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Reflections on the Deaf Culture Viewings

Xiwen's picture

We live in such an audio-centric world. Bound by the assumption of sound as the primary avenue of communication, we rarely get out of our comfort zone to explore the importance and beauty of sign languages. I love the analogy of sign languages as the music notes in Christine Kim’s TEDTalk. The strength of the expression and the pattern of signings convey very different meanings. Even a slight difference can result in very different meanings. However, unlike music which has been widely appreciated and used as a way of expression emotions and feelings, the usage of ASL is somehow bound within the deaf community and is rarely appreciated and used by the outside community. Due to the lack of exposure to ASL and the lack of motivation to learn ASL, there exists a great barrier to communicate between the deaf community and other communities. In addition, due to the audio-centric viewpoint, there has been the dark history of sign languages being banned and deaf students are required to do lip-readings.


I remember once reading a book which narrates a deaf Chinese girl’s journey to attend a renown ‘normal’ university. Most depictions and portraits in the book are highly problematic. Firstly, instead of embracing deafness as his daughter’s identity, the father of the girl traveled around the whole nation to look for doctors or treatment methods in an attempt to cure his daughter’s hearing loss, one of which avenues is the extremely painful acupuncture treatment.  In addition, the book depicts the failure to treat deafness as an unfortunate story and the attempt to be able do lip-readings as a success on the way to become a ‘normal’ college student. The book also portraits the final result of the girl being the only deaf student admitted by a world-renown university as a triumph to ‘inspire’ the audience.


It is a quiet depressing fact that deaf people currently still use interpreters’ voices as their own voices to communicate their meanings to the outside world. I hope there will be one day during which sign language becomes an important part of the education system and through this evolution more and more people can hear the voices of the deaf community directly. Also, through this way, the communication barrier will be lowered due to the prevalent usage of sign languages. 


ceburdick's picture

I have also been thinking about the communication gap between deaf and hearing people and how this could be bridged. I think it would be interesting to see how integrating ASL into hearing schools may have an effect, but I do wonder if hearing parents/teachers would think that would be a worthwhile endeavor for their kids. I definitely agree with your point that most people have no exposure to ASL and don't really see a need to learn it if they only interact with hearing people, and I wonder how that could change and if it already has been changing over time.