restricted access How Deafness May Emerge as a Disability as Social Interactions Unfold
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How Deafness May Emerge as a Disability as Social Interactions Unfold

My hearing loss ranges from moderate to profound in both ears. I use spoken English, written English and Auslan (Australian sign language) to communicate, and rely heavily on two hearing aids, speach reading skills and my vision to interact with other people. Here I demonstrate how my deafness tends to emerge as a disability through interactions with other people within the health and wellbeing context of group yoga practice. I compare two experiences from practicing yoga in group classes (which involves physical interaction and requires attendance to non–spoken tasks), and use these experiences to explore what the label ‘disability’ does not capture, how this term reflects my lived experience of deafness, and what this might mean for health and wellbeing [End Page 193] professionals engaging with clients who experience types of deafness.

All human interactions are uniquely and intersubjectively shaped by the actors, how they communicate, and what they are doing while interacting. In my case, if someone is simultaneously attending to some task while talking with me, this may mean that I cannot see their face and therefore cannot access their spoken utterances. During group conversations, others may overlap their spoken turns at a pace faster than I can visually track and therefore I cannot access the dynamic content of the group conversation. In these situations, my deafness may manifest as disability. This contrasts with interactions where I engage with other signers using Auslan, where my deafness does not manifest as disability at all. For me, deafness as disability tends to be an emergent characteristic of my interactions with other people, rather than a constant feature of all interactions, or all moments of a single interaction. It emerges most prominently through interactions with strangers, and less during interactions with social intimates. This characterisation contradicts the concept of disability as a fixed feature of an individual that impacts uniformly on all aspects of their experience.

I regularly practice yoga and have done so for many years. I enjoy participating in classes with other students, as we jointly learn and develop practices that challenge and illuminate different aspects of our lives. “At the heart of all yogas lies the manipulation of visible, accessible means to reach invisible, intangible ends” (Givón 2005, p. 23). How one manipulates their visible, accessible means depends on one’s personal physiology, psychology and sociality. Over the years I have developed various strategies that enable me to participate in group practice and engage with other students and teachers without over–reliance on teachers or mediation from Auslan interpreters. I have mostly come to depend on observing how the teacher and other participants move (or even how shadows on the wall infer that they move) and interpreting their movements in context of the group practice.

For example, by placing myself at the front or the middle of the class, I can observe the movements of others from several viewpoints in order to synchronise my own with theirs as the practice unfolds. Through experience, I can distinguish when these movements are intentional and when they may be accidental. By combining these strategies with one–on–one discussions with teachers before or after class, as well as doing my own research, I can subsequently learn about teachings that may be verbally expressed during classes and later match these with various teachers and practices over time. These strategies enable me to adapt to a situation where it is impossible to experience consistent face–to–face interaction and where it is difficult to access spoken instruction.

Group yoga classes usually begin with the teacher sharing some comments or a story to prompt the theme of the class. This helps us to integrate our exploration of action with the exploration of “invisible and intangible” goals. As a class, we observe our teacher’s intentional movements and mirror these both mentally and physically. As the class progresses, the teacher migrates around the class observing and attending to individual students with adjustments and other assistance. Throughout the class, the teacher alternates between observing, demonstrating and assisting, while simultaneously instructing the class verbally.

Most of the students in these group classes...