Deafness isn’t a “scourge”

An article from Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald has blazed its way through Facebook and Twitter this morning, about Dimity Dornan, an Australian woman who, after winning an award for her business (which is said to help deaf children ‘hear’ through early diagnosis, advanced hearing technology and therapy), went on to compare deafness to polio in her speech.

Dornan said that deafness “is a scourge in our world but it can be almost completely eradicated.” Click here to read the article.

Now, we’re living in a time when a cure for deafness might not be so far away , a subject that was even covered in Ted Evans’ excellent, award winning film The End earlier this year.

The problem is that when you start talking about deafness using the rhetoric Dornan does, you move a long way away from a positive approach to the way many people live with deafness, deaf culture and the unique language deaf people communicate with.

If you say you simply want to consign deafness to history, which is the title of the article, then to many deaf people that feels like you want to get rid of and wipe out a big part of us, and what makes us who we are.

Whatever Dornan’s achievements, she should be more careful about the way she speaks about deafness (which is, after all how the children she helps will go on to identify themselves in future: as being deaf) and acknowledge that many deafies don’t feel they’re living with a “scourge,” or that they’re living with something that needs to be “eradicated.” They’re simply getting on with trying to live positive lives, as deaf people.

UPDATE:

Following news of the comments spreading, a deaf woman wrote an amazing open letter published on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website: http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2011/10/13/3339101.htm

There’s also a transcript of an ABC news report on the controversy here: http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2011/s3338699.htm

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19 Comments

  1. Is this the resurrection of Hitler or what? Nothing wrong with being deaf, its people like her that is the problem, assuming what is best for us, the deaf community. It is society, not our deafness, that disables us, based on the recognition that medical intervention (and idiots like Dimity Dornan) that does not address societal issues around deafness.

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  2. i think as a deaf person, i should celebrate my achievements in overcoming the challenge of deafness, rather than the deafness itself. There are times in my life when my deafness is a curse but others when it has been a humbling experience, and one that has given me greater empathy for others hopefully

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  3. The annoying thing is that the technology & therapy being used doesn’t even “cure” deafness. We are given the false impression that it will give us the same abilities as a hearing person, which it doesn’t. And being an almost-hearing person can often be worse than being deaf – you are still unable to participate fully and you are still not understood fully. At least if you remained deaf are able to participate fully in the deaf community and be understood fully.

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  4. This isn’t the first time she said something like this so I am sure she knows how some people feel. I can’t figure why she would word it such a way that most people don’t normally do. (They would say “gift of hearing” and such but not the way she worded it). Whatever reasons, it is hate crime to me as she should know some people are fine being deaf and they do want to exist.

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  5. “Scourge” is a word that makes me think of lepers. Lepers have a scourge and had to be segregated (in old times) so they don’t infect others.

    Similarly with the words “affliction”, “eradicated” and the like. Is this how we want to be regarded, as “afflicted” people with a “scourge” that needs to be “eradicated?” Consider how this influences the uninformed public and their reactions to us.

    People of Dimity Dornan’s type need to have a massive dose of sensitivity training.

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  6. This has been spoken like a true academic. Someone that doesn’t fully understand what they’re talking about. The language, the culture and the community.

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  7. If there was a higher level of comprehension of the written and spoken word perhaps we would have less people taking offence when the intent was not to insult but raise awareness of a problem we can often help. Its never going to go away but that doesnt mean we dont have to try and make life better for those who it can be improved for. The lack of literacy is a scourge maybe as well given the lack of understanding a a simple statement? The condition was called a scourge, not those who have hearing problems. We are our own worst enemies getting all agro at someone who is actually on our side.

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    1. So you’re suggesting, Roger, that deaf people got offended because we’re not literate enough to understand her comments?!

      It was exactly that – deafness being compared to a disease – that we objected to. It doesn’t reflect the way people live with deafness and considering the business she is in, her choice of words was unfortunate to say the least.

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  8. Apparently, it was a journalist, hearing(because she can hear this woman’s speech.I don’t think they made a transcript for the deaf that I am aware of) who wrote it such a way. so don’t be blaming deaf’s lack of reading skills and we know exactly what she is talking about because deaf are the one who is affected.

    but how she worded doesn’t matter, polio should not be used to compare to deafness. why would anyone use polio anyway unless they are talking about it being no longer around.

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  9. Well said, Charlie. My son’s deaf and the ignorance we’ve encountered (even from medical professionals) has been staggering. I worked with deaf people for 10 years, so I’m (ironically, I guess) more exposed and aware than most, but f*ck me, we have come up against some frighteningly blinkered people who think that a) my son is just pretending to be deaf because he jumped at a loud noise and b) that hearing aids “cure” his deafness, so what’s all the fuss about. Staggering. You have my full support.

    Reply

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