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Perception of Deaf and Dumb

As a child I travelled to school by bus and at the stop before we alighted there was a Deaf School. Naturally many of these children also caught the same bus. I would see them laughing, waving their hands around, mouthing words or speaking with guttural sound and intonation. Fascinated as I was in watching them, and having no understanding of deafness, the perception I formed was that these children were mentally deficient, simply because they couldnít talk like me and my friends.

It didnít help that in the city there was (and still is) a building labelled ĎThe Deaf and Dumb Societyí. I didnít understand the childrenís hand gestures and didnít realise this was communication in sign language. I didnít have any understanding about how language is learned and didnít know that without hearing it is almost impossible to learn to speak. In my youthful ignorance I simply thought that since these children were different this meant they were stupid.

Research into the terms ĎDeaf and Dumbí and ĎDeaf-muteí show that while they were used historically, they are socially unacceptable because of the negative connotations. Deaf people are generally just that Ė Deaf. The reason they use hand signals (sign language) is to communicate without speech. The reason they may not always speak as a typical hearing person is because they canít hear it. Anyone, assuming their vocal cords are not damaged, even the Deaf, can learn to speak any language but that doesnít mean it is always easy. By example, the only reason a French child doesnít speak English is because heís never heard it and the only reason my child doesnít speak French is because he hasnít heard it. And so too, the only reason the Deaf do not speak in the typical fashion for their nationality is because they havenít heard it. Learning to speak naturally is incredibly difficult without speech feedback but this doesnít make them Ďdumbí, stupid or sub-intelligent.

Many people, me included, who went deaf later in life, find that deafness characteristics creep into their speech simply because they cannot clearly hear what they are saying. Over time their speech sounds change. (Do you have an older deaf relative who yells? This is because they canít hear the level of their own voice and canít moderate the volume.)

When I saw the Deaf children I somehow knew they belonged to the Deaf Community and the label ĎDeaf and Dumbí seemed appropriate thinking it meant ĎDeaf and Stupidí or mentally deficient. As a young girl I didnít understand that in this case the word ĎDumbí actually meant ĎMuteí or unable to speak. Itís this kind of miscommunication which caused much of the alienation of the Deaf from the hearing world.
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Content copyright © 2015 by Felicity Bleckly. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Felicity Bleckly. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Felicity Bleckly for details.


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