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What's disabled about being able to sign?

rachelr's picture

I really enjoyed the first reading, “Culture as Disability,” especially the part of the Vineyard deaf. It shocks me (well I would like to think it shocks me but really, what actually is shocking anymore? I feel like by now we’ve seen it all in graphic detail hundreds of times) that hearing people could go into a community that is obviously thriving and decree that it needs help because it is “disabled.” But how many times have we seen this happen? Let’s go “civilize” the Native Americans and ban their native language, steal their land, and wipe out populations while we’re at it! Let’s go “help” out countries across the world and give them the gift of a Democratic government even though historically and religiously the likelihood of success is terribly low- oh and we’ll just let militant groups take control of cities and kill off civilians while we’re at it!

For a culture that so often stresses the uniqueness of individuals and how everyone is special, it seems that we do an awful lot of categorizing and labeling. As McDermott and Varenne wrote, “No ability, no disability. No disability, no ability.” In the movie “The Incredibles,” the mother says to her son, “Everyone is special, Dash.” His response is, “That’s just a way of saying that no one is.” 

The section on the Vineyard deaf made me think of a family friend who died earlier this year. He grew up with all hearing siblings while both of his parents were deaf, and learned sign language at an early age. When I knew him he was an openly gay man who participated in his church’s choir and worked for the New Jersey Department of Human Services. As part of his work he signed for Broadway plays. When I would talk to him he often signed as well, especially if he was thinking about words or spelling when we were working on a crossword puzzle. To me, that was Alan. While he could hear he was also a member and an active participant in the deaf community. It was so much a part of his life that when a Facebook post claimed that he had died when he was in fact still alive he made this video, a parody of the post and a take on Monty Python. I wish there were more people out there like Alan Champion.