I am proud to be on executive team and Director for We the Deaf People, Inc.–District of Columbia Chapter.
[When the oppressed Deaf people discover Deafhood, the chains of oppression start to dissolve and hands becomes free as butterfly]-David Call
Last February 2013, at age 38, I suffered a heart attack, and I was taken to Emergency Room. After examining my heart condition, while I was resting, I was asked if I would like to have cochlear implants.
It was highly offensive. What they were attempting was to make me a by-product of cochlear implant industry. That day I felt that I was in a Holocaust concentration camp. The air inside the hospital was very still, regardless some doctors were surrounding with their activity.
I thought about driving by the mental hospital and seeing Deaf patients behind the fence. Deaf people on display? It reminded me of the Nazi proclamation: Arbeit Macht Frei (Work makes you free). Cochlear implants make Deaf people free so they could speak and hear. Asking me about being cochlear implanted was, and is, INHUMANE!
Once I encounter the word Deafhood as the state of being Deaf, the process of linguistic and cultural behavior, and the technology related to communication, I realized that Deafhood requires a lot of self-examination from the perspective of social change, language planning, and how technology affects my future and my membership in the Deaf community. Not only the social determinants of Deaf community with respect to how we use American Sign Language (ASL) as a tool for communication, but also the non-intentional structuring of technology that promotes standards and assumptions of Deaf people.
After all, cochlear implants are not an arbitrary economic style that Deaf people pick and choose. CI are stimulant, just like dogs needing constant praises and treats.
I, JT, offer two characteristics that are distinctively different in my life situation, yet they are similar in my common struggles to find a sense of self within a tension of two cultures. I wonder if I am anything, but a “hero”, and hardly a stereotypical rendition of a Deaf lad. After I read Paddy Ladd’s book on Deafhood and discussed it with several Deaf scholars I met. I enjoyed them as they offered a rare glimpse into a life of a Deaf person in a contemporary situation. I often felt a true confinement of my personal cell as a reflection of my greater potentiality. As my name reflects, I felt “captured” in a situation I felt that I was unable to change.
There were so many other issues I faced. Many stemmed from my painful childhood in which I struggled with issues of Audism and identity crises, as I tried to find a place of my own as a Deaf individual in this contemporary society. I had dealt with depression and coped with the ghosts of my past.
My life is not that typical drawing upon rich imagery and spiritualism to confront my demons. Instead, I was a guy with an unknown Deaf heritage that was in a conflict with by my life issues under which I have viewed through the lens of two cultures. They are in tension. Yet, it was ultimately my initial connection with a Deafhood progress which saved my insanity. My acknowledgement of my past failures, and my ultimate courage to continue living, to change my future, stemmed in part from my cultural connections.
I am writing to renew myself, my name, and my identity, and to find my connection to my own Deaf heritage. I had been searching for meaning and personal identity in relation to the current time of cultural change and adaptation among Deaf people. I find my own narrative broken up, disjointed, almost as if to convey the literacy and oral “storytelling” technique of traditional Deaf literature.
My story is not linear, but spherical. The use of “distance” thematically shows the estrangement of Deafhood from my culture, my separateness from Deaf community, which stresses holistic, meaningful connections to each other and, to nature. “The country has created a distance as deep as it was empty, and the people accepted and treated each other at a distance. But the distance I felt came not from country or people; it came from within me” (James Welch). The “distance” is further felt by a general absence that is felt by my narrative. This void is sensed by the lack of personal depth in my life and my desire for a change in the personal circumstances of my life.
After reading Paddy Ladd’s book, it offers me a new sense of purpose, through my connections with my ancestry and coming to terms with my past. My personal estrangement from my Deaf life was suddenly replaced with a new framework rich in cultural identity and meaning. Deafhood has been creating a stark depiction of my lifeblood. Its progress comes with its challenges, and continuing survival, with humor, and perhaps a sad recognition that I must continuously face and sometimes capitalize on stereotypes such as Audism to ensure my survival.
The comparisons that I make with Audism seem to both trivialized and disrepute. As an opponent to Audism, I find such a way to take the understanding of its nature further, philosophically. It is not as easy for Deaf people to consider other species equal, as it is to consider each other equal. The essence of Ladd’s work stands as a call to Deaf people to adjust their mentality in such a way that there is no room for hypocrisy or contradiction. The only manner in which Paddy Ladd downplays Audism is time-related. “Mainstream” liberation movements hold just as much weight as those not widely recognized.
Paddy Ladd employs comparison of Deaf people to human liberation movements in order to promote Deaf rights. In this way, Ladd creates room for the readers to doubt their current mentality. This doubt serves as the foundation on which he builds the rest of his arguments, citing in his book, page seven (7): “You will be asking yourselves why this has not come to public notice before and why someone [else] isn’t doing something about it. One of the aims of this book is to find answers to both questions. For in order to understand how something like this has escaped notice on such a planet-wide, century-long scale, one has to be able to understand the true nature of the society in which we live; how political power, medical and educational dominance and media information strategies interact and reinforce each other to create an overarching form of what is effectively thought control. In other words, to understand how one’s own cultures really operate” His debate urges the reader to question the status quo.
Audism is an everyday influence on our Deaf community. Audism has a great power partly because we don’t talk much about it. I have turned to the book Deafhood to lead myself into the metaphysical world by making manifest the questions I have asked daily: Who am I? With whom shall I deal? And what is my purpose?
Please visit David Call’s website: http://www.eyehandstudio.com
Copyright © 2013 Jason Tozier
This text may be freely copied in its entirely only, including this copyright message.
Ladd, Paddy. Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood. 2003.
Welch, James. Winter in the Blood. New York: Penguin Group, 1986.