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Local Lives, Transnational Connections
In his revolutionary new book, Jan-Kåre Breivik profiles ten Norwegian Deaf people and their life stories within a translocal/transnational framework. Breivik notes that, unlike hearing people, who form their identities from familial roots and local senses of place, deaf individuals often find themselves distanced from their own families and akin to other deaf people in far locations. His study records emerging deaf identities, which he observes are always in the making, and if settled, only temporarily so. To capture the identification processes involved, he relies upon a narrative perspective to trace identity as temporarily produced through autobiographical accounts or capsule life stories. As a result, he has produced striking, in-depth accounts of how core questions of identity are approached from different deaf points of view. The ten stories in Deaf Identities in the Making reveal deaf people who would like a stronger link to the Deaf world. Each story sheds different light on the overriding, empowering master narrative that has become an integral feature of the Deaf community. Like success stories from other minorities, the Deaf life story reinforces the collective empowerment process in a Deaf social milieu. Because of these revelations, Breivik’s findings easily reverberate globally in conjunction to the striking similarities of deaf lives around the world, particularly those connected with the experiences of being translocal signers who have struggled for identity in an overwhelmingly hearing context.
Since the French Revolution in1789, Deaf French people have struggled to preserve their cultural heritage, to win full civil rights, and to gain access to society through their sign language. Anne T. Quartararo depicts this struggle in her new book Deaf Identity and Social Images in Nineteenth-Century France. In it, she portrays the genesis of the French Deaf community, examines its identity as a minority culture, and analyzes how deaf people developed their cultural heritage, a deaf patrimonie that has been historically connected to the preservation of French sign language. Quartararo begins by describing how Abbé de l’Epée promoted the education of deaf students with sign language, an approach supported by the French revolutionary government, which formally established the Paris Deaf Institute in 1791. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the school’s hearing director, Roch-Ambroise-Auguste Bébian, advocated the use of sign language even while the institute’s physician Dr. Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard worked to discredit signing. In this meticulous study, Quartararo details the many variations in deaf education from 1830 to1930. She describes the banquet movement in the 1830s led by Ferdinand Berthier, Alponse Lenoir, and Claudius Forestier, which celebrated sign language and fostered the deaf association known as the Société Centrale. Quartararo also recounts how hearing educators at the Milan Congress in 1880 universally adopted oralism as the way to defeat deafness, and prohibited sign language in deaf schools. French deaf people refused to submit to this attack upon their cultural heritage, however, and an explosion of social activity among deaf people between 1880 and 1900 created a host of active deaf groups in all corners of the country. Deaf Identity and Social Images paints a unique, rich tapestry of the resilience of French deaf people in defending their culture through the most trying century in their history.
Two Women's Stories
Deaf Lives in Contrast: Two Women’s Stories might seem to bring together polar opposites in the broad range of deaf experience. Yet, as these narratives unfold, the reader will recognize that common threads run through them despite their different circumstances. Mary V. Rivers, who came from a “dirt poor” Cajun family in Louisiana, was only 17 when she married Bruce Rivers, a member of the U.S. Air Force during World War II. She bore three children in quick succession, all boys, and traveled with them to Europe with her husband. When her third son Clay was nearly two, however, she learned that he was deaf. From that time on, she devoted her life to securing a good education for Clay. Dvora Shurman’s parents, deaf Jewish immigrants from Russia, met in Chicago after World War I. Both were educated orally, declaring “I am not born deaf. Signing only for born-deaf.” They did sign, but they also wanted hearing children, stemming from their own sense of devaluation. Shurman lived a dual life in the deaf and hearing worlds. She saw herself as her deaf parents’ ears, their voice to the hearing world, and as sharing with her mother the task of being mother. The resonating theme that echoes with both of these women centers on their resentment of the treatment received by their deaf loved ones. Early in her life, Shurman adopted a slogan with her father, “‘It’s Not Fair,’ to rebel against the shaming, the demeaning, our family suffered.” After years of struggling for her son, Rivers asserts that “deaf people have a right to prove themselves as first class citizens.” Their uncommon stories reveal that they share more in common, a belief in equal rights for all, deaf and hearing.
“Albert Ballin’s greatest ambition was that The Deaf Mute Howls would transform education for deaf children and more, the relations between deaf and hearing people everywhere. While his primary concern was to improve the lot of the deaf person ‘shunned and isolated as a useless member of society,’ his ambitions were larger yet. He sought to make sign language universally known among both hearing and deaf. He believed that would be the great "Remedy,” as he called it, for the ills that afflicted deaf people in the world, and would vastly enrich the lives of hearing people as well.” --From the Introduction by Douglas Baynton, author, Forbidden Signs Originally published in 1930, The Deaf Mute Howls flew in the face of the accepted practice of teaching deaf children to speak and read lips while prohibiting the use of sign language. The sharp observations in Albert Ballin’s remarkable book detail his experiences (and those of others) at a late 19th-century residential school for deaf students and his frustrations as an adult seeking acceptance in the majority hearing society. The Deaf Mute Howls charts the ambiguous attitudes of deaf people toward themselves at this time. Ballin himself makes matter-of-fact use of terms now considered disparaging, such as “deaf-mute,” and he frequently rues the “atrophying” of the parts of his brain necessary for language acquisition. At the same time, he rails against the loss of opportunity for deaf people, and he commandingly shifts the burden of blame to hearing people unwilling to learn the “Universal Sign Language,” his solution to the communication problems of society. From his lively encounters with Alexander Graham Bell (whose desire to close residential schools he surprisingly supports), to his enthrallment with the film industry, Ballin’s highly readable book offers an appealing look at the deaf world during his richly colored lifetime.
Confessions of an Inside Man
In airports and train stations it is not unusual for waiting passengers to be approached by a person who will hand out a brochure or trinket, then indicate that he or she is deaf and ask for payment, anything they can afford. In many instances, the travelers feel pity for the poor unfortunate and dole out a dollar or two, yet most are utterly unaware that these pitiful beggars earn hundred of dollars this way in a matter of a few hours. Dennis Buck knows this unique form of panhandling intimately because, despite holding a degree in computer science and receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), he was a deaf peddler for 11 years. In Deaf Peddler: Confessions of an Inside Man, Buck unveils all of the ins and outs of exploiting his “disabilities” to earn easy money. Buck details the day-to-day life of a deaf peddler, including where to go to make the most money in the least time (airports with their constant transient clientele, malls on weekends, and fast food restaurants), how to live on the cheap (wait for people checking out to leave their motel rooms, then sneak in to use the shower), and how to live well when business is good. He also explains how he organized his rounds using a spreadsheet program. Deaf Peddler also provides a historical perspective on deaf peddling as a way for under-educated deaf people to make a living when jobs were hard to find, wages were low, and Social Security did not exist. The “no good” life served as the rationale to many deaf people for peddling, but many more in the Deaf community deplored their actions, and the National Association of the Deaf campaigned to discourage this behavior that reinforced deaf stereotypes. Buck abandoned peddling himself for this reason, but he points out that deaf peddling survives today, frequently in the highly exploitative form of rings of deaf workers completely controlled by oppressive deaf and hearing overseers. Deaf Peddler presents in engaging fashion a little-known cultural phenomenon that offers a revealing turn on the general issue of panhandling in our society today.
Inspired by the conference “Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, 1933–1945,” hosted jointly by Gallaudet University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1998, this extraordinary collection, organized into three parts, integrates key presentations and important postconference research. Henry Friedlander begins “Part I: Racial Hygiene” by analyzing the assault on deaf people and people with disabilities as an integral element in the Nazi attempt to implement their theories of racial hygiene. Robert Proctor documents the role of medical professionals in deciding who should be sterilized or forbidden to marry, and whom the Nazi authorities would murder. In an essay written especially for this volume, Patricia Heberer details how Nazi manipulation of eugenics theory and practice facilitated the justification for the murder of those considered socially undesirable. “Part II: The German Experience” commences with Jochen Muhs’s interviews of deaf Berliners who lived under Nazi rule, both those who suffered abuse and those who, as members of the Nazi Party, persecuted others, especially deaf Jews. John S. Schuchman describes the remarkable 1932 film Misjudged People, which so successfully portrayed the German deaf community as a vibrant contributor to society that the Nazis banned its showing when they came to power. Horst Biesold’s contribution confirms the complicity of teachers who denounced their own students, labeling them hereditarily deaf and thus exposing them to compulsory sterilization. The section also includes the reprint of a chilling 1934 article entitled “The Place of the School for the Deaf in the New Reich,” in which author Kurt Lietz rued the expense of educating deaf students, who could not become soldiers or bear “healthy children.” In “Part III: The Jewish Deaf Experience,” John S. Schuchman discusses the plight of deaf Jews in Hungary. His historical analysis is complemented by a chapter containing excerpts from the testimony of six deaf Jewish survivors who describe their personal ordeals. Peter Black’s reflections on the need for more research conclude this vital study of a little-known chapter of the Holocaust.
The 1988 Revolution at Gallaudet University
Deaf President Now! reveals the groundswell leading up to the history-making week in 1988 when the students at Gallaudet University seized the campus and closed it down until their demands were met. To research this probing study, the authors interviewed in-depth more than 50 of the principal players. This telling book reveals the critical role played by a little-known group called the “Ducks,” a tight-knit band of six alumni determined to see a deaf president at Gallaudet. Deaf President Now! details how they urged the student leaders to ultimate success, including an analysis of the reasons for their achievement in light of the failure of many other student movements. This fascinating study also scrutinizes the lasting effects of this remarkable episode in “the civil rights movement of the deaf.” Deaf President Now! tells the full story of the insurrection at Gallaudet University, an exciting study of how deaf people won social change for themselves and all disabled people everywhere through a peaceful revolution.
The Impact of Sports Within the Deaf Community
Deaf Sport describes the full ramifications of athletics for Deaf people, from the meaning of individual participation to the cultural bonding resulting from their organization. Deaf Sport profiles noted deaf sports figures and the differences particular to Deaf sports, such as the use of sign language for score keeping, officiating, and other communication. This important book analyzes the governing and business aspects of Deaf sport, both local deaf groups and the American Athletic Association of the Deaf and the World Games for the Deaf. It shows the positive psychological and educational impact of Deaf sport, and how it serves to socialize further the geographically dispersed members of the Deaf community. David A. Stewart was Professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI.