I am doing something here that I have not done on any of the other blogs I have created. I am going to come up front with the fact that I am deaf. Being deaf is a major part of my daily experiences but it is not who I am. It is just one of those obstacles that sometimes get in the way of having the full life experiences I desire. I have many stories to relay to you about being deaf but they will wait for a later posts. There is also a lot of very different statistics about the deaf but that will wait too.
I will spend some time here on personal history with being deaf and a little about others who are deaf. I became deaf in 1988 at the age of forty two. The reason for my deafness was a congenital disease but I haven’t found anyone in my recent (four generations) history who were deaf? My loss of hearing started in college in the mid 60’s and progressed to complete deafness in 1988. A cochlear implant is not possible for me.
There are about 500,000 people in the U.S. who are completely deaf as I am. But there are also about 2,000,000 others who are said to be deaf but manage to retain a small level of hearing and therefore are able to more easily cope in the hearing world. I can attest that, at least for me, being able to hear even just a little bit was enormously different than losing all hearing. There are two basic categories of deaf people. About 80% of deaf people are like I am, they went deaf after acquiring the ability to speak; they are called late-deafened. To us English is our native language. Most of us are pretty much islands in a hearing population. That is we don’t associate on a day-to-day basis with other deaf people but continue to live in the hearing world.
Twenty percent of the deaf population (100,000) were born deaf or went deaf before acquiring the ability to speak. This group is called pre-lingually deaf. Many in this group became deaf due to medical reasons: some because of illnesses and others due to having spent too much time in oxygen tents as babies. With the recent recognition and control of deaf causing illness and the increase in cochlear implants this group is shrinking rather dramatically in recent decades.
Many, but not all, of the pre-lingually deaf seek out and associated as much as possible with others like them. They form what is known as the Deaf Culture (with a capital D). They are proud of their deafness and even celebrate it as part of their culture.They use a form of sign language called ASL with is really a separate language from English in that it is more conceptually based than written or spoken English. To them ASL is the primary language and English is secondary.
Only about half of those who are late-deafened learn any form of sign language. The majority of those who do learn to sign use what is called Signed-English. Signed English uses many signs from ASL but they put them in an English word order. I am in this group. My wife knows how to sign but very few of my friends or associates ever take the serious amount of time to learn to do this. For that reason I constantly carry around pencil and paper.
That is enough for now. In the future I will relay some of the many stories about struggling in the hearing world both in my personal and corporate life. As I said at the beginning, I am deaf but that is not who I am. Unlike some in the pre-lingual group I don’t celebrate my deafness but instead I accept it as a hurdle to be overcome almost every day of my life.
And the journey goes on…..