28 October 2012

5 Things I Like About Being Deaf

Articles discussing the frustrations surrounding deafness and the medical need to "fix" it are a dime a dozen, but it's rare to come across one that covers the good things about being deaf. So, in anongoing effort to level the playing field, I thought I'd give you a run-down of five things I like most about being deaf.

1. Concentration (and cat naps): For those "Switched at Birth" fans out there, Deaf character Emmett sums this up particularly well; during a discussion about the differences between being deaf and hearing he says something like, "I can't imagine a world in which I couldn't just check-out once and a while." Especially in a place like Manhattan, I'm grateful that I'm not subjected (to the fullest extent at least) to the chaos that's going on around the city 24/7. I'm glad I can choose to read a book or do my writing and ignore any distractions. I'm happy to be left alone to my own thoughts every once in a while. Plus, I can take a nap anywhere.
2. Being bilingual, and geeking out on language: As a user of three languages myself, it's safe to say I'm a bit of a linguistics nerd. You've seen us harp on about the cognitive benefits of bilingualism on this site. But with specific regard to deafness, I'm so glad I've been afforded the opportunity to learn a language as lovely as ASL. (I say this, by the way, not in the patronizing way that some hearing people speak of ASL as "beautiful," but rather because I find something beautiful in all languages.)  Being bilingual gives me a different perspective and different ways of tackling problems linguistic and otherwise, and the fact that ASL's visio-spacial systems are so disparate from that of most spoken language grammars only makes the capacity for diverse ways of thinking that much greater.
3. Talking through windows: With a mind to grammar and linguistic modality, it's easy to see how some things might be more easily communicated in one language than another. Hearing people have to scream at each other in noisy bars and clubs, across rooms or train platforms and through windows; they have to whisper (and undoubtedly the receiving party never gets it right the first time) in churches, libraries, and other quiet places; they have to make that awkward wait 'til I finish chewing so I can answer your question face. These are situations for which ASL is particularly well-suited, and I am happy to have the ability to sign freely in these moments.
4. Ready-made friends: It's no secret that minority groups can be close-knit, and this is especially true when the group shares a common language. The Deaf community gets a bad rap in the mainstream media, often painted as being behind-the-times in its stance on assistive technology. However, as with most large groups of people, opinions vary greatly, and I've found that most people hold moderate stances toward controversies of cochlear implants and stem cell transplants (makes you wonder where the papers are getting their interviews!). More importantly for focus of this post, however, is the support and friendship that the Deaf community offers. Even after having moved to a new city where I knew no other deaf people, after attending a few gatherings I felt instantly at ease within the signing crowd, bound together by a common language and a shared experience.
5. Feeling the beat: I know, I know: hearing people love music and are certain that deaf people can never understand how or why. But just a few seconds of Googling will reveal a vast collection of sign language music.  After all, sound is just vibration, and in the case of music I'm glad I get to experience it with my whole body, not just my ears (most deaf people are much more sensitive to the nuances of vibrations).  Additionally, many deaf people do have residual hearing and, with the help of hearing aids and cochlear implants, can enjoy music in both a "feeling" and "listening" way.

Disclaimer: For those of you about to have a whinge regarding the "rose-colored" nature of this post, hold your horses; our next post will cover some of the things we find frustrating about deafness. As always, we appreciate your feedback and thanks for reading!

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