In society today the term “disability” has a direct connection with confinement which infringes on freedom. The inability to do something does not imply the lack of ability to do anything, nor does it imply one should be destined to a lesser quality of life. The misuse of this word restricts freedom and has imposed confinement on groups, cultures, individuals, as well as triggering individuals to inflict forms of confinement upon themselves. This term has developed into a broad umbrella with a negative stigma propagated by society. Emphasis should be placed on what individuals can do as opposed to ostracizing them for what they cannot do.
Through ability awareness we can eradicate some forms of confinement, freeing individuals from restraints placed upon them by society, as well as placed by oneself. Disability should not be an all-encompassing term which places negative restraints on someone. It would be fair to say a heart surgeon would lack the ability to perform Lasik Eye Surgery. Obviously this inability would be due to a lack of qualifications; however, society would not begin to think of the heart surgeon as an incapable individual, nor would a lesser life be imposed upon the surgeon. Nevertheless society does not view or treat incapacities of individuals the same.
The opposite holds true for the deaf community which illustrates this inequality. An experience my daughter Madison shared with me came to mind (personal communication, November 21, 2010). Madison has always been fascinated with sign language. Her fascination prompted her to complete two courses in American Sign Language class (ASL), ASL101and ASL102, as well as participating in many activities as possible within the deaf community. This enabled her opportunity to learn about deaf culture from their perspective. Madison said there were approximately 30-35 deaf people at each event she attended.
She learned deaf people did not see deafness as a disability, nor did they like the fact it is considered as such. This sparked Madison to ask their opinion on cochlear implants. She learned the deaf community view deafness as a culture and felt the implants are a means to destroy this culture. As an example Madison was told, when two deaf people have a child that is deaf it is viewed as a blessing, not a tragedy. As deaf parents, raising a child that can hear comes with many challenges which were described to her as barriers. They refer to these children as CODA (children of deaf adults) kids, for deaf children this barrier does not exist.
In fact, deaf parents feel a more cohesive relationship with the deaf child. When deaf parents give birth to a child who can hear, they compare it to someone adopting a child from a foreign country that did not speak their language. For a class assignment Madison posed as a deaf person in public. Completing this assignment allowed Madison to briefly experience what is was like for deaf people in the community as well as confirming stories of how deaf people were treated in society. Though Madison’s experience is greatly condensed, I do believe it supports this theory.
First, the deaf community may lack the ability to hear but certainly not the ability to function. Secondly, they do not see deafness as disability; deafness is referred to as a culture. Just as the two surgeons specialized in two different areas, neither capable of performing the other surgeons job, both deaf individuals and those that can hear are equally capable, even though they function differently. The assumption that a deaf person is disabled places that all-encompassing umbrella over their culture with the negative stigma emphasizing what a deaf person cannot do.
This behavior in society places restraints on quality of life. Some do not have the perseverance and are easily pigeon-holed into self-doubt, creating their own confinement. Much can be learned from children. Through Madison’s peaked curiosity, she viewed a much different picture of the deaf community; she was fascinated by ability rather than seeing a disability. Madison sees and thinks with her heart; these traits enable her to see what is on the inside. Maybe looking to the inside opposed to the outside, parallels looking at ability opposed to disability, and this is what allows her to see past the stigmas society instills.
So much of what defines culture is language. Could this be why the deaf community is not acknowledged as culture? In the handout from the book Deconlonising the Mind, the author Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1986), elaborates on the influence language has on culture. In fact, the beginning of the handout states this thesis “Language, any language, has a dual character: it is both a means of communication and a carrier of culture” (p. 13). The basis of communication within the deaf community is the use of American Sign “Language”. Clearly the “language” exists, which infers the deaf community has a culture.
However, society does not acknowledge the existence of this culture and instead places the deaf within the confines of the negative stigma of disability. Placing the emphasis on the disability places the disability before the person, having an effect similar to a lasting first impression. Ngugi articulates that communication effects how culture evolves and emerges, the very means to keep a particular culture alive. The deaf are proud of their culture. This explains their opposition to cochlear implants; the implants are a means to extinguish this culture.
A segment on the deaf rapper Signmark aired on CBS November 20, 2010. The beginning of the news segment quotes the rapper “Even if the world comes crashing down,” go his lyrics “I stand tall proud back against the wall” (Bentley, 2010). The rapper is proud of who he is and he is not going to fall victim to the prejudices and expectations of society. Signmark displays a great example of what happens when focus is placed on ability. Through rap, this artist delivers a powerful message in addition to bringing deaf and hearing audiences together as he takes a stand for equality.
Rap allows Signmark to share the inequalities he has faced in life, the lack confidence in addition to expectations society has, as well as the lack of understanding. The lyrics “Not to advance is to regress” and “Need to get on my level to know what I’m about” are from the video Our Life (Redeafination, 2010). Undoubtedly equality relates to the need to understand the deaf to assist in freeing the deaf from the disability stigma and confinements placed upon them by society. The deaf lack the ability hear, not the ability to function. Signmark focuses on what he can do.
This emphasis freed him from the suppression in today’s society and without a doubt made him an inspiration for anyone labeled with a disability. Providing encouragement offers an outlet for anyone placed underneath the confinements of the disability umbrella. What a difference it would make if society placed the focus ability rather than the disability. Many disabilities in today’s society are misunderstood similar to the deaf culture. The excerpt Riding the Bus with My Sister (Simon, 2002), is an enlightening story about the life of a woman with mental retardation and her sister.
Granted this condition most likely has more setbacks that a lack of hearing, it is still no reason to focus on what one cannot do. Beth’s own sister was guilty of focusing on Beth’s disability, just as society had. Beth is the younger of the two sisters. She is described to have a colorful wardrobe that parallels her energy and personality. Beth’s older sister (Simon, year) is spending what seems to be an obligatory amount of time with her. Nonetheless, it appears Beth’s sister becomes the enlightened one. Somewhere along the line Beth was in need of something to do so she decides to fill her days riding buses.
It is as if Beth has discovered a whole new family for herself within the bus system. She befriends many and many befriend her. Of course the nefarious ones exist but her sister discovers that Beth does not let it bother her, unlike when she was a child. For the most part Beth marches to her own drummer and seems to revel in the fact she is different. Beth escaped confinement and found freedom within herself through riding the bus. Rather than succumb to the confinements of society Beth learns to celebrate her indifferences which allows her embrace life.
There is a direct impact between positive verses negative behavior and the outcome it has on the lives of those considered disabled. Einstein is a great example! In Thinking in Pictures, Temple Grandin (year) writes about the forms and traits of autism. He further explains the genetic links with other disorders such as depression, nearsightedness, allergies, and even being left-handed. The author goes on to state that “It is likely that genius is an abnormality” (p. 178) and “in order to be creative, it seems you have to be slightly crazy (p. 179).
Einstein was not a stellar student as a child, was not interested in people or being social, to the contrary Einstein was a recluse. Grandin states “Einstein had a tremendous ability to concentrate and could work for hours or days on the same problem” (p. 181). Today’s society focuses on the negative and tends to ostracize individuals with these traits. Look what freedom can do, Einstein was a genius! As for Beth, her creativity contributed to her embracing life. The link is obvious and something needs to be done. Society needs a course in ability awareness.
Focusing on disabilities stifles abilities. In turn confines individuals and robs them of their freedom. Society has been brainwashed to think differences are a bad thing opposed to encouraging individuality. Through Ability awareness we can eradicate some forms of confinement, freeing individuals from restraints placed upon them by society, as well as placed by oneself. Signmark (Bentley, 2010) embraced his culture and abilities allowing him to escape the confinements society attempted to inflict on his life. The result is a merging of two cultures together in unity.
Beth may have been developmentally disabled (Simon, 2002), yet she conquered society by marching to her own drummer. She not only found happiness she also touches the lives of others. It seemed her sister was forced to spend time with Beth as if to complete some sort of duty, but in the end Beth’s sister was set free as well. For Einstein, he developed the theory of relativity! (Grandin, 1995). A person should not be confined by what they cannot do. Freeing a person from limitations in essence is a means to free a person from confinement.
Bentley, J (Writer). (2010). Signmark raps lyrics through sign language [Television series pisode]. In N. Name (Executive producer), CBS New. New York: CBS Grandin, T. (1995). Einstein’s second cousin. In T. Grandin, Thinking in pictures (pp. 174-188). New York: Doubleday Redeafinaton (Poster). (2010, August, 24). Our life [Video] Retrieved from http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=cYwX45ZDe_4 Simon, R. (2002). Riding the bus with my sister. Ability magazine, (Kevin Richardson), Retrieved from http://abilitymagazine. com/Riding_the_Bus. html wa Thiong’o, N. (1986). The language of African literature. In N. wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the mind. (pp. 13-16). New York: Heinemann.