.

I support both to an extent, but like you point out, where it pushes heavily into Nationalism, is where I draw the line.  Welsh Language groups such as Meibion Glyndŵr set fire to holiday villages and sought to prevent English people from coming into Wales as a way of preserving the language and heritage.  There are clear 'nationalist' type views within the Deaf Community too which I cannot support.

I do support the view that if the Deaf Community and its language is recognised and given status, then society could seek to become more accessible, promote the use of BSL and achieve far more for the inclusion of d/Deaf people than it currently does.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 01:22:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fantastic article! I live near Washington so we have been bombarded by media coverage of the Gallaudet protests for weeks now. I was aware in general of the strong feeling of "community/culture" among the deaf mostly due to reading or special tele programs. I understand that many even prefer deaf marriage partners with the hope of having non-hearing children.  I guess I can understand this reaction, but only in terms of the groups feeling of alienation from the hearing world, a feeling that is most likely perpetuated by strong social pressure and, of course, continued alienation.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 02:00:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh wow that must be an interesting insight that you have to the situation, seeing the coverage in a local perspective.  Is there local support or understanding as to the actions of the Gallaudet students?

Your comment makes me think of the first time I remember shouting at the television.  It was a programme on Deaf issues and the speaker was saying how all deaf people want to marry other deaf people and have deaf children and I shouted "that's not true, you're not speaking for me!"

But for people within the Deaf community that is how they tend to approach it.  Two Deaf aquaintances of mine had children recently and both couples were thrilled when they found out their babies were Deaf too - "Deaf Power".  They want to change the world and use their children as tools.

I see things in their behaviour that bother me and that I can't articulate too well but it often feels as though they want to fight, they want an enemy and it is a destructive pattern of behaviour. Their aims are to make society more accessible to Deaf people and at the same time preserve Deaf identity - fine, all well and good.  

The way they go about doing it, works against them and alienates them further.  These are difficult issues to fully understand and to go on the attack just because a person is a 'them' and not an 'us' will never help to resolve the issues.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:51:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I haven't seen much local reaction to the Galluadet protests.  It's almost as if the local community is afraid to express an opinion about something they know little about.  My own impression is that the protesting students are just trying to exercise a degree of control that they are denied in most other situations. It also seems dubious that a few hundred students would feel they have the right to name the schools leadership.  Even more so considering that the faculty expressed no negative opinion at all until the students made an issue out of it. Of course they (the students) may just be looking out for the future of "their" school, and I mean this in the sense that Gallaudet being unique is their school (truly an alma mater) in reality.

I agree with you in saying that the Deafs' attempts to remain a culture apart increases their feelings of alienation.  That is unfortunate and I am really sorry.  I have worked with a few Deaf persons in  a professional setting (not d/deaf as yourself) and enjoyed the experience, but the limitations on communication made interaction difficult at times.

It seems that I read or heard that many of those who are deaf have fewer socially derived controls over emotional responses than hearing people.  This would make sense, if some of these controls are learned under conditions facilitated through spoken language and interaction, or alternatively through broad interaction with society. (Don't know for a fact - just an idea). Anyway, this could also explain what appears to be rather strong reactions on the part of some students taking part in the protests.  Pushing and shoving, etc.  I could be all wet on this, just sharing my impressions and explanations.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 10:55:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the things that does strike me about Deaf politics is the assumption that if they want to have a say they should be able to have a say in everything without regard to the usual processes by which things are done.

So, as you say, the students would not usually have the right to decide who should be appointed as President since it is not a democratic process as such, any more than it would be to appoint any faculty member, or a member of canteen staff.

It's an interesting idea about access to methods of developing control over appropriate emotional responses.  Many Deaf aquaintances who are heavily involved in campaigning, tend to be extremely aggressive in how they put their view forward.  I'm articulate enough with speech that I rant verbally at someone/something until I've vented on everything I want to get across.  If I didn't have fluency with spoken language then that probably would revert into physical aggression, I've certainly seen that in young deaf children when they become frustrated and can't communicate what they need.  I've seen it in deaf adults too.  

Another thing to bear in mind is that gestures that hearing people would consider to be rude are a part of sign language eg flapping your hand in front of someone's face to make them pay attention, or shaking their shoulder or preventing someone from turning away if you haven't finished talking.  It doesn't surprise me that the emotional outlets will tend to be more physical for Deaf people.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 03:08:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I agree with your reasoning. The Deaf have to use what could be considered rude or aggressive actions (to the hearing) to obtain and hold the attention of hearing persons, especially when issues are important/emotional to them. I also realize there must be an elevated level of frustration with the inability to communicate to hearing persons exactly what they intend.  I would guess and certainly hope that the Deaf can and do communicate adequately with each other, using sign, and body language. It seems to be issues of communication and even when all 5 senses (and four letter words) are available this can be difficult.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 10:11:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You might be interested in this story:  A town for the deaf?

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 01:48:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, that will be very interesting to follow if that town ever does materialise.  There are some tribal communities, geographically based, that are almost entirely deaf and use a sign language. I can't remember any details. It just happened to evolve that way due to some gene mutation and geographical isolation.

Actually setting about building a town or community set apart is another kettle of fish.  The only thing I can liken it to is the way that Amish communities live.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 07:39:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed.  I've been following it on and off for a couple of years now.  Here's a blog about it if you're interested:


I believe Martha's Vinyard was one of those geographical places you might be thinking of.  


And I should have said earlier -- excellent diary!  Thank you.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes

by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 08:03:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is the one I'm thinking of, thanks for that.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 02:52:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Anyway, there is hostility from some members of the Deaf community ('Deafies') towards hearing people ('hearies')."

I'm sorry, I want to be sensitive, but this ... I so don't get it.  I have seen documentaries on deaf people who are really hardcore about these things.  I understand the desire to insulate yourself in a supportive community.  But I'm not even aware of any "audism" from hearing people toward the deaf.  We have a long way to go, but we have come a long way toward integrating the disabled into society.  I mean, I guess you could argue that the blind or those with no limbs are not "disabled", but, like the deaf, they have more obstacles to overcome than most of us and do not have access to everything we do.  The solution to that should be to make our world more accessible to everyone and to help the disabled have independence and to treat them with dignity.  The solution is not segregation.  Also, why would you not want a doctor to make sure your child could hear?  Is that fair to the child?  I can't hear the symphony or the voices of my loved ones so neither can you?  There is so much out there which enriches our lives.  Yes, you can have a rich and full life without ever hearing Chopin, but why would you go out of your way to make sure another human being will never have that opportunity?  I think it is cruel. That doesn't mean I think I am better than deaf people.  At all.  It means I think the answer to alienation is not more alienation.  When has that ever been proved constructive?

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 02:43:20 PM EST
You make a number of good points and raise a fair few issues there.  

One thing about disability is that non-disabled people automatically view disability in terms of loss and in terms of what you don't have.

People look at me and say things like "I don't know how I'd cope without my hearing."  But I'm just fine. It gives me my own unique perspective on the world, I have my own way of interacting with my environment and I have adapted to doing things my way in a way that overcomes or reduces most barriers that I come across.

You talk about segregation not being the answer and I agree fully.  But you look at it from the viewpoint of taking that deaf child and helping them to fit into hearing society. How about the other way around?  If more hearing people used sign language, so many of those barriers for Deaf people would disappear.  Why isn't BSL taught on the school curriculum? Why isn't it a language option at GCSE and A level?  

Why isn't the education system more accessible to disabled children?  Why aren't extra curricular activities made accessible? Why is it such a hassle to get decent customer service at the shops and the bank and the cinema? Why is my money less important in the marketplace than that of a non-disabled person?

Some deaf children you cannot give hearing to, even with all the will in the world and with the best technology available. You can help some children to an extent but there is no cure for deafness. Even those all-singing, all-dancing cochlear implants come with huge risks and don't always work. They don't last a lifetime either.

All parents want to do what is best for their child.  My parents thought they were doing the best thing for me by giving me hearing aids and not allowing me to lipread or sign. I didn't meet another deaf child until I was 9. I was bullied horrifically from aged 6 until I left school at 18 more or less. I was isolated from other children, I didn't have access to extra curricular activities, I had teachers who refused to teach me and had me excluded from their classes because I was deaf and I left school with no self confidence and no self esteem.

Now if I had been given access to the Deaf Community and had been allowed to learn how to sign (as well as learning to speak English and read and write - a bilingual upbringing) then I would have been able to develop some kind of self identity and pride in who I am at a much earlier age, I'd have had some kind of support system to fall back on and a sense of belonging somewhere instead of being an outcast.  If my schools had been more clued up and accessible and genuinely integrated, they wouldn't have allowed the bullying or tolerated teachers blatantly discriminating against me.  These people denied me access to my education, they denied me access to my natural language and they blocked my access to society.  That is alienation. BSL could have enriched my life...

And I fully agree where you say that

The solution to that should be to make our world more accessible to everyone and to help the disabled have independence and to treat them with dignity.

But that is not the world we live in.

For Deaf people, they want to protect their children from going through the experiences that I went through and indeed that many of them also went through.

I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet but I am very bright and that alone saved me. Take your average deaf person who goes through similar experiences to me - most likely they will drop out of school early, be illiterate, not have any access to participating in society, just simply not understanding how society works, and how can you not be angry or bitter if you've gone through that?  And that is why the Deaf Community is so defensive in keeping themselves separate from the hearing world.  And yes, I agree that some of those people go too far in isolating their community from the world around them and that is just as unhelpful as isolating a child in a world that they can't take full part in.

The way that you discuss deafness and disability, speaks very strongly to me that you are influenced by social constructs and societal norms around disability. That in itself leads to various forms of institutional discrimination - like you say, you aren't aware of 'audism' but even if people are not conciously discriminating against deaf people, society is set up in such a way that it just isn't accessible to them and therefore deaf people are oppressed and disadvantaged by that.  

I hope you understand that I am not criticising you or anything you have said but there is another viewpoint to expose, that I hope can go some way to answering some of the queries you raise.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 07:28:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you.  The line from the news article recommended by Izzy says it all for me.  The world is a lonely place and even lonelier for someone who doesn't share the same cultural attributes as those surrounding him/her.  Language may be the prime cultural attribute.

"Nothing is lonelier than being with people you know, who can't communicate with you and who don't really care," she says.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 11:05:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Deafness is very much an "invisible" condition that can lead to society disabling the individual. That should not and does not stop many with it from being highly productive members of society and making immense contributions. I seem to remember that Helen Keller became a campaigner for the poor in her latter years and when asked how she knew people were living in bad conditions replied "I could smell it".  

Emma Nicholson (now a LibDem peer) only really displays her profound deafness by her speech. She campaigned way before the Iraq war for one of the minorities there (late at night and it was either the Kurds or the Marsh Arabs)

Jack Straw is also very deaf and the media almost never mention that the reason he asks Muslim women to remove a full face veil is so that he can lip read.

by Londonbear on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 11:08:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gordon Brown is also deaf.  So many people I come across have lost hearing with age and really struggle.  They don't need to because there are a number of adaptions that can be made to make life so much easier.  But the only way to secure that is to be open about the fact that those adjustments are needed.

It frustrates me hugely when someone say "oh yes. We have a loop system" and I turn up to a meeting or conference and it turns out to be completely inappropriate for the event and is useless.  But because they don't understand what a loop system/IR system is, and very often they have been badly advised, they buy some cr*ppy little thing and think they are DDA compliant.  If it were matter of course for venues to be adapted properly it wouldn't be such an issue for people to ask for the loop to be switched on or for an IR headset to be provided.

I've just had an IR system delivered to me for use at work, training and conferences that I organise through my job and I took it to a public meeting last night, set it up and found out that there were two other people with hearing aids and a couple more who used the ear phone headset because they had hearing loss but didn't wear an aid.  Everybody was fascinated by the system and were all willing to pass the mic around and make the meeting accessible.  Without that, all those people would have struggled to take part.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 02:50:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary, In Wales! You really make some complicated things seem clear. Perhaps it's your own position, in-between-worlds, that throws the light.

Yes, it would be good to have some discussion of sign languages and their history, etc, in a diary some other time.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 03:49:27 PM EST
I'll get around to it at some point, I'm sure. The linguistics side interests me a great deal as well.

Just spent the evening in the pub so I'll get to answering those other comments now!

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:40:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From my perspective it is about communication as a process. Lingusitics is part of it - but there is so much more. It is about the very nature of a democratic society and how sub-groups are incorporated into it. We are all, after everything is said and done. members of minorities. There is no 'mass' - much as some would like to believe.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 06:58:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My apologies, somewhere on the Europa site I remember seeing BSL as a recognised minority language under the diversity programme. I have tried to find it but not suceeded.

When the arrests happened last week I was horriffied to see that the Univeristy authorities and police were particularly insensitive as the announcement was made at twilight and the arrests started when it was nearly dark. As it happened late Friday here, I alerted the See Hear team to it but did not catch the programme to see if it was in their news section. (My mother had age related hearing loss in her 60s and I started watching See Hear out of interest and still dip in). Unfortunately I did not catch last Satuday's programme to se if they included an item.

One thing I have been trying to get some information on is the derivation of a sign. If you go to the RNID site they have demonstrations of commonly used signs. For many like Cat, Dog, Milk, Walk and Run they are obviously styllised mime but the one that foxed me was London. It consists of a cirular gesture at the side of the head. The only thing I can think is that this is a reference to the London Eye ferris wheel. While it is certainly iconic, I was thinking that it was too novel to have enough time to permeate the language. Is there an earlier reference I am being a bit too dim to work out?  

by Londonbear on Fri Oct 20th, 2006 at 10:55:48 PM EST
The sign for London has existed for a while, much before the Eye.  It actually means noise.  So depending on the context you use it in, you are either referring to London or something being noisy.  Lots of place name signs are regular words and based on stereotypes, and many are not totally PC eg the sign for Africa is black.

Cardiff is signed CFF, Swansea is Swan and Sea/River, France is a handlebar moustache, Italy is throwing an imaginary pizza in the air.

The issue you discuss about the arrest happening at night and communication in those circumstances being especially poor is I believe they key reason that the London Tent City is being held and it is appalling that they waited a few days before arresting students and then started it at night time.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 02:40:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for that - it is obvious now.

Swansea is rather nice but how do you do the second half of Abertawe?  ;-)

by Londonbear on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 10:04:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Re culture/social.

Here is my ignorant first-sense impression, which I'm hoping you can turn into useful thoughts I can carry like wise words...or sommat ;)

Great diary!

So, here is my thought:

That our senses are there to aid us on the planet.  Five senses:


Western civilisation downplays smell, taste, and touch, and overplays sight and hearing--sight more than hearing, so here we can communicate through vision--not good for the blind, though we can build software that "reads" the page, machines blind people can talk into which translates into diaries, comments, ratings etc...  But they are disadvantaged compared to us because we can do all this by using our eyes.

Would it make sense for a blind couple to be glad that their child was born blind?

For each sense, society comes up with solutions, ameliorations, systems.  I think back to a pre-civilised situation...human childbirth is a difficult business since we stood upright...hence civilisation...humans cannae survive without society, no human being can survive on their own...there is no such thing...

But the thought that is still in my head (I think you typed the expression "hearing loss" in one of your comments, In Wales) is that not being able to smell because of industrial strength car fumes (or cigarette fumes!), or having my sense of touch atrophied by even something as simple as not having wide variety of materials to touch and the time to learn the subtleties...these are losses.  To my possibilities of experience.

Loss being part of the human condition, and not linked to happiness...  No, that makes no sense.

But...I can't experience all the pleasures potentially available to me, this is my loss, but there are only so many pleasures one can cram into a life...

There's some connection there.  This is why I'm asking for your help, In Wales.  If I lost my legs in, say, a road accident, I'd feel I'd lost my legs.  I would have lost a skill.  But I might be a happier person afterwards because I could find a new me devloping, and my relationships might develop in positive ways they wouldn't have, and relying more on society would teach me more about it, both good and bad.

But what if I was born without legs?  And without arms?  And without a sense of smell?  And blind, and deaf?

The senses are communication devices...if we use them badly or use them to communicate idiocies (that would be me ;) or pernicious nonsense, or use it to inflict pain or suffering on others...

You must have heard people banging on like this so many times, in Wales.  So I'm appealing to your patience and good will, a chance to lay it down so I can see it a bit clearer.


(I mean, perhaps, that we all need to develop as many senses as possible--microscopes and telescopes expand site; acoustic devices expand hearing; bio-sensors expand taste; nano machines expand touch--testing surfaces too subtle for our fingers etc...)

Hey, that's me yack yacking!  A great diary; I hope I haven't said the wrong thing(s), but if I have, well, now I have the chance to lose some more prejudices!

Have a great weekend.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 03:34:56 AM EST
Great thoughts there. I want to sit here and chew on it for an hour and come up with a response but I'm on my way out for the weekend. I shall ponder and get back to you tomorrow evening.  Sorry for the delay!

The first thing that comes to mind though is that if you are born without something, such as hearing or limbs, you don't know what you don't have - although you can see other people experiencing things that you never will.

And I guess in many ways it comes down to the individual.  Each barrier I reach I will push at until it falls down or I figure out some way around it and in doing so I experience and learn new and different things that shape me as a person.  When life is easy, nothing challenges you and you don't develop unless you choose to find challenges for yourself.

Maybe through not having something I actually have more because I quite conciously look at the world in a different way and look for new things to absorb from it.
But that's my way.

Other people see a barrier and give up and then, yes, there is a true loss because they no longer try to reach out to the world around them and the world certainly isn't go to go to them and they've lost a wealth of experience through that.  I will continue to think on your comments and reply tomorrow.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 21st, 2006 at 04:18:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm going to reply back to you with random thoughts and see if that helps at all. It's hard to know how to answer your queries!

My sense of smell is duller without my hearing aid in.  Although I don't get much useful sound from it I still need sound around me otherwise I feel dissociated from the world, like I'm not functioning properly until I've been switched on.  I think my brain needs to process some information from sound as well as everything coming in from the other senses and if sound is missing, my brain can't process the rest.

When I am driving I have to have my MP3 player on, not specifically for listening to music but to stop me trying to listen to the sounds the car makes.  My brain ends up desperately trying to process all the noise and it can't and I just end up worrying whether or not that noise is normal, is the engine about to blow up, am I over-revving, what's going on???!  So if I take the sound of the car away, I feel the car through my feet instead and my driving is much better as a result.

Information is around us in so many forms and there are different ways of de-coding it all.

When I'm in a club, I feel the beat of the music through my feet (or just force of the air vibrating) and use that for dancing.  When I'm in gym classes, I'm moving too much to feel the beat and rely entirely on sight to move at the right time to keep up.

When people talk to me I have to lipread to understand but interestingly enough, if I can't see their eyes (sunglasses for example), I understand nothing at all.  Body language is hugely important.  In meetings I can tell if someone has a hidden agenda, is lying or not giving us all the information we need even if they are appearing to be open and saying all the right things.  I don't even know I'm processing these things, I can't articulate my gut feeling but it is there.

So in many ways I see more, I gain more than if I were 'badly' using sound alone to interpret my environment.

If you lose one of those senses, you either find a way to adapt and heighten your use of other methods of extracting information from your surroundings, or you don't- I suspect if you don't it is because you are still trying to use the sense that you don't have and not allowing your brain to process the rest of the scene.

When you've grown up without, you automatically tap into the other methods available to you.  That's why I'm adament that I do things differently as opposed to being lacking in some way because I can't hear.  When I play music, I'll 'hear' it differently, I'll gain different things from it but still, I love music.

So perhaps in answer to your post, you use what you have access to and having less of one sense than another just gives you a different experience of something, rather than a loss of experience.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 22nd, 2006 at 02:37:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fascinating insights, In Wales, thanks a lot!  

You got me wondering now how the Deaf (political group) relate to the blind?  Is there a "capital B" Blind group?  I was wondering how sign language would be considered by a Blind person.  Could it be seen as a form of discrimination?  Thinking about this I wondered if there is a finger-to-palm-touch language.  That would be great to learn.

Anyway, thanks again for the diary and your comments.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Sun Oct 22nd, 2006 at 05:26:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Deafness is the only disability that has it's own cultural group and that is because it is a linguistic minority - it revolves around the language.

There is a sort of sign language for deafblind people where you use the palm of the hand and fingers to spell and communicate. I've seen it being used, I think it is limited especially because many words have to be spelt out and it takes time to do so.

I don't think sign language would be considered a form of discrimination since the language comes about as a necessity for Deaf people.  As with all hearing people who don't know sign, an interpreter would be needed to aid communication.

Glad that diary was useful for you!

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 23rd, 2006 at 02:25:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hello In Wales,

I am one of the main organisers of TentCity UK.  You would have been more than welcome there, no matter what your mode of communication.

Hearing people, oral Deaf, CI people, all supported the Unity for Gallaudet campaign.

As it turns out, no pro-JKF supporters came to TentCity UK, but I would have loved them to come, as we could have a lovely civil discussion about the issues.  

I was thinking about proposing an Open Forum, where everyone could come no matter their views, but JKF was kicked out, so I don't think we'll have that now.

I'm concerned that you felt you wouldn't have been welcome at TentCity UK.  How could we have made you, and people like you, feel more confidient about coming?   Please let me know - I want to learn these lessons for the future.

Just to let you know, I'm oral deaf myself, and I learnt BSL about 4 or 5 years ago.  I'm not a fluent signer myself, but I've had a lot of support from the Deaf community.

I joined eurotrib just to post this comment, so I'm not sure if it will notify me when you reply.  Please could you also email me on tomato -at- spc -dot- org.

Best wishes. -tomato-

by Tomato on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 07:16:50 AM EST

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries