Disabled?…Or Differently Abled?

So I have this friend on Facebook who is deaf.  I met him when I was 16, and he was dating Debbie, my best friend in high school.  I’m not sure how they met…he was attending the North Carolina School for the Deaf.  Debbie, being Debbie, became adept at American Sign Language.  I once went on a double date with Boyd and Debbie, and one of his friends from school, and I was not especially impressed.  I did make a feeble attempt at learning ASL, and mastered the alphabet, but I never learned any of the shortcuts for words. 

Boyd was the first deaf person I ever met.  He was great…animated, vivacious, smart.  (Debbie would have to translate.)  Both of them moved on but remained friends forever.  She still lives in North Carolina; he lives in California. 

Now fast forward.  While living in New Orleans, one of my frends began dating a deaf person, who was a militant deaf person.  Excuse me?  Could you repeat that?  Deaf and militant?  It turns out that this is the issue: the  cochlear implant .  Whether or not it works well–and the jury is still out on that–is not the issue.  It’s that proponents of the implant are implying there is something wrong with people who are deaf.  There is a contingent of deaf people who say that is totally wrong.  Being deaf is just a different way of being.  Sign language is just another language. 

So it seems there is a bill before the California Legislature, AB 2072, which as far as I can tell mandates that doctors give the parents of deaf people all their options, which includes cochlear implants.  And deaf people are fighting it. 

I can appreciate not wanting to be treated like a second-class citizen because you’re deaf.  What I cannot appreciate is your inability to want the best that technology has to offer for the newly deaf, including babies.  And not even wanting people to be informed about it.  (They say it’s just a giveaway to the cochlear implant manufacturers.)

Not being able to hear is a handicap.  It is a disability by any other name.  When you can’t hear the freight train bearing down on you…or the wooly mammoth…that is a disadvantage.  When you want others to share your disadvantage…that is delusional.


2 responses to “Disabled?…Or Differently Abled?

  1. It’s not just about “being treated like…a second class citizen.” It’s a big part of it. We use “differently-abled” because using an identifying term for someone that implies they’re broken human beings takes a toll. How do you think life would be different for you if everyone insisted you were broken, inherently dysfunctional, defective? Don’t you think it would also affect how people treated you? It would.

    Language is important. Even synonyms have subtle differences in meaning, and many words have cultural connotations as well.

    What hinders differently-abled is not that which makes them different, it’s that the world is not constructed with the differently-abled in mind. It’s isolationist on the part of abled-bodies, and it’s demeaning to the differently-abled.

  2. Brittany-Ann, I believe you have missed my point here. I am agreeing with you that language matters, which is why I prefer “handicapped” to “disabled”. Disabled implies a lack of ability to function at all. The inability to hear, or see, or walk, for example, is in fact a handicap, since the ability to hear, see, and walk is an advantage in the human species. What I objected to is wanting to deny people information on cochlear implants. Do we want everyone who is born deaf to remain that way if it can be changed–at least give people the option? If you lose the ability to walk, should we stop doing research on spinal cord injuries so that that you can walk again?
    I get the part, more than you think, that the world works in favor of the majority. But more is done than you are apparently willing to acknowledge. The “abled” think more about the “differently abled” than you acknowledge . There are more accommodations, more mobility, and more access due to the ADA than there were before its passage.
    I’m saying that handicaps should not be punished, but should not be wished on others.

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