by Michele Linder
For those not familiar with Switched at Birth, the show follows the Kennish and Vasquez families who discover that their teenage daughters were switched at birth. Their attempt to blend the two families in order to become reaquainted with their biological children causes much drama where class and culture often clash. To complicate things, one of the girls is deaf. The show very successfully brings to light the communication and ethnic issues that arise between deaf and hearing worlds.
If you’re a fan of Switched at Birth, you’ll remember the “not hearing loss, deaf gain” scene where Marlee Matlin debates the term “hearing loss” with her class of students at the deaf school where she teaches. This scene was talked up all over social media after the Uprising episode aired, and many tried to put into words the feeling they got from watching this scene.
The comment that best put what I was thinking into words came from CCAC (Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning) and Lauren Storck:
“And for all again, we may be deaf, deafened, or have a hearing loss, yet we are not dumb, daft, nor dim. We are different. We salute different and multiple identities. For those with a deaf identity fully intertwined with sign language fluency, Marlee’s class is excellent. And for millions of others, 95% or more who do not use signing while so many think we do or “should” – it’s best to be clear on some important differences, so that all have vital supports and resources to shine.”
Lauren’s comment refers to the choices we make, and the tools we use, in order to navigate through life with hearing loss and deafness as “resources to shine” and I loved that reference. So much so, that I borrowed it for the title of this post.
Truly, and understandably, deaf culture is proud and protective of their community, identity, and way of communicating — sign language. The deaf identity is where they live and shine. It’s what they know. Anyone who is happy and content with their life doesn’t see a need to change.
But, what if you weren’t a part of that community and identity simply because you were born to hearing parents? I think most parents want what’s best for their children, but what is best for one is not always best for someone else, and like deaf parents of deaf children, hearing parents seek to find solutions for their child’s deafness within the world where they live and shine — the hearing world.
Many of us grew up mainstreamed in the hearing world and we learned to communicate through speaking and lip/speech reading. I’m one of those kids. I can look back now and can see the benefit of having a community of support and a language all my own to make my life easier, but hindsight, as they say, is 20/20 and who is to say my life would have been easier or better? As it was, I learned to lipread at a very young age, even before I was diagnosed with hearing loss. I also learned a lot of good coping skills naturally as I grew and lost more hearing, and like the deaf community, I’m proud of how well I did in life; how I learned to shine. Quite a feat, considering I had very little support from anyone but myself. Though, honestly, if I had a child with hearing loss I certainly wouldn’t have wanted them to experience the same struggles and feelings of aloneness that I did.
Pride. It’s a very good thing, but can quickly go the other way when we look at our own unique experience and say, “The way I did it is the only way.”
No matter how we choose to deal with our deafness and hearing loss — and if you were a child when you lost your hearing the choice wasn’t yours — we all have a right to “vital supports and resources to shine.” I’m as entitled to pride in my identity just as much as someone who has pride in their deaf culture and identity. As Lauren says, “We are different.”
Yet, we are the same. So, shouldn’t we lift each other up and honor each other’s differences and recognize that how we shine doesn’t really matter? It only matters that we do.