Vallhallian recently summarized Paddy Ladd’s definition of Deafhood, interpreted as a process of accepting (actualizing) one’s deafness. Acceptance or self-actualization, according to Paddy Ladd, means participating fully in Deaf culture and apparently using ASL to communicate. Anything short of that equals some kind of “arrested development,” according to many who have read his book. I haven’t read it, but like Vallhallian I will quote excerpts from the book, and from comments others have made to Vallhallian– who merely opened a good discussion.
The problem I have with Ladd’s Deafhood definition is that not everyone fits neatly into his box. First, Ladd seems to assume only those born Deaf, or who became Deaf in early childhood have constructed their identities upon deaf existence. The majority of us use a “medical model” of deafness because we became deaf in “old age” according to him, therefore our “hearing” identities were already set when we became deaf. Hmmm. (Also because there are more of us than them, they’re nearly “invisible”– I’m not even going there, but I COULD argue that the majority of hearing people think “deaf” people don’t speak and all of them are fluent in ASL, to the point I find it nearly impossible to identify myself as “deaf” without smoothing it over with a modifier– such as LATE-deaf, or PARTIALLY deaf– but OK. . . I’m not going there.)
First of all, 65% of all people with hearing loss are under age sixty-five. Many of those people have likely been experiencing hearing loss for quite some time. An HLAA figure estimates the average person waits at least seven years before getting hearing aids. It’s reasonable to think those diagnosed with hearing loss at age sixty-five did not suddenly become deaf, rather they suddenly felt it was OK to come out of the hearing loss closet after they retired. I personally know several people in their forties and fifties who have confided they were losing hearing, and they’ve done nothing about it despite my encouragement.
Old age aside, one might argue that hearing identity is set even by middle-age, which is true to a certain extent. However, research conducted by Levinson, Neugarten, and Erikson has demonstrated that adults continue to develop emotionally well into old age. Our personalities can and do change as we gain new insights and experiences. Hearing loss is definitely a NEW experience for some. Most who lose their hearing as adults consider it a significant life-changing event.
In fact it’s HUGE, and usually requires working through the five stages of grief before self-actualization can take place. Those with progressive hearing loss may have a harder time working through all five stages as each new drop in hearing brings new grief. Hearing loss is not just a loss of hearing, it’s a loss of lifestyle– sometimes bit by bit. However, we can learn to live full and joyful lives without hearing well. The goal is to get beyond depression and to find ways of realizing our life’s dreams or to set new goals that fit in with our new deaf lifestyles.
Most would agree that all of us have multiple identity constructs consisting of our inner-selves– how we process what’s happening around us, and our outer selves– how we relate to those around us. For example, when I’m at home I am mom. Where I work, I’m the lady who helps with computer problems. In my birth family I’m the “baby.” I am a liberal. I am a vegetarian, and a collector of teacups. I am a former PTA member, a former Sunday School teacher. I wanted to be a rabbit when I was four. I used to play the flute in my high school band. What I have been in the past is as much a part of me as what I am today, because each and every experience makes up the person I have become. I used to hear well. I have worn hearing aids most my life. All kinds of experiences– those I’ve processed alone and those I’ve experienced with others, those in the distant past and those that happened just today, hearing and deafened– make up the unique individual of me.
Now we come to page 202 in Ladd’s book where he says this, “Adaptational theories are useful when considering how Deaf culture might be reactive to the majority culture and its actions. Likewise if one considers that the Deaf environment is the hearing world by which they are surrounded, adaptational strategies are an important part of the individual and collective Deaf life. . .”
“Adaptational strategies” are a way of life for the hard-of-hearing/late-deafened as well. I am forced to sit in silence at social events and meetings where I can not hear. Accommodations are always less than they should be. For example, I have taken ASL and I will have an interpreter for my daughter’s college graduation. My ability to understand ASL far exceeds my ability to express myself in ASL. I will have to concentrate hard during my daughter’s graduation ceremony. I am not comfortable hearing spoken English, nor watching an interpreter– but the two together seem to work. I’ll be sitting in the front row so I may be able to lip read a little too.
So–my personal experiences include both hearing and deafness, both on a daily basis depending on my environment– and occasionally at the very same time. Additionally, my deaf experiences have integrated into my personality. It’s hard to determine which traits have developed due to a 30-year-plus progressive hearing loss, and which have been part of a natural progression over time. Like most Deaf people, I’m very visually oriented.
Self actualization means to fully realize one’s potential. I argue that the purpose of organizations such as SWC, HLAA and ALDA is to encourage HH/deaf/Deaf individuals towards self-actualization in the real world through public advocacy, awareness of accommodations, offering information about ADA rights and teaching morale building coping skills. Many self-actualized late-deafened people go on to become leaders in hearing loss organizations like the ones named above.
Self-actualization does not and should not require ASL. I believe my journey as a late-deafened person, my ‘deafhood’ journey, just as valid as those in Deaf culture. All HH/deaf/Deaf can recognize that we may be walking different paths, while sharing in similar goals. In doing so we may celebrate each other’s achievements as a community of HH/deaf/Deaf people. I touched on this in my blog about unity at the International Federation of Hard-of-Hearing Congress and the Say What Club Conventions I recently attended. I’ll look forward to any comments.